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Friday, 18 February 2011

The Loneliness Triblogology - Part 3

The Scream

We conclude this third and final part of our trilogy predominantly by letting some of the 15 million people who still smoke in the UK and Ireland, and their non-smoking friends, speak for themselves about loneliness and the personal impact of the smoking ban.

Some of the quotes we have collected are taken from the blog site of Frank Davis, and from those who have made comments there. Frank has posted regularly and movingly on the subject of loneliness and the smoking ban, and particularly its effect on older people.

We open, however, with a poignant letter written by pensioner Jane Daniel in the evening of New Years Eve 2010.  (Thank you to our commenter on the first Loneliness Blog, The Witch of Essex, for posting this.)
“I have accepted all of that and never smoked where I was not welcomed to do so.
I am now in my mid 70's and can now only smoke either at home or in the open air.

I am now disabled (accident damaging my hip) and so can not get out as much as I would like to. So now I only smoke in my own home. This is a very lonely existence and I would love to be able to go to a pub for a drink occasionally. However, as a smoker I know that I can't do this and enjoy a drink and cigarette in safety and comfort in a pub.

I accept all this and am sorry that my pleasure upsets so many people. I wish that my life was different, but after smoking for over 60 years it is difficult to stop.

It really hurts me to hear that smokers are now classed as disgusting filthy death carriers as I really hadn't considered myself to be thus.

Now that I am all these horrible things I am glad that I am nearing the end of my life.

How cruel and malicious are these people that have ostracised me and cast me out from society. I am so sorry if my 'habit' has offended people and wish that I had never taken that first cigarette all those years ago.”
We believe that legislation should never be used to force anyone, never mind a pensioner, to apologise or demean themselves because they indulge in a lawful activity; it should not force anyone into a way of life that they do not desire.

Here is Frank Davis talking in his own words about a tragic suicide:  
“For some people, like Lawrence Walker, it was too much. He took his own life about 6 months after the ban came into force. He had become, in that time, a complete exile. He had lost all connection with everything and everyone. He probably didn't have an internet connection, deep in the Cornish countryside. I at least have that, and so belong to the strange virtual communities which flourish within it. Such communities are - like e-cigarettes - better than nothing. But they don't compare to the real thing, the actual experience of meeting people and talking to them.”
This 67 year old describes what has happened to his group of friends:
“We once were a happy crowd.
Ernie. Disabled .Parks his wheelchair behind a wheely bin to keep out of the draught

John . 86  Far East Veteran huddles in a doorway with two other Veterans

Doris 82, Widow .Stays in 7 nights a week now

Meryll 72 Widow . Friends dont go out anymore

George 82 Manchester Reg (sic). isolated

Jeff 74 Lancs Fusiliers, Non smoker. Friends dont come out any more

Beryl 78 misses her friends at bingo stays in

Joan widow 59, Pat 64, Helen 74 widow, local shut

Jud:  Ex Para Suez Drives round looking for friends

Me 67 smoker (55 years) used to be 7 nights a week in the pub ,now once a fortnight. “
“We are all as we get older becoming hermits on account of this ban & I know this is not the way I wanted to end my life being denied a pleasure to me that I have done all my life (since 16 anyway) & denied the social activities that I looked forward to. I have considered myself a good, honest, hardworking, tax paying citizen all my life & now feel like a 2nd class citizen. Go figure!”
“I am getting too old to stand outside pubs or restaurants. Plus I was taught that it was only 'ladies of the night' that stood in the street smoking.
I have been 3 years away from any social contact other than the odd hello with neighbours.

Being a widow with no family it was always going to be hard to get back into some semblance of normality with regard to socialising, but I didn't think that it would be this bad.
I used to meet up in a cafeteria with some lady friends, but now that has stopped as a few of the ladies were smokers and didn't want to stand in the street to have a cigarette.
I went to a quiz night at the local pub as there were quite a few elderly 'singles' there. That has stopped. I also played bingo once a week and that too has stopped as there is no pleasure in having a drink there with no cigarette.
I am now on anti depressants and wish that I had the courage to kill myself and join my dear husband.
Thank you politicians for making my life not worth living after working from age 14 until 68. I am now 74 and have lost my soul and will to live in this lonely place.”
“I'm still lonely over this smoking ban. I miss all the great laughs we used to have together without any interruption what-so-ever. I feel lost standing outside the pub door. I feel like a naughty school boy put into the corner of the classroom. It seemed so much better before. I think we have lost something very precious.”
June Brown, the 81 year old actress who plays Dot in Eastenders, said:
“You can't go anywhere and smoke now - it's ruined my life. It's ruined the whole end of my life.” 
“I'll be the first to admit that I am a die-hard smoker. It's lonely now being a die-hard and I was acutely aware of this today when I had an outside coffee with my daughter. It felt as if there were all these little Berlin walls all around me denying me access to other people. I certainly felt left out but it doesn't stop me smoking if you know what I mean. I don't know if it will stop many people at all. I felt today that the whole thing is just a useless adventure and was made worse when I saw a 12-13 year old walking along the street smoking. Are you sure you have done the right thing by bringing in this smoking ban? I think it's all a bit of a mess and needs to seriously be looked at.”
And a wonderful comment from a teenager written not only in the teenage style but also from the heart!
“OMG these ladies are my nans age and its people who are younger than them who made these horrible laws that make them stand out in the cold and they should be ashamed at throwing their parents in the street, my nan smokes and says she would rather be at home and i thought it was because she was old but now i think its because she dont want to stand in the street, i cried when i read this letter and wish that my nan could go out to see people and not sit indoors unhappy, they are bastards who do this to old people.”
Even the mainstream news services have begun to pick up on the theme:
“It has hastened the death of many elderly people either from being shoved outside to develop pnuemonia (sic) or to face a lonely existence in their own homes devoid of any social interaction. It has caused arguments between family members and instigated positive hatred towards a large section of law abiding citizens”
And finally, the Government itself now considers mental health and wellbeing as being as important as physical health. On 2nd February they launched their new strategy “No Health without Mental Health”
New plans to transform the mental health and well-being of the nation and ensure – for the first time – that mental health is given the same importance as the nation’s physical health, were announced today by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley and Paul Burstow from the Department of Health”
Our conclusions

