I have something to confess. I am a smoker. I am a smoker who loves smoking. I’ve been smoking since I was about 17 (although not “properly” smoking and inhaling until a couple of years later…). That means that I’ve smoked for the whole of my adult life – more than 20 years.
I. Just. Love. Smoking. If I were a poet, I would write an ode to tobacco. If I were a painter, I would paint someone smoking a cigarette, trying to capture that romantic love of tobacco which occasionally makes itself overtly obvious, and which lurks behind the big knot of personal neuroses the rest of the time. It is part of my very being. My identity relies upon it. My day is imbued with it.
My life wouldn’t be the same without it. I love all of the different forms of smoking: cigarettes, cigars and even the pipe. I love all of the different rituals around smoking: when to smoke, how to smoke, what brand of cigarettes someone smokes. I am fascinated by all of the paraphernalia which accompanies smoking: elegant lighters, sophisticated cigarette cases lovingly crafted from precious metals, rolling tobacco, pipe tampers and cleaning instruments. These are all part of the activity of smoking.
I have tried giving up smoking a few times in the past and always ended up miserable without my cigarettes. I felt lost without them. My brain became foggy. I was unable to concentrate. I seemed to become more stupid without them. I felt like a part of my soul had been removed and I was grieving for my loss. It’s as if cigarettes somehow complete me.
And I’m not ashamed of my love for cigarettes either. I feel no sense of guilt in indulging my senses with a packet of cigarettes. Smoking is one of the new social taboos, frowned upon by righteous health evangelists. I resent other people trying to dictate to me what choices I can or cannot make, and I resent the frowns and snide remarks from disapproving micro-dictators who want to control every aspect of my life. I have made the choice (yes, it’s an informed one and I’m aware of the risks) to smoke. The key point here is that it’s a choice. I don’t enforce my smoking (either active or passive) on others, so what’s the issue?
I know that smoking carries a wide range of health risks, but as my dear old Ma says: “You pick your window, don’t you?”. The Government seems to be trying to reduce the number of adults and young children who smoke, but the fact is that the UK economy would crumble if it weren’t for us smokers. An item in The Spectator last year cited the tax revenue from tobacco to be around £9.3bn, while the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses was around £2.7bn. That’s a net income of £6.6bn into the government’s coffers. Do the politicians really want to go for an outright ban on smoking? I sincerely doubt it.
This points to the suggestion that smoking can be a consciously political act. It is at the same time rebellious (against the anti-smoking campaigners) and conformative (as far as the proceeds of tobacco duty are knowingly paid to HMRC or whichever body is legislated to collect tax on behalf of different Governments). I’m not quite sure whether I’m a rebellious smoker or a conformative smoker. For the moment I’ll just call myself a romantic smoker.