Give us a break, any kind of break…

Tuesday, 15th May 2007 at 9:10 UTC 4 comments

Once again we were reminded last night on the news that the smoking ban is coming into effect on July 1st.  Although a non-smoker, I’d be tempted to join in any mass-civil disobedience on this one.  It seems that whatever you want to do these days to recover from the stress of daily life is to made illegal.

There’s a petition doing the e-rounds (another one on the Number 10 website, I think) that is calling for a last minute reprieve for Shisha cafes, seeing as these will effectively be illegal, and most will go under within a month or two of the ban. Shisha is quite popular here in Bradford.  Its basically a kind of scented tobacco burnt with charcoal, on top of a device which we might as well refer to as a bong.

Whether you’re white and smoke regular cigarette tobacco or Asian and smoke the wonderfully scented shisha tabaccos (or another combination of the two), your favourite method of unwinding is now under threat.  In the case of Shisha, its not like people go into Shisha bars to do anything other than smoke.  In fact, many places that serve Arabic food will loose a major source of income due to the ban as well.

So its back to the old pint for all of us.  The big pity, of course, is that we’re not going to get served half-litres.  I like the idea of half-litres of beer.  Things that come in halves should also come in wholes.  I like the idea of whole litres even more.  But alas, the nearly-two-pint beer glasses just aren’t going to happen any time soon.

Nor will any alcohol, for that matter, if the government continues.  Despite clear evidence to the contrary, the government has decided that fining any adult who gives a child alcohol is the way to cut drinking.  This means that either, as I suspect will happen, lots of more youths will drink copious amounts behind their parents back, or they’ll try and survive their teenage years without drink and therefore end up either doing other drugs or turning to more physical methods of dealing with the aggravations of teen life.

My parents were firmly of the opinion that teenagers should be given alcohol in small amounts at suitable times, working into our heads the idea that we should drink at meal times, and no more glasses than the meal has courses.  We didn’t need to go behind their backs to find out what alcohol did to us, and we didn’t need to end up vomiting before deciding that maybe this stuff wasn’t so good after all.  I myself went teetotal for all bar the Christmases of three consecutive years, with very little sense that this was a hardship.

Add to this the bans on drinking in most public places, and the governments determination to reduce us all to teetotallers and occasional drinkers, and it won’t be long before the government tries banning us from drinking.  Which I doubt will reduce the amount of violence going on, as people’s stress levels hit even higher peaks, and there is no longer any reasonable way to unwind at the weekend.

So now we move onto harder stuff like Cannabis, which of course, is now even more illegal.  So no unwinding with a spliff or you’ll be in jail for two years minimum.  One of the best ways of unwinding, probably the least violence-connected, is getting harder to acheive.

Of course, or so I’m told by certain of my friends, we could all go straight-edge.  For those who, like myself a year ago, don’t know what straightedge means, it basically means you don’t do any kind of drugs and are vegan.  Given what happened the last time I went three weeks without a drink (erm, best not to recall in detail, but I was very happy during most of that night as I managed to unwind for the first time in ages).

I’m told most straight-edge people are into hardcore music, which is unsurprising, seeing as they basically deny themselves almost every other way of escaping their own minds.  Which leads me to my final point…

Which is to say that police in various places are starting to crack down harder and harder on raves.  Yes, I figure this is a tenuous link, seeing as most rave-goers are fairly heavy drug users.  But there’s some overlap, it has to be said.  Once again we are reminded that it is illegal to play music loudly outdoors without a (near impossible to get) licence if it consists wholly or predominantly of a succession of repetitive beats (Criminal Justice Act 1994).  Indeed, playing it loudly indoors might get you an ASBO, or a get your head cracked open as happened in Leeds recently.

So you can’t smoke in public, you can’t use drugs, your right to drink alcohol as, when and where you please is being clamped down upon, and the right to unwind to music of a sufficiently high volume is also being reduced, not that we’ve had it at all since 1994.  Still, there’s been some good successful raves this year already, and there’ll be more I’m sure.

I think this all goes to show just how much this current government is obsessed with messing with our private lives, telling us what we can and can’t do.   Our freedom to find release from the stresses of life is under attack, and this can only be a bad thing.

When such methods get banned, people don’t tend to go for less extreme methods of unwinding, they go for more damaging ones.  When alcohol was last made illegal in America, it resulted in a shift towards heavy whisky drinking, as it only made sense to smuggle around the more concentrated forms of alcohol.

Another interesting piece of news turned up today.  The number of people taking anti-depressants is rising, despite attempts to prevent this happening.  Use of drugs within the same category as prozac is up 10%, and under-18s are still being prescribed it. Apparently the charity Mind is calling for more people to be prescribed country side walks, but with more houses and airports being built, the amount of available countryside could get ridiculously small.  And then where will we go to find freedom from all the crap in our lives?