Our trilogy of blogs on loneliness shows that:
Loneliness is a serious and wide-ranging condition that strikes at any age, although it can be particularly hard for older people. Loneliness is the leading cause of premature death. Loneliness severely impacts people’s social and mental wellbeing.

We believe that the total smoking ban is a major factor in creating loneliness, premature death and poor mental health, and has substantially increased the breakdown of communities, the dissolving of supportive social networks and the fragmentation of social cohesion.

This has been the unintended consequence of our public health anti-smoking legislation, and the people whose stories we have quoted are a tiny fraction of those millions suffering “collateral damage”.

It is obvious to us that loneliness has increased since July 1st, 2007. It is the silent killer that is creeping up on our nation.

We cannot understand why anyone would choose to promote (as ASH have done) or to pass (as successive governments have done) legislation that increases the burden, that makes more people lonely: after all, it should be the role of politicians to serve, represent and protect their constituents, not to put them in harms way. 

Our conclusions beg the question: Now that our political representatives are aware of these facts, what are they going to do about it?

Frank also said on his own blog:
"May I suggest to anyone who is reading this that, if they are elderly (65+) and they smoke, they send me an email at setting out their personal experience of the smoking ban.
And may I also suggest that if you know any elderly smokers, you get in contact with them, and ask them how life has been for them, and write it all down, and send it to me.
I say elderly, not because I'm unsympathetic to less elderly, but because I think that this ban has disproportionately hurt elderly people, who are the most vulnerable. I'd like to be able to tell their story.”...
“What is happening .... is happening to millions of people. I know a 75-year-old who used to meet up with friends at a pub once a week, and with other friends at a cafe. That's all ended. "I'm too old to stand outside," he told me, when I last visited him in his little flat, which is the only place I see him these days. It's the same everywhere.
If we had media with any sort of social conscience, stories like this would be found in every single town and village in the country. But instead we have a political correctness which regards smokers as being non-persons, and they never get a hearing. It's utterly shameful.”

Hat Tip to Frank Davis.

Writing team for this The Loneliness Triblogology were:

Karen Bunn
Brenda Orsler
John Watson
Phil Johnson
Carol Cattell

Graphics by John H Baker and music by Paul Kearns.


Frank Davis said...

Thanks for that. And well done.

For myself I believe that the smoking ban is doing really terrible social damage, shattering communities, dividing people from each other, and producing widespread isolation and loneliness. I think it's something that's far more serious than the number of pubs that have closed (bad as that is).

I think there must be thousands and thousands of poignant stories out there like the ones that you have reproduced.

The antismokers seem to think that the bonds between people don't matter, that they're not important, and people can do without them (just like they can do without cigarettes). But it's these bonds that give meaning to most people's lives, in their marriages and families and friends. It's not just food and shelter that people need, but also communities of friends.

I really think that this must be explored more deeply, and the consequences of social isolation examined carefully.


Anonymous said...

Are our MPs aware of this devastating effect of the ban?

Rather as OH sent every one of them a copy of Nineteen Eighty Four, I'd like to see a compilation of these stories with some background on their authors sent to each one.

And, of course, it's not just elderly smokers who are suffering -so do their non-smoking friends and anti-smoking peers who find that their bingo hall, social club and so on have closed.

What a miserable old age so many of us are condemned to having: lonely, pretty poverty-stricken, our final days spent in hospital ignored by nurses who are 'too posh to wash' or in 'care', druggede up to the eyeballs to keep us quiet for which expense our assets have been taken from us.


Dick Puddlecote said...

Excellently written and compiled trilogy. You presented the extent of the ban's cruelty very well, the MPs you send it to should think long and hard about this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Frank and Dick for your kind words, in the course of our research we found so many heartrending stories that we would Have ended up with a novel sized article!

