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 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?
"May I suggest to anyone who is reading this that, if they are elderly (65+) and they smoke, they send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org 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:
Graphics by John H Baker and music by Paul Kearns.