By Sam Cottle.
As some of you know I have some experience of being incarcerated in psychiatric institutions in the UK. All of those experiences have been awful, one was horrific, but this latest “admission” has fomented in me the greatest level of anger I’ve yet discovered in myself. In this hospital, Greenlane Hospital in Devizes, there is a garden (included perhaps with smokers in mind) and even a cordoned-off area, cordoned-off specifically for smokers given the latest laws (or ‘policies’) handed down from government to dissuade the mentally ill from smoking at all costs; tragically, in neither of these perfectly good areas are patients allowed to smoke.
I would love to be able to say that higher management is to blame and that the staff really are merely, in the Eichmann sense, “following orders”, but this is not the case. In this hospital we’re given leave to go out and smoke, not leave to the garden that is; we must be entirely off-site to be able to smoke. The staff do this, and yet they’re more than happy for people to oder in takeaway junk food; some of the staff members themselves are overweight; so why does it seem they need to apply a sort of mystic curse to smoking cigarettes?
I take it that a lot of it comes down to the fact that, in mental health circles, there’s quite a bit of sophistry, superstition and, frankly, outright bullshit involved in what people may consider to be a mental health problem to begin with let alone the processes that go into curing one. If you know a bit about psychology, and particularly anything related to cognitive biases, you’ll be easily able to pick up on the points where these people either directly contradict themselves or when they falsely attribute the anger we smokers feel at being unable to smoke as mental illness. It’s abhorrent in my opinion, an obscene example of discrimination and it needs to be rooted out of the mental health system.
Personally, I find the attitudes of non-smokers towards smoking and smokers pathetic, weedling and immature; they’ll happily prattle on to you about the dangers of this activity they’ve never partaken in and then turn around and complain about the, frankly, inconsequential danger posed to themselves when you do light up. One of the benefits of smoking, to me at least, is that it actually is bad for you; it also feels good to smoke; and the same can be said of more-or-less anything humans consume. We all have vices, and it shouldn’t be up to the medical establishment to attempt to coerce us into following their dogmatic beliefs surrounding them at the expense of our freedom of choice.
I happen to think there’s a very good case to be made that smoking is protected under human rights legislation. The classic way out of a human rights argument on the basis of using elements of the legislation itself is that it may cause a public health risk, yet these are only adjuncts to the articles concerning the right to hold property. When it comes to, say, the right to protest and freely assemble over a matter concerning the choice of what to do with one’s body; what to injest and how we may respire, then it becomes an issue connected to our right to life; also, since any attempt to smoke on the grounds of a hospital would amount to a protest, and hence protected by the Human Rights Act, no staff members may intervene in that protest.
There is another, far more grave matter at hand and that’s that the forced abstention from cigarettes is, I believe, nothing short of a a form of psychological torture, it is inhuman and degrading (although a non-smoker probably wouldn’t appreciate why); I may even, of my own free will take a bit of waterboarding or even the hideous forms of electrical torture detailed in the KUBARK manual over 24 hours without a cigarette which is what I’m being subjected to here. I’ve tried the vapes they hand out and I’ve tried every sort of nicotine replacement therapy, none of it works; I’m also pretty certain none of it works because of something more deeply-connected to the act of smoking itself than it’s mere nicotine content and that the psychological barriers we have to giving up may well be justified for many rather good reasons.
The first is that we’re going to die, we’re definitely going to die for some reason, or some set of reasons; if smoking happens to be one of them then we’re effectively killing ourselves, sure, but in doing so we’re making our deaths more predictable insofar as we’re likely to die of a form of cancer, probably lung cancer if anything. Also, smoking does not prevent us from exercising and living a healthy, active lifestyle; we may smoke and stay in very good shape and live a very long time; it may not even therefore be the thing that ultimately kills us. Or, we could give up smoking and start overreating, as so many often do, and later on get heart disease (usually at a younger age than smokers with cancer), or we may exercise as much as we can and find that we need to become a bodybuilder to justify that lack of nicotine. Smoking stunts your growth, both upwards and outwards, I say that’s a good thing; I like the way I look, I don’t want huge muscles.
But the worst thing about the anti-smoking lot, the thing I really can’t stand, is the fact that they’ve managed to once again create an us and them mentality, they’ve fixed upon something a minority within society enjoy doing and have decried it is as evil and something that must be stopped at all costs. I say no. Think a bit more carefully and keep smoking, if you want to. So long as you are gaining pleasure from smoking, and you’re engaging in a form of the activity you find most suited to you, be it with a pipe, cigar, cigarillo or cigarette, by all means puff away, and don’t let anyone stop you. But when it comes to this foul, monstrous urge in certain people and the organisations they work for to coerce, control and force you to conform to some fatuous image of good health, I say don’t listen, and keep doing as you’re doing; then you’re a protest smoker, and nobody can stop you.