But a good cigar is a smoke

When I went on holiday some time ago there were two queues at the booking counter, smoking and non-smoking. The non-smoking queue was extremely long and a few of the people decided to skip the queue and join the smoking one. That seemed fair at the time. However when they boarded the ‘plane they were (quite rightly) thrust to the back near the toilet where they wouldn’t bother anyone with their pools of noxious gas. Shortly after that they started to give the smokers those looks. You know, the looks they reserve for examining something quite unsavoury. It turned out that they were non-smokers that had jumped the queue and now had to tolerate all the fumes that were quickly filling the back of the aeroplane. I think they have now banned smoking completely on aeroplanes and quite right too. I mean when you’re up there watching the wing wobble up and down and the air hostess rush by looking rather distraught, you don’t want some maniac sitting next to you pushing clouds of blue smoke in your face, it’s not going to help you if you’re hyper-ventilating.

Smoking is a big taboo today. Adverts are banned and every packet you see has a government health warning on it. I haven’t read them recently but they all follow the same theme. If you smoke these cigarettes you will die in horrible screaming agony and go to Hell where a thousand demons will poke you with smouldering branches etc., (well I did say I haven’t read the labels recently). Sorry fellas, in advertising they called that the “Hard sell advert”. People don’t take any notice of terrible news, they just don’t read it. If you wanted to upset a smoker you could put a small table on the side of the packet showing how much money they must’ve spent over how many years of smoking at a certain number of fags. Now that’s the sort of weapon to use on smokers (my mother used that), that and “If you smoke these cigarettes your clothes will smell and all your shirts will have small holes in them caused by ash”.

The big question today seems to be “How do we stop people smoking?” and to be quite honest I’m not sure they want to. They now have two very lucrative markets, the first being cigarettes and the second the things that stop you smoking them. I was investigating the second item the other day. I believe it costs in the region of £15 per week for several months to use some form of patch to stop a smoker. There are the cheaper patches of course. You only need one of these each week and they guarantee to stop you smoking, you stick it on your mouth. They’ll hypnotise you they’ll stick pins in your ear, play you tapes or videos. In fact there is probably an industry out there to stop you smoking as big as the tobacco industry. The question is, I suppose, what will both these industries do when people do stop smoking?

Admittedly smoking is a terrible habit. However, a long time ago people were lured onto the weed by some pretty powerful advertising and a lot of images that enhanced the idea. These same images are still apparent in the old movies we see on T.V. I suppose it won’t be long before they “digitally enhance” a lot of the old movies and clean up the scenes where the hero takes out a cigarette. There’ll be some strange questions then I’ll warrant. “Mummy why do all the men in this picture keep scratching their noses like that?” and “I didn’t know Sherlock Holmes liked a bubble pipe?” To say nothing of the old songs “Smut Gets in Your Eyes” or “On Top of Old Stokey” and things in general that have reference to the weed. I suppose they’re at work now tippexing the history books so that “Sir Walter Raleigh came back from the New World with a cargo of and some potatoes”. They didn’t get that right either. They say the potato was in France a few years before it came here.

Anyway the point is that THIS “New World” seems to want the people to put away the weed and lead a healthier life. I’m all for that, I think a healthier world would be a happier world and I wish them luck. However, I do wish they would show as much enthusiasm concerning alcohol, drugs, chemical plants, electrical powerlines and a whole host of other things that want sorting out too.

One reason smokers get a lot of flak is that there are so many of them and they are easy to identify. On the other hand we could make people who drink far too much wear a badge saying so “I’m almost an alcoholic”. Also, people that work hard towards the pollution of this planet in industry could be given a special radiation logo that glowed “I’m killing the planet and raping the forests”. Yet, I suppose they’d leave them at home or wear them under their alcohol badges. So the easiest people to identify are the smokers. Those bleary-eyed people with tiny holes in their best shirts and a cough that comes from their boots.

