Dying for a cigarette?

My earliest memories are of people smoking. Stinging smoke in my eyes, an ashtray on every flat surface. By the time that I was old enough to think about it, I didn’t hardly know anyone who wasn’t a smoker. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, many of my cousins, and all their friends and neighbours. Customers in shops, and shopkeepers and assistants too. Most of the teachers at school, a large section of my fellow pupils, and any man I ever met over the age of sixteen. They all smoked.

You could smoke on the top deck of a bus, in the smoking compartments of trains, and in any seat in a coach. The cinema was fair game too, though theatres had generally restricted smoking to the bar only, and during intervals. Restaurants provided ashtrays on every table, large stores employed people to sweep up the butts discarded on the floors, and nobody ever complained. Cigarettes were relatively cheap, as were matches. It was part of growing up, a rite of passage, as well as a huge industry.

Advertisers had been urging us to smoke for decades by then. Once commercial TV arrived, smart and glossy adverts urged us to try different brands. Almost sixty years later, I still remember some of the tag-lines. ‘You’re never alone with a Strand.’ ‘Consulate, cool as a mountain stream.’ Sponsorship followed, with F1 racing teams like JPS being financed by tobacco companies. Then there were the films. From the earliest days, smoking in films was portrayed as sexy, manly, or just a good way to chat someone up. Studio stars had portfolio photos taken, showing them lighting cigarettes, or sitting swathed in swirls of smoke. Soldiers in war films prized their smokes above all, with product placement for brands like Chesterfield and Lucky Strike accepted as fact. Lovers were shown lighting up after sex scenes, as if the post-coital cigarette was the reason for it all to begin with.

Almost everyone smoked, and nobody seemed to care.

In 1967, I was taken to see my GP. I had very swollen eyes, a result of my first experience of hay fever. Not only was this kindly old man smoking as I entered the consultation room, he offered my Mum a cigarette as she sat down. By the time I reached the age of sixteen, I had resisted the urge to try smoking. Still at school, I had little or no disposable income, so the prospect of spending what I had on cigarettes did not even occur to me. The following summer, I got a holiday job. I was on full-time wages, and finally had some real money in my pocket.

On payday, I went into the local shop, and bought twenty cigarettes and a box of matches. There was no question of not selling them to me. I had been sent out to buy cigarettes for my parents since I was seven or eight. I used to be allowed to spend the change on sweets, so always looked forward to being asked to run over to the shop. I lit my first ever cigarette, just over six months short of my seventeenth birthday. I expected to cough violently, and to not know how to smoke. I thought it might taste bad, feel hot, or be otherwise unpleasant. But it wasn’t. It was easy. I felt a little light-headed, but in a good way. I just had the one though, then put them away in a coat pocket.

A year later, and I had left school to take a full-time job. I smoked all the time by then, trying different brands to settle on the one I liked best. My parents had seemed relieved when they saw me smoking. To them it was perfectly natural, and it didn’t worry them in the least. I had joined the smokers, something that they had all been waiting for me to do.

Over the following decades, I smoked without thinking. I met my first wife, who also smoked, though only casually. My second wife had just given up when we met, but had no problem with me smoking at all. I could still smoke almost anywhere. Even the receptionists in the hospital smoked, as they booked patients in. Doctors would sneak into the staff room, to join the heavy-smoking nurses for a much-need cigarette break. But the tide was turning. Cinemas had brought in the ridiculous ‘right-hand’ system. All the seats on the right of the auditorium had smoking allowed, but not the left. That meant I would be sitting less than four feet away from a non-smoker during a 2-3 hour film, puffing away happily. On aircraft, you had to request a ‘smoking seat’. These were always the few rows at the very back. This still meant that a non-smoker was only one seat away from a person who might be smoking a cigar or pipe, as well as those using cigarettes. But duty-free cigarettes and cigars were sold to aircraft passengers, so there was a vested interest. Restaurants introduced ‘smoking tables’, again close to non-smokers who had to suffer in silence, most of the time.

Soon after, the anti-smoking lobby was gaining ground. Sides were taken, battle-lines drawn. Some of those same doctors who had sneaked into the staff room for a smoke in their youth, were now making television programmes about the hazards of tobacco smoke. Gory photos of cancerous tumours and diseased lungs were all over the media. And then there was the cost. Successive governments had increased the taxes on cigarettes, knowing that they could milk the nicotine addicts of their money, like so many cash cows. But I had a well-paid job, so I continued to buy my expensive Lucky Strikes. When I eventually met Julie, in the year 2000, one of the first things I told her was that I was a heavy smoker. By then it was important to get that fact across as soon as possible in any relationship. Fortunately, she told me that she also smoked, so that problem was solved.