Stories of suidcides, depression instilled guilt and fear as well as some horrific side effects from the drugs used to treat people.

I agree Frank that a deeper probe into loneliness and its associated illnesses like depression including the role that ASH and legislation is playing in this area of health.

I personally would argue that the Precautionary Principle applies and that Health Acts should be repealed on those grounds just as they were enacted under that principle.

Jay, a copy of the first two articles articles have been sent to every Rt. Hon. Member of the House of Commons and the third is due to be despatched (if it has not gone already) we have recieved some replies from the House, all of which have been supportive or have shown some interest in the subject.

John Watson.

Anonymous said...

A brilliant piece of work :)

Anonymous said...

Out of sight...out of mind

Welcome to The Big Society

Angry Squaddie said...

Superb bit of writing but I would like to pull you up on your use of "(sic)" after the phrase "Manchester Reg". Anyone remotely familiar with the Army would recognise that as everyday shorthand for The Manchester Regiment which did exist and you could have simply put "(Regiment)" rather than the slightly condescending "(sic)".

We do speak a different language and soldiers never become civilians, we just become veterans.

I don't subscribe to the "Every soldier is a hero" meme that seems to be doing the rounds but, if he is 82 and served in the Manchester Reg, he probably saw action either at the tail end of WWII or in Korea.

I've served/am serving my time and have been to every trouble spot you can name over the last 10-12 years (except Sierra Leone - missed out on that one) and I would say that I've had it easy compared with the veterans of the 20th Century.

Yes, equipment has been shit, the reasons we went in have been, at times, equivocal, but at least I got to speak to significant others on a regular basis and mail got through quickly.

We need to look out for people like this and if the smoking ban is doing as much harm as I think it is to institutions like the British Legion it should be got rid of ASAP.

Angry Squaddie said...

Many apologies, now I've checked, the Manchester Reg saw some pretty nasty action in Malaya rather than Korea.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post Angry Squaddie, As an Ex-serviceman myself (Royal Navy)I fully understand your critism, A serivicemans Regiment, Squadron or Ship is our home, our comrades are family and we are all very proud of them. I offer you and the Manchester Regiment. our profound apologies for the slip.

I would also offer and I believe the team will stand behind me, our thanks for carrying out the tasks all servicemen (I use the term generically) that they are currently engaged in overseas. Good luck to you all and come home safe.

John Watson

Anonymous said...

Send it to MPs? The MPs have no heart. They work for satan now. They would burn in hell before understanding the concept of heart.

jredheadgirl said...

Nice work! The same thing has happened to my mom in Chicago. She used to go to Denny's or Baker's Square (both cafe style chain restaurants that are popular with the working class and older folks) to meet up for coffee and pie with her friends, but has not done so in the last 3 years since the ban was instituted in Illinois. So here's my mom, who takes care of Alzheimers' patients (and has worked hard her whole life since coming to America from the U.K.), who (aging herself) doesn't go out and socialize anymore. Being able to go out and meet with friends used to be a simple reward for folks who have worked hard all of their lives. Sadly, this simple reward that adds so much to the quality of life for so many has been taken away. It is a spit in the face to free people everywhere.

Mr A said...

Sorry to leave such a trivial post on such an excellent blog post, but.....

Some fun.

Remember how ten years ago thousands put down their religion as Jedi? Well, we have a new census coming up, so let's put down our religion as "smoker." Tobacco Control are leading an inquisition. Let's just highlight that fact.

Whether you want to just deny them the information that they demand from you by force or you just want to raise this issue in public once again and remind them that it is not going away, let's have some fun.
Spread the word.

George Speller said...

Well done. A good peice of work. I'd send it to my MP Kris Hopkins, but he won't answer my letters.

meanwhile off topic:
If you smoke why not declare it as a religion in the next census. Half a million Jedis are now recognised. We can do the same.

George Speller

Anonymous said...

No need for apologies, Mr A - it's a cracking idea.

On the loneliness theme - older people are stuck in their homes for longer than before, but if they have to rely on the 'free' (yes I know!) telly for entertainment, most of what they're subject to is aimed at young people, so they're kind of forgotten about there as well.

My mum's always moaning that there's nothing on telly, and she doesn't 'do' technology so she won't let us get her satellite or a computer. I'm middle aged and think it's pretty crappy while the kids would watch it all day given half a chance!


Amusing Bunni said...

HI Big Yin, this is very very sad. To think that these wonderful elder people sacrificed so much their whole lives and lived through the horrid blitz and everything, and to be treated like this just because they enjoy a smoke.

Very heartbreaking. The gov't really needs to adjust this smoking ban stuff. Maybe set up elder clubs and such were you have to be 60 to join, and once there, you can smoke all you want.

To deprive people of the only fun they had, getting together with friends, and now that's taken away,
is just criminal. Thanks for posting these, and opening people's eyes.

Eye Creams said...

I accept all this and am sorry that my pleasure upsets so many people. I wish that my life was different, but after smoking for over 60 years it is difficult to stop.

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