Philip Whiteley's Blog

January 29, 2010

In defence of the cigarette break

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 11:19 am

It was reported in the business pages recently that comfort foods, alcoholic drinks and cigarettes all sold well in the recession. I’m not surprised, but the architects of the smoking ban probably are.

Have we reached a limit to the extent to which law-making and nannying can promote well-being in the workplace? We may have cleaner air to breathe, but the sheer number of laws and restrictions risks making the office suffocating in a figurative sense.

There’s unanimity of view among our political elite that smoking and binge drinking are Bad Things, but they are incurious as to why they remain so popular. Do they think that people, especially poor people, are rather dim and that One More Heave of multi-million pound advertising campaigns (using our money) will succeed in convincing of us of our sinful ways?

Or could it be that human beings aren’t mere machines, and that we have social and emotional needs too? I’m convinced that dull, monotonous work and lack of career prospects are major, un-discussed factors in all this. Senior politicians have probably never known what it is like for the cigarette break in mid-morning with a good friend, or the evening after work down the pub, to be the only things to look forward to in a working week. John Reid bravely raised this issue when he was in the Cabinet a couple of years ago, but got shot down, and sadly there has been no debate since.

Increasing proscription around smoking (I don’t smoke myself, by the way) seems to reflect a materialistic attitude towards human life; as though physical health is the only dimension of health, and that it is our primary civic duty to extend the longevity of our physical bodies. On the right, politically, we have the MBA theorists positing that people are just resources that can be picked up and dropped at will. On the left, there is the notion that while we have rights for physical maintenance such as working time and minimum wage laws, our needs do not encompass social and psychological dimensions. From the corporations and the ‘progressive’ politicians alike, we’re told that we’re just a production item. It feels like a pincer movement.

I discuss cultural influences that make workplaces much worse than they ought to be in Meet the New Boss, available only online at:


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