Twelve years later, with retirement looming, I realised that I could no longer afford to buy cigarettes. They had increased in price to an extortionate £8.80 back then, and cost even more now. I could easily do the sums. Ten packets a week = £88. Multiply that by 52 weeks, and you get £4,576. That was more than one of my two pensions, just for cigarettes. So, we both gave up. Well, not exactly gave up. We switched to e-cigarettes, called ‘Vaping’ in some countries. It’s a fraction of the price, and is currently thought to be 95% safer than smoking. Very little in life is 100% safe, not even tap water, so it’s a fair gamble.

But it might all be too late of course. The damage could have been done all those years ago, as I sat enjoying my Lucky Strikes. Ask any smoker, and they will tell you it’s mostly about habit. Answering the phone? Light a cigarette. Driving in traffic? Light a cigarette. Enjoying a beer, or glass of wine? Better with a cigarette. Stressful day, or an argument with your partner? A cigarette helps. The first cup of coffee in the morning, or that last hot drink at night. Start the day with a cigarette, and round it off with one too. Just eaten a nice meal? Time for a cigarette. Leaving the house? Pat down your pockets, or check your handbag. Make sure you have those cigarettes and lighter on you. The habit is stronger than the addiction for most of us. And I say us, because I am still a smoker, albeit one of a different kind. I don’t preach, or take sides. It is what it is, for whatever reason it began.

But the next time you hear yourself say, “I’m dying for a cigarette.” You probably are.

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37 thoughts on “Dying for a cigarette?

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree that many people can give up smoking completely. Though most people I know who have done so did admit that they found it far from easy. I also agree that a lot of the habit is in the mind, but there is no denying the aspect of withdrawing from the nicotine craving that undeniably remains as a physiological reality.
      Regards, Pete.

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  1. I saw a graph in National Geographic not so long ago. In 1964 Surgeon General linked smoking to lung cancer and a year later Caution Labels were required on cigarette packets in the U.S. where smoking peaked in 1965 with 42% of American adults smoking. By 2012 it was 18%. For me it’s a tricky subject. Firstly I have no interest in judging people for addiction, secondly I hate how society can turn on minorities and try to enforce their own beliefs on others which places me quite sympathetic to the rebellious nature of smokers, thirdly despite the huge loss of life and health and productivity costs that smoking caused for previous generations, it is nothing compared to what cheese burgers are going to do going forward. It hardly seems a legitimate positon to judge someone for lighting up a deathstick while I’m shovelling pizza down my throat so frequently that the smoker is bound to outlive me. I suppose a key difference comes in the form of passive smoking albeit there are also reports about how bad eating habits can be passed onto those you live closest to. If you smoke then smoke. It’s your body and your life and if it makes you happy then I’m happy for you. There’s enough smoke free zones in the world today that I can probably avoid the consequences of your choice. But…my grandfather smoked. He died when I was 3 from lung cancer. I love the man but I never knew him and that’s because he was a smoker and well I wish I had known him. That’s all. So if you’re smoking less Pete or Cindy then I’m happy but I will always support your right to live your life the way you want to. Best wishes.

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    1. Thanks for a well-considered and very fair viewpoint, Lloyd. It is probably true that diet-related Diabetes will disable or kill more people than smoking, in years to come, and you address that point well. Sorry to hear about your grandfather, it is a shame he wasn’t around to see you grow up.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The problem with smoking is it’s easy to start. I started at school thinking it was a growing up thing to do now with health problems of my own and a brother dying of emphysema I wish I Never started. Well done to those who have given up nd to those who haven’t (like me) keep trying one day we will stop

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Alan. I tried a few different methods for giving up, but always went back to the cigarettes fairly quickly. I read somewhere that they are as strong an addiction as heroin. I hope that you manage to stop one day soon.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. It’s amazing how times have changed, I just hope it doesn’t take as long for people driving while texting to end… Too many folks are dying due to cell phone users in cars… There are even people getting ran over while on cell phones with their heads down, while crossing the street.. I use to wonder how drivers could not see folks crossing the streets , but their on their cell phones too… go figure…..

    Take care,

    Laura

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      1. It is here too, and huge fines… but they continue to drive and be on those cell phones.. Police have road blocks and undercover cars stopping folks that are driving while using cell phones, they even went for the training to spot the offenders, anyone driving with one hand, or looking down into their lap,..

        (on a side note, that also is bad for all of the cool people who drive with one hand and those that naturally look down at their laps) Sorry had to say it….

        🙂 wink, nudge….

        Take care,

        Laura

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  4. Pete, I’ve worked a job or two where I inhaled a bit of second-hand smoke, but I have never had a lit cigarette in my mouth. One of my grandparents smoked, and he died of emphysema (otherwise strong as an ox). In the 1995 film, “The Seven Year Itch.” Richard Sherman (played by Tom Ewell) is a smoker. Imagine lines like this being spoken in 1955!

    [Richard exhales after a long drag on a forbidden cigarette]
    Richard Sherman: All those lovely, injurious tars and resins.

