Legalise 'pot' for the sake of our tobacco industry

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
CALL me conscientious, but it has long been my belief that any newspaper column worth its salt is the result of at least two or three minutes' serious thought prior to composition. May I let you into a secret? Before I sit down at my desk every Saturday evening, I bring out the Bryant and May, light my trusty pipe, and spend a good couple of minutes in silent cogitation, time permitting.

For me, the action of puff-puff-puffing on my pipe induces the necessary mental activity to see me through the next 20-or-so minutes until I reach that final, much-heralded full-stop. As the rich tobacco fumes seep through my winter tweeds and into my brain, I feel a sort of philosophical rapture coming on: only then, do I reach for my quill, thus signalling the accumulated wisdom of the week to dance upon the page, now merrily, now grandly, now with a hint of tragedy, but always with my own inimitable panache.

Which brings me to the subject in hand. The events of this week have, I fear, given tobacco a bad name. A nasty odour fills the air; I wonder if it will ever be dispersed. A Mr "Bernie" Ecclestone is now hogging the headlines. Historically, Bernie is not a name that commands admiration. In the late 1960s (dread decade!) a Mr Bernie the Bolt was an unseen but all-powerful presence on our screens, a bit like John Freeman but with a crossbow. In the 1970s (equally dread decade!), the jet-setting playboy Mr Bernie Cornfeld gave international finance a bad name by parading around with bikini-clad lovelies when he should have been at his sums behind a sober city desk. Mr Bernie Grant cast a shadow over that otherwise excellent decade, the Eighties, with his impolite references to the Bobby on the Beat. And in the 1990s Mr Bernie Taupin penned the words to Mr John's endlessly complicated ballad about candles, wind, sunset and rain. Small wonder that another Bernie should be the man to bring the innocent pleasure of smoking into bad repute. Never trust a fellow with a fringe. From Bernie Winters to Berni Inns, all Bernies are a bad lot.

Whither tobacco promotion? It would be a sad day if the youngsters of tomorrow were denied the pleasures of smoking. As a veteran of the tobacco sponsorship circuit (Managing Director, Puffmore Promotions, 1971-93), I know my way around. If tobacco is to be denied its place on television, on hoardings and at sporting events, we must seek to trumpet its qualities elsewhere.

The Teletubbies, for instance. This estimable band of cheery folk in their bright, vibrant costumes would undoubtedly give the tobacco industry a more youthful appeal. I have already written a provisional script. Laa Laa would pop up from her hidey-hole enjoying a quiet puff on a Capstan Full Strength. Suddenly, Tinky- Winky would appear, clutching apacket of Marlboro Lights.They are then joined by the adorable little Po, who has up until now publicly proclaimed her resistance to cigarettes. Laa Laa offers her a Capstan. No, no! exclaims Tinky-Winky, thrusting a Marlboro Light into her hands. But - and here is the adorable punch-line - Po hoodwinks them all, producing her very own pack of Senior Service before revealing that she has been a secret smoker of 40 a day for the past three and a half years! Delightful!

I'm afraid that sports sponsorship is something of a blind alley these days. Our future in this area lies, I rather think, on the beleaguered fox-hunting circuit. Cross-fertilisation of interests, as I say in my report, could be to our mutual benefit. Faced with an intransigent enemy, we must pool our resources. We in the tobacco industry have already bred a generation of hounds who are dedicated chain-smokers, puffing away on up to 10 cigarettes at a time. If we could let these dedicated doggy smokers loose on the hills and dales, panting to keep up with Monsieur Reynard, just think of the remarkable advertising inroads we could make into the British countryside!

Sadly, my submission to the Millennium Commission on behalf of the British tobacco industry has ended in failure. Though we had agreed to finance the project ourselves, for reasons cloaked in secrecy the Commission was not prepared to give the go-ahead to our plans to add a beautifully crafted cigarette to the mouth of every major public statue in Britain, the lions in Trafalgar Square among them. It seems that, if the industry is to survive, we will simply have to look elsewhere. And this is why I have asked our editor to add the name of Wallace Arnold, Esq, to her list of distinguished supporters of the legalisation of pot (dread word!). Frankly, I would advise Mr Bernie Ecclestone to follow suit. I fancy that racing-drivers fuelled by cannabis would lend much-needed twists and turns to this most monotonous and lacklustre of sports.