P.S. the aforementioned 1994 Criminal Justice Act bans churches from holding outdoor music events, and churches in residential areas which play music too loudly are banned from using their sound equipment for a week, or have it confiscated, or get fined.  Yes, there are more spiritually and physically useful ways to find release, but this isn’t one of them.


Entry filed under: Culture, Freedom, Human Rights.

Monday Action: Put the summer to good use Virgin hate cyclists. Grrrrr…

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Tuesday, 15th May 2007 at 13:49 UTC

    I doubt that the government will ever actually ban alcohol, if only because of the glaring example of American prohibition. It’s also worth noting that the music ban, dating from ’94, was passed by a tory government, not a labour one.

    As for the smoking in pubs law, while it does seem rather harsh and I feel like I should object, I can’t help but long for the day when I can go into a pub and not come out stinking of smoke. Just think of the engergy students could save by not having to wash their clothes all the time! 😉 Liberalism cuts both ways, and involves everyone being prepared to put checks on their own ‘rights’ in order to rub along with everyone else. Like, foregoing their ‘right’ to a quiet night in order to allow others to exercise their ‘right’ to have a party now and again. But smoking does impinge on a lot of other people. I quote some random American, via yesterday’s Grauniad: “My pleasure is beer, which produced urine. Your pleasure is smoking, which produces poisonous [and foul-smelling – Greg] fumes. Don’t pollute my airspace and I shan’t piss on your desk.”

    More seriously, the law should probably have been more nuanced, but what would the consequences be then? Would, for instance, a lot of pubs suddenly install a shishash room? The govn’t would probably have to start very strict licensing of shishash bars, and I doubt your reaction to that would be overly enthusiastic, either. As for more standard ‘British’ pubs, could the govn’t introduce a system where only every second pub could be a smoking pub, and ever second one a non-smoker? It would be impossible to implement, as it would unfairly disadvantage every second pub, either the smokers or the non-smoking ones depending on how many people smoked in that area. I doubt many landlords would accept being the less popular option.

    If you’re in favour of a small minority of smokers having their ‘rights’ at the expense of everyone who wants to come out of a pub without stinking (or wheezing, for asthmatics like I still can be), what do you think about a minority of Catholics exercising their ‘right’ (or not anymore) to pass on facilitating adoption by couples they don’t like, to the disadvantage of a few gay couples?*

    Right, Java calls. Yum yum. If only it were the caffienated (to be banned in 2100AD) version.

    *While I think I can guess your response to the second issue, I don’t actually know it, and I don’t think you know mine. So no jumping to conclusions, okay!

  • 2. Neil T.  |  Tuesday, 15th May 2007 at 16:09 UTC

    There isn’t a lot of research into the effects of shisha on the body, but the little research that has been done is quite damning. Shisha actually delivers more harmful chemicals into the body that would be done by smoking a number of cigarettes over the same period of time. Admittedly there isn’t the problem of passive smoking, as with tobacco, but shouldn’t the government be helping to protect its citizens’ health? Especially when we have a welfare state and it costs money to treat people for what are essentially self-inflicted injuries, which could be spent on keeping, say, maternity and A&E departments open.

    Take for example the powdered baby milk problem. Campaigners want third-world governments to pass legislation to make powered baby milk only available on prescription, and encourage breast-feeding instead. Would you argue that the freedom of mothers to bottle-feed their babies is being infringed? Or would you argue that their health is being improved as a result? In my opinion, the same applies to tobacco, however it is consumed.

    I have to agree with Greg, I’m looking forward to being able to go into a pub in 6 weeks time and not have to use my inhaler and come out smelling of smoke. In fact, as I pay for my NHS prescriptions, it’ll save me money as I won’t need to use my inhalers as much, not to mention be better for my overall health.

  • 3. Sophia  |  Wednesday, 16th May 2007 at 11:10 UTC

    I wish the lack of smoking in pubs were to come about by any other means that a legal ban, but I’m still looking forward to July. A lot of my time is spent in pubs and the resulting migraines and stinking clothes aren’t fun.

    Oh, and stop whining that the beer won’t be served in half litres. Do you think it is at all sensible to encourage people to drink more? And are you so lazy that you can’t go to the bar that extra time?
    I really doubt that the government is going to try and ban alcohol outright due to the precedent set in America.

    However, I am with you on the cannabis thing. Criminalisation makes criminals, not non-smokers. Being a sober and lucid person around people who are smoking weed is much nicer than being in the same position around people doing pretty much any other kind of drug (alcohol and cigarettes included). Not to mention the medicinal effects it has on some conditions.

    I’m also with you on the issue of the criminalisation of raves. It just seems stupid, particularly with raves that are in the countryside and away from anyone who might be disturbed by them.

  • 4. Duck  |  Thursday, 28th June 2007 at 18:11 UTC

    Hmmmm. Vegan with no particular attachement to recreational neurotoxins checks in. I don’t self-define as ‘Straight Edge’. Too much cultural baggage which I don’t particularly agree with, and I like acoustic guitars too much.

