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David Knight: Would new proposed smoking ban present a solution or just a challenge?

Scotland is considering adopting an unusual type of smoking ban (Photo: chayanuphol/Shutterstock)
Scotland is considering adopting an unusual type of smoking ban (Photo: chayanuphol/Shutterstock)

I pressed myself closer to the big metal gate in search of a modicum of warmth against a howling wind which was battering us.

We were “enjoying” a football tournament at Turriff for seven-year-olds, including one of my grandsons. We were enjoying it, as it happened – if only the wind and ominous rain clouds eased off.

A voice behind shouted out: “That’s solid”. Yes, he was right – it did seem like a well-built gate.

I turned my head around and realised he wasn’t talking about that. He was praising his son, who had pulled off another thunderous tackle; the boy was proving to be something of a fortified wall in defence, let alone a gate.

I wondered how many of these lads would still be playing competitive football a decade or so down the line. Succumbing to other pleasures might be their fate.

Late nights, hangovers and cigarettes lie in wait; dreams can fade for many talented teens.

By the time these lot reach that age, dramatic recent proposals to ban everyone from buying cigarettes, by age in incremental stages, might be in full flow – if ministers rise to the challenge. Others might see it as an infringement of civil liberties, once you have passed from childhood to adulthood.

In other words, we have every right to drink or smoke ourselves to death without the nanny state interfering.

It’s the taking part that counts

My mind suddenly refocused on the multiple short games being played on football pitches surrounding us.

They say wars are won on the playing fields of Eton, but those who win the actual battles are forged in places like Turriff. Especially on a cold Sunday morning, when many people are enjoying a lie in.

You have to hand it to the parents and kids who rolled in from all over the north-east, and don’t forget the grandparents like me. And the friendly parking marshals in yellow bibs who kept everything moving smoothly.

Kids (and parents) take primary school football seriously (Photo: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson)

This last element was important, as the exit for vehicles was a narrow, twisty, hilly affair which resembled an SAS driving test for anyone with a nervous disposition.

It takes iron discipline for parents and kids to keep going when days like this dawn. To see mums and dads making the effort to give their children the best opportunities was heartwarming; it matched the warmth shown by all the volunteers running the event at Turriff.

But, even in games for seven-year-olds, we saw similar emotions to those at the top end of the sport. Parents and team coaches were beseeching their little heroes from the sidelines – their own hopes and aspirations, and perhaps even regrets over lost opportunities, rising to the surface.

“Get up!”, “Get back!”, “Get wide!”, “Shoot!”, “Stop him!”

It’s not fair to expect too much from my grandson. But, we have discussed if he can get us VIP tickets for the 2036 European Cup final, so we can watch him play

At the tender age of seven, one wonders how much they take in. After all, they are still bundles of mental and physical clumsiness.

For example, one boy scored a cracker and made two other goals. Great stuff, but it was in his own goal by mistake, and not against his opponents.

Taking part was clearly the most important thing here, along with heaps of encouragement when they messed up. When they linked up arm-in-arm at the end, like pint-sized “bands of brothers” – for team photos – it brought a lump to the throat.

It’s not fair to expect too much from my grandson. But, we have discussed if he can get us VIP tickets for the 2036 European Cup final, so we can watch him play.

Prohibition isn’t an effective deterrent

Afterwards, I wondered again about how many young people become hooked on cigarettes.

Scotland pioneered a ban on smoking in bars, but an unhappy by-product was crowds of smokers on the pavements outside, acting as poor role models for youngsters, as well as a nuisance for everyone else.

I began smoking cigarettes at 13 or 14, with most of my mates. It was the done thing in those days.

Gold Leaf and Players Number 6 or 10 were our preferred brands, I recall. And, there was always someone older prepared to buy them for us.

A smoker at a bar in Edinburgh in 2004, two years before Scotland’s ban on indoor smoking came into effect (Photo: James Fraser/Shutterstock)

So, we not only rebelled against the law, but also got around it – worth bearing in mind if new smoking regulations ever see the light of day.

Prohibition always makes something more desirable, especially for younger people. And attracts organised gangs, making profits out of possibly dangerous black market tobacco sales.

It took me 30 years to pack up; I felt like I was on borrowed time. The final straw was a harrowing tour of a lung cancer ward, as part of a journalistic assignment.

Such visits should be compulsory for teenage school pupils; more effective than ordering them to stop smoking, perhaps?

About 20 years later, my GP sent me for a chest X-ray – it was all clear. “You dodged a bullet there,” she said drily.

David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of The Press and Journal

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