Smoking ban could be a real drag

There’s no smoke without fire, they say. And if anyone out there was thinking that life after this week’s introduction of the smoking ban was going to be a cakewalk, then it’s time to think again – although cake will undoubtedly play its part in the process. For as you claw your way through the smoke into the new dawn of the age when cigarettes and cigars have been banished from the workplace and public spaces, spare a thought for the poor HR teams around the country who are going to have to pick up the pieces of a broken workforce.

Of course, most workplaces banned smoking long ago, but for the hardened few, keeping the fires burning has been a lifetime’s work. In fact, so much time has been spent by staff on smoking breaks it makes the number of days lost to fag-related illness look miniscule in comparison.

Statistically significant

One-quarter of the UK’s adult population currently smoke. And smoking is said to cost 34 million days to UK plc through time off sick. But that will be little in comparison to the days lost once the most hardcore smokers are forced to go cold turkey.

For one of the major drawbacks of introducing a smoking cessation programme is the subsequent increase in stress levels. Adding a swathe of angry ex-smokers to the current 10.5 million working days lost to stress each year will certainly raise the blood pressure.

Then there is the insatiable appetite that accompanies the reintroduction to the body of the concept of ‘taste’. The number of smokers giving up their habit will be blown up out of all proportion, as they pile on the pounds by consuming vast quantities of chips and puff pastries where once they shed pounds in pursuit of the meal in a box that is the packet of cigarettes.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence says that by encouraging smokers to give up, the nation can save around £5bn in lost productivity currently puffed away in smoking breaks. However, those NICE people also suggest smokers should be given time off to quit smoking.

That is likely to increase the stress levels of the three-quarters of the working population who do not smoke, leading to more days lost to depression and anxiety.

Welcome break

Of course, there are the exemptions to the ban. It seems the nation’s lags cannot be held accountable for their actions when it comes to lighting up, so prisoners will be allowed to smoke. Presumably that means in their cells, as real hotel rooms are also exempt (as are cars and cigar shops). Can it really be a coincidence that the UK’s prison population was stretched to bursting point in the weeks running up to the smoking ban? It seems taking a room at Her Majesty’s Puffing Service has never been more popular.

Talking of the law, there is bound to be a legal challenge to the ban and it seems highly unlikely that enforcing the ban in open public spaces, such as railway platforms, will be possible or even desirable. Commuting is already one of the most stressful aspects of working life, so expect the bodies to pile up as former smokers and thwarted fagistas battle it out with the anti-smoking jobsworths.

Giving it up as a bad job

Another aspect of the smoking ban that seems to have slipped unnoticed under the fug of statistics is the loss of jobs that could result if the nation’s stinkers give up puffing.

Retailers might suffer if enough smokers decide to kick the habit. Although it has to be noted that the average smoker does not possess huge amounts of willpower, so don’t hold your breath.

And as a nation of pet lovers, we can all breathe a sigh of relief on behalf of the nation’s working beagle community, as testing laboratories are also exempt.

And it seems the tobacco peddlers have found new, less regulated markets around the world in which to sell their cancer sticks, so jobs in the industry itself will be safe.

Public menace

As local councils have been allocated the task of policing the smoking ban, there could be challenging times ahead for public sector HR managers. But with companies liable to fines of £2,500 every time an individual lights up, this could be a huge revenue-generating operation.

However, to police the public spaces and issue these fines will require a particular type of personality. Happily, there are plenty of former traffic wardens kicking their heels waiting for just such an opportunity.

But enforcing the ban could result in some serious fisticuffs as angry smokers fight back. So crash hats and batons will probably be de rigueur.

All in all, it’s enough to drive a sane person to drink. Paradoxically, it is said that tobacco was introduced in a foolhardy bid to curb the English fondness for excessive drinking. However, with alcohol already responsible for 14.8 million days lost each year, that’s opening a whole new can of super-strength worms (5% ABV).

Dampen your enthusiasm

It’s nearly 450 years since tobacco was introduced to the UK from the West Indies by Sir John Hawkins, and popularised over the next two decades by Sir Walter Raleigh and chums at the Pied Bull Inn in Islington.

However, things seem to have come full circle, as it was not generally popular back then, and people sensibly thought it rather pointless to subject your lungs and breath to such a stench. So rather than issuing on-the-spot fines, the council enforcers of the 21st century could follow the lead taken by the simple folk of the UK back then, who quite rightly felt obliged to pour water on any fuming individual, fearing that they might be on fire.

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