I want to get this straight from the start: smoking is cool.
Good luck, of course, if today, you are trying to quit as part of Stoptober, the NHS campaign to get people to stub out this month. But the fact remains: smoking is sexy.
Smoking is Don Draper, Eddie Dunford and Cruella de Vil. Cash and Camus. Bardot and Monroe. Pacino and Popeye.
It’s Oliver Reed on Michael Parkinson, Carl Barat on Jools Holland, and Socrates five minutes before he’s on a football pitch tearing apart any defence put in his way.
Smoking is the hazy fug of a 1930s jazz club, the deadline mist of a 1970s newsroom and the chocolate-wood smell of my granddad’s lounge circa 1988.
Aye, the old boy liked a chug.
Addicted he was, back when addicted meant something; back when the term wasn’t bandied about to describe routine pleasures like eating chocolate, checking your phone or watching internet pornography.
It didn’t even focus the old boy’s mind when doctors told to him to kick the habit or kick the bucket. Or rather it did, but it focused it down to the greenhouse where he would sit and suck each day while my grandma thought he was tending the tomatoes.
What could he say when inevitably he was caught? What were the facts and figures to him? What did he care for 400 toxins in each tab, bad breath and premature death, stained fingers, lung cancer and emphysema?
Everything had its price. Let him be condemned, he said, to be the person he was. He could be hit by a truck tomorrow.
And so he could. And isn’t it that which makes smoking cool? Couldn’t we all be hit by trucks tomorrow?
For a cigarette is surely nothing if not a universal symbol of putting pleasure before peril; of living for the moment and forgetting forever; of embracing the glorious nihilism of now.
Smoking, I submit once more, is cool.
But you, Stoptober? You’re not cool at all. You’re doing it all wrong, dude. You’re a drag; a bore; a fusty, dusty, sexless, feckless waste of bureaucracy.
You make Movember look happening – and that’s a month where grown men are apparently happy to sport the appearance of having a teenagers’ pubes glued to their top lip. No self-respecting 30 days should be out-cooled by Movember.
The trouble, see, with these NHS anti-smoking campaigns is they’re always kind of lecturing and hectoring, aren’t they? Kind of do-as-we-say. Kind of puritanical. It’s not enough for them to help those who want to be helped (and, at that, fair play, they can’t be faulted); they go after everyone else too; constantly trying to convince us that the tabs are bad.
Well, EVERYONE knows that already.
Everyone’s known it for 50 years, and more. Everyone understands about the asthma and the impotence; the wrinkled skin and the ruined bladder.
The arguments have been made and understood. And – nine years after advertising was illegalised and six years after the smoking ban came into force – it’s boring to keep hearing them over and over for always and ever.
So, may I (a non-smoker incidentally) make a suggestion? Why doesn't Stoptober stop wasting public money pandering and persuading people to quit smoking when they have no intention of doing so; and pump those funds instead into real health initiatives helping people who want to be helped.
Because allow me to reiterate: smoking is cool, and smoking is sexy, and smoking will result in premature death. Let each of us be condemned to be the people we are.