2 years ago
As we all by now know, the ban on smoking in public places, and the misery of being forced to stand outside like a naughty dog every time you want a fag, has caused almost everyone to give up. And this has had a profound knock-on effect on our social lives.
In the not too distant past, the notion of not being allowed to smoke in someone’s house would have been as alien as not being allowed to use the loo. Now, most people I know run a fresh-air policy, and those who do allow you to light up always make a huge song and dance about finding something that can be used as an ashtray.
Worse, even when you are allowed to smoke, there’s a sense still that you shouldn’t. That if you do, you’ll be the only one. Lighting up at a drinks party is now severely frowned upon, a bit like standing there masturbating.
One chap I know has an electric cigarette. Sucking on it delivers a hit of nicotine and causes the tip to glow red. It’s like the real thing in the same way that a blow-up doll is like Katie Price but he always brings it out at parties and waves it around because it looks almost realistic and tricks other smokers in the room into feeling that if they go ahead, they won’t be the first.
Smoking, then, has become like freemasonry or homosexuality. We have our secret signs. Our equivalent of funny handshakes and gaydar. We use tricks and nods and winks to establish a bond with other smokers. We coerce them into lighting up first, to gauge the reaction, and then we huddle around the lone ashtray, feeling lost in the room but somehow emboldened by one another’s company.
As a result of all this, I have grown to hate social gatherings. On the way to them, terrified that I won’t be allowed to smoke, I puff away like a madman, trying to fill myself up with a nicotine bank that will last the whole evening. It doesn’t, though. You can no more store nicotine than you can store sleep.
So, after the first glass of wine, you feel compelled to ask if it’s okay for you to light up, which requires as much courage as it does to ask a girl out. You are terrified that the answer will be no — not because you’ll have to go outside; you’re used to that — but because you’re English and you’ll have embarrassed your host.
And you’re even more terrified that you’ll get an Oh-if-you-must yes, followed by lots of huffing and puffing and tutting as the hostess goes off to look in the bottom of the wedding present drawer to see if she can find an obsolete ashtray. And then, when she comes back with it, and you light up, you can feel the eyes upon you, and you pray with curled toes and a pile-driver heart that someone else will join in . . .
And here’s the thing, smokers of the world. They always do. If you start smoking at a party, I can absolutely guarantee that within five minutes everyone else will be smoking too. And what makes this even worse than being made to stand outside is that they will be smoking yours.
Since the smoking ban, no one has given up the tabs. They’ve just given up buying them, and this is the most annoying thing in all of human history.
I should make it plain that I’m not a mean man. When I was confronted by those harrowing images of bodies being tossed into mass graves in Haiti, I was on the phone in a jiffy, offering money, goods and even my children, if that’s what the charities wanted. This is natural because, all of a sudden, the rainy day for which I’d been saving didn’t look as if it could ever be as dark and gloomy as the rainy day that had been inflicted on those poor souls in the Caribbean.
I would give someone a kidney or a pint of blood. But my last cigarette? No. Never. I’m afraid not.
Last weekend I took a crisp, unopened packet of 20 to a friend’s house, where I’d been invited to spend the day. And over breakfast one of the chaps said: “Ooh, can I nick one of those?”
Naturally this prompted his wife to chime in with a similar request as well, and that sort of opened the floodgates. So, by the time we’d pulled our boots on and set off, I had only 10 left. Ten wouldn’t be enough. When a smoker has only 10 fags in his pocket and there’s no shop for miles, it’s an all-consuming problem. You do a lot of maths. When can I get to a shop? How many hours till then? And just when you’ve worked out you can have one only every 40 minutes, the hordes descend again: “I say, you haven’t got another fag, have you?” So now you have only five.
What party smokers don’t understand, is that we proper smokers don’t smoke for fun. It’s a drug. We need it. Running out of cigarettes is not an inconvenience; it’s a matter of life and death. Literally. Because in the same way that a heroin addict will mug an old lady for his next fix, a smoker will get up from a dinner table at midnight and, so pissed he can’t even walk, drive into the night to find a petrol station and more supplies.
To get round the problem, I now take four packs to a party. But this is never enough. On New Year’s Eve I had around 50 people call round for supper and fireworks. None of them smokes. But that didn’t stop them getting through a carton of 200. I’d rather they’d nicked my furniture.
The smoking ban, then, has had a devastating effect, not just on pubs and clubs — which are closing at the rate of one every four hours — but on society, which has now become divisive and bitter.
There are, as I see it, only two solutions. Either the government can come clean and admit that without the tax revenue from smokers, the NHS would be finished. Or, to level the playing field, it can ban smoking completely. Something I am not looking forward to.
How can they for the last 35 years, justify living off their ill gotten gains in tax revenues from my smoking habit, only to slam the door shut on me in such an ill conceived manner?Apparently, such a move is being considered right now in Finland. Though we shouldn’t pay too much attention to the outcome because when a Scandinavian is forced to give up the tabs, he will simply revert to the region’s second-favourite pastime: committing suicide.
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