Dominic Heslop: I was totally wrong on smoking

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Five years after giving up smoking, Dominic Heslop can’t understand why young people would take up such a ‘vile, dangerous and expensive habit’

Last month marked the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban in public places coming into place in Scotland. This legislation was part of a wider Bill which included free eye tests and free dental services. It was passed the previous June with only the Conservative group opposing it, ostensibly because it was felt universal free tests were not sustainable. Collective responsibility meant that the group voted en bloc against the Bill.

In 2005, I worked on the Conservative floor in the Scottish Parliament as a Parliamentary Aide. I was also a dedicated 20-a-day smoker and totally opposed to a ban on smoking in public places, thinking it an infringement of my human rights. This view was shared by my late friend David McLetchie who was Scottish Conservative leader at the time. I could see our Health Spokesman, Dr Nanette Milne (later to be my boss) who had actually worked in oncology, visibly wince as she had to put forward in the Chamber our “arguments” as to why a total ban in public places was unreasonable. When the Bill passed, I went to the pub with my fellow libertarians, where we smoked and bemoaned the “nanny state”. I don’t hold those views today. I was totally wrong.

I smoked from the age of 16 and when I headed to university it was not uncommon for students to take up a pipe. In fact I tried them all – cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco. I loved smoking. First thing to do in the morning was to light up and last thing before bed. Panic when I thought I was running short of cigarettes.

Then five years ago I decided to give up. It was getting more and more expensive and I could see my Dad, a veteran smoker, get worse with COPD. I calculated I must have spent at least £35,000 in my lifetime on cigarettes alone. So I devised a plan involving patches and willpower. It was far from easy but I got through it and have never touched a cigarette or cigar since and I really don’t miss it.

I look back now and think it crazy that you used be able to smoke on an aeroplane, at your desk, or in a cinema. I realise now how unpleasant it must have been for people eating in a restaurant with great wafts of smoke sweeping over their meal.

I’ve become an ex-smoker zealot and I can’t understand why young people take up this vile, dangerous and expensive habit these days. I have no doubt if a smoking ban in public places was being debated now, it would be supported by a majority of, if not all, Conservative MSPs. After all the Conservative group last year voted unanimously in favour of a Bill to ban smoking in cars where children are present. Attitudes have changed.

Starting to smoke was the worst thing I’ve done in my life. Giving up has been the best.

• Dominic R C Heslop is Conservative councillor for Pentland Hills Ward