Some people are so incensed by smoking they treat them as another race. The other day I heard a lady suggest that all smokers should be put to the end of all National Health waiting lists as smoking was a sort of self-inflicted injury. I thought that attitude was a little fierce. I mean what about people that have accidents playing sport, Isn’t that just as self-inflicted? Should they go to the end of the list too? This recent inconsideration of smokers, when it comes to medical health, could be very dangerous. What if all the smokers suddenly decided not to pay National Health? What if they decided not to give blood?. Quite a few of them do I believe. What if all the smokers stopped donating their organs and filling in those kidney donor cards? I think we should be very careful how we treat smokers. If we continue to treat them as undesirables (medically) they may begin to think they are. This could be disastrous as you and I know we want their livers, kidneys and any other thing they haven’t contaminated. I mean let’s face it, who’s kidney would you rather have, an alcoholic’s or a smoker’s?

Don’t get it wrong, I know smoking is dirty habit. I realise that people put themselves through needless pain and suffering but I do think we should stop and carefully consider some of the ways we deal with it. For example now, in government buildings and places smoking is prohibited. Now, maybe I’m just whistling “Dixie” here but I don’t think that by banning smoking completely from a place stops the smokers. It could be the case that it does stop the smokers using that building or they may try and get around the ban. For example, they often mention how attendance at cinemas has fallen off. Well I know a couple of smokers that used to go but now as they are treated as members of a lower cast and are not allowed to smoke there they don’t. Maybe that entertainment area should re-think its policy about this form of pollution. They don’t mind polluting our minds with some of the films they produce but the punters must not pollute the cinema. I suppose for some people the most tortuous moment in a film today is when one of the actors on screen lights up but they can’t.

No smoking in government buildings sounds a very healthy policy I suppose but does that mean that all government employees are non-smokers?, I think not. What do these people do when they want a fag? Smokers will always find a way to satisfy their craving. They will dive into cupboards; hide in loos; sneak a few puffs at some inconspicuous corner. They play a very dangerous game as most of the cupboards, loos or corners are not designed as smoking areas. In fact some are perfect fire traps and ,when a waste-paper basket becomes the only “ash-tray”, they can cause a lot more deaths than their passive smoking ever could. I don’t think a “no smoking policy” helps to stop smoking it just causes the smokers to either run for cover or just stop attending. This is rather sad as these potential customers may never know the benefits of healthy exercise or an evening of fun as they have already been condemned to stay out and suck their weeds. On the other hand smokers will be the first to tell you that they too hate places full of stale smoke. They too like clean air and will soon open a window if they think they are becoming a nuisance but is a complete ban the answer?

I recently visited a large refinery where a spark in the wrong place would mean instant death. What really surprised me was the humane approach they had towards their smokers. In selected areas they provided civilised smoking rooms complete with ash-trays and matches. I mentioned this to one of the guides and was informed that they couldn’t stop the smokers so they tried to contain the problem. I commended them on such a civilised approach as I think they wanted to keep their installation safe and their workers happy. After all, some of the smokers were doing really useful jobs (almost as good as non-smokers).

All in all I think today’s society has a lot of problems and smoking is only one of them. However recent trends like “No Smoking Day” and all this emphasis on the smokers seems a little over the top. On the other hand it does stop us dealing with the more serious issues of the day. A friend of mine claims just that. He thinks the “powers that be” are keen to promote no smoking campaigns as it keeps people from addressing some of the very real problems that beset our society like poverty, power-lines, nuclear waste and things of that nature. I wonder?

In the end we have to remember that smokers are people. They are not some second class form of life that tries to co-exist with us. They have a bad habit , most are trying to give it up and any help they can get should be a little more positive. We should remember that they too serve a role on this planet. So “Oh ye who tread the Narrow Way, By Trophet-flare to Judgment Day…” as Kipling would say remember the pint of blood that saved aunty’s life or the chair you’re sitting on may have been the product of one of these lesser mortals.