    By smoking, you are taking away my freedom to go into pubs that don’t smell foul. You are taking away some people’s freedom to go into pubs at all. Smokers won’t be banned from pubs – they just won’t be allowed to pursue an inappropriate activity in there. I’m not allowed to practise breakdancing in the library. Some places are just not appropriate for some activities, and IMO then making social spaces smell foul & be inaccessible to some people isn’t appropriate.

    There is a clear link between cannabis use and schizophrenia *in a certain already vulnerable subgroup* [I’ll do a psych-geek on that if you want, but it’s true]. Schizophrenia is horrific, in a way that most people just don’t realise, the recovery rates are not good, and the best current treatments may help with ‘positive’ symptoms to some extent but don’t do much for ‘negative’ symptoms. Positive / type-1 symptoms are what most people think of – hallucinations, delusions etc. For most people these can be at least ameliorated, and may go away with time (sometimes decades, but they do often go). Negative / type-2 deficit symptoms have two subgroups – thought disorder, and avolition. Thought disorder leads to incoherent speech, inability to make sense of the world, confusion, loss of cognitive abilities. Meds may have some effect on this, but usually in a not-getting-worse way rather than restoring full cognitive function. Avolition, lack of interest, lack of motivation, ‘shutting off’, doesn’t respond well to medication (?may? even be aggravated by neuroleptics – but without the florid type-1 symptoms come back). People completely lose interest and interaction with the world around. They seem to forget everything. Sometimes direct instructions help ‘take your jumper off. Good. Now put your nightie over your head’, sometimes they don’t.
    Schizophrenia was first described in 1911, pre-meds, as ‘dementia praecox’ – dementia occuring in young people, with disintegration of the personality. It’s a horrific illness, onset typically late-teens / early twenties, and people can have it for the rest of their lives. I won’t use cannabis for the same reason as I’m a pacifist, as I don’t use alcohol, as I try to avoid cars – because I don’t want to be part of something with such terrible casualties.
    Should other people be forcibly stopped – hmm, I’m not sure. I’d certainly rather they didn’t, & I’ll try to argue them out of it. Given prohibition isn’t effective, I’m very reluctantly on the side of legalisation – but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it (and I would support it / derivatives being on NHS prescription where it can be shown to be a safe & effective treatment).

    What’s so scary about your own mind that you need to escape it so badly? Surely neurotoxins to make it all better are just a distraction from whatever is making it all wrong to start off with? & in any case, that’s why God made running 🙂

    ‘One of the best ways of unwinding’ hmmm – chemicals are at best a poor substitute for real life.
    ‘there is no longer any reasonable way to unwind at the weekend’ – I worry about you, I really do. What’s so unreasonable about a curry & Dr Who, or a samba session, or feeding the ducks? Karl Marx may have referred to ‘the opiate of the masses’, but hey, if we’ve got *real* recreational neurotoxins, I’m sure we can all sit around getting pleasantly out of it without it actually * meaning* anything… Brave New World, anyone?

    ‘ I myself went teetotal for all bar the Christmases of three consecutive years, with very little sense that this was a hardship.’
    ‘Given what happened the last time I went three weeks without a drink’
    Hmmm. So you’ve got a bit too used to having alcohol around whenever? How about trying some other ways to unwind. & if you can’t, that’s because something’s *wrong* with the way things are.

    Playing ‘rave music’ indoors is maybe OK for a one-off, but please spend a week in my room with annoying next-door neighbours who think it’s a good idea at 6am most days *sigh*. True community comes not from the ‘right’ to ‘do what I like’, but the duty to care for the people around you.

    I don’t actually think that the current ‘ban-everything’ trend is the Govts fault. It’s to do with the lack of community, with people not seeing each other and themselves as human – and therefore precious as a child of God. If people thought that maybe a small inconvenience to them of going elsewhere to smoke was worth it so that everyone could use pubs in safety & comfort, then regulation of smoking wouldn’t be necessary. If A&E wasn’t full of drunk people on a Saturday, then there wouldn’t be a need to ‘clamp down on binge drinking’.

    Read ‘1984’ lately? Half-litres, indeed…

    As for antidepressants: Prozac was introduced 20 years ago, & was the first AD without the sort of side-effects or toxicity that you’d want to be looking at hospital first. There’s been various other ADs discovered since then, some of which are going to be safer or more effective or just another thing to try for a particular patient. SSRIs also treat a broader range of illnesses than the old-school stuff – for example, they are the only meds licensed to treat bulimia. So it’s not fair to make a direct comparison, and you’d expect prescription rates to rise year-on-year as patients who previously could or would not have been offered meds now can be.
    The real story is the lack of talking therapies – CBT + SSRIs is more effective than either alone.
    Then of course, there’s all the things which have a protective effect on promoting positive mental health – oops, I’m back at real communities again.


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