    Richard Sherman: [In Richard’s nightmare, Helen shoots him and he lays dying on the stairs] Helen… I’m going fast. Give me a cigarette!
    Helen Sherman: A cigarette? You know what Dr. Murphy told you about smoking!

    It seems to me that it’s been known for a long time that cigarettes are not good for you. But I do remember all the TV commercials and magazine ads. “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” “I’d walk a mile for a Camel.” And so forth and so on. I always wanted to have two free hands, couldn’t afford the habit, and didn’t care for the smoke or smell.

    I do congratulate you on turning to e-cigarettes. I also congratulate you on moving to Norfolk, where the air is cleaner, and where you get plenty of healthy exercise.

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    1. Glad to hear that you never smoked, David. As you say, the dangers of cigarettes have been known from the beginning, but more money was spent promoting them, than campaigning against them.
      Hopefully, I gave up in time, and combined with the move out of London, bought a few extra years to enjoy the rain and mosquitoes!
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  5. My father used to smoke, first cigarettes and then cigars but eventually gave up. My mother never smoked and I never had the inclination or the interested in it (although quite a few of my friends did, although no longer). The study of the effect of smoking was a very good epidemiological study that followed doctors who smoked and those who didn’t for many years (and I guess being doctors they felt a duty to actually take part and keep answering questions) and it’s one of the first to show a clear evidence of the effects of smoking. Of course you’re right that things were very different and to begin with people thought it was good for chest complaints. Now that I have history on both sides of the family (maternal and paternal) of heart disease, I’m happy I never started and haven’t added more numbers to the lottery… I’m pleased to hear you no longer smoke cigarettes… 🙂

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    1. Well done for never smoking, Olga. I sincerely hope that your Mum benefits from the Cardiac Catheterisation, and that life calms down both for you, and for your family.
      Best wishes as always, Pete..

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  6. So, is the follow up post going to be about how to get rid of all the weight you put on when you stop smoking? Or is it just me? I blame it on the fact that food tastes so much better. Oh, and the wine probably doesn’t help. 🙂

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    1. I was lucky in that it coincided with getting the dog, and doing all the walking. Not only did I manage to quit real cigarettes, I lost two inches off my waist too. Mind you, I didn’t eat much more when I gave up, because I was still getting the nicotine from the e-cigs, I suppose. x

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Mom says, “My parents and sisters smoked. The house always had a blue cloud hovering in it and full ashtrays. Because of the smell, I never was even tempted to have a try. I’m thankful.” Woof! Love, Maggie

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  8. I stopped smoking more than 10 years ago. I hadn’t planned to, but that’s when I learned how the cigarette companies have known about the product’s addictive qualities almost since the beginning. That’s why they gave them free to soldiers and film studios back in the 1940s. No wonder your childhood was filled with memories of everyone smoking. So was mine.

    It made me so angry that I stopped cold turkey. So instead of quitting, I’m boycotting cigarette companies and can’t imagine they’ll find a way to lure me back. Just as well, a packet in Australia now costs as much as $40.

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    1. $40 Phew! And I thought that they were expensive in the UK! They must have always known. Perhaps they paid off everyone? Back then, it seems like that was usual practice.
      Regards, Pete.

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  9. As a Northerner I was smoking from the age of 5 (ok 14) and thanks to the industrious shopkeepers I could buy one cigarette if the urge took me. Mind you at 30p for 10 No6 or Embassy Red, running two paper rounds I had no bother buying them in packs! By the time I left school I was on the roll ups and never felt under the tax mans financial pressure. Later on I had a steady supply of baccy sent from a low taxed sister in Spain. It was only when my hypochondria set in and I convinced myself that the chest pains I had were smoking related that I decided to pack it in…..turns of the pain was from a back problem!!
    Still it took a while, but now I’m two years off the fags. Other people smoking never bothers me, but if I see someone rolling up, then I’m dying for a harry rag 🙂

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  10. I started using an e-cig rather than a vaping device about 2 1/2 years ago. I stayed off the fags for 2 years but 6 months ago I started smoking real ones again. 😦 I never smoke in the car though so from 9am til I get home at night am using the e-cig. I know I can get rid of cigs again, and when I finish work in 2 wks time that’s my plan. Bit annoyed with myself though when I was doing so well, and it worries me that they can still have that ‘pull’ on me.

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    1. I really managed to break the pull by using flavoured e-fluids. I like Blueberry, and Vanilla. I kept the nicotine strength up to 18 mg, and that way I always feel satisfied. I suppose that I will never really know, unless I come into money, or win the Lottery. The simple truth is that I can no longer afford ‘real’ cigarettes.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Your childhood sounded just like mine. I started smoking when I went into the Navy. Bored on a watch and 19, my coworker taught me how. I’d smoke for a year. Quit when the children were announced and born. Start back up for a few weeks. Quit for a decade. Start back up and smoke for two years then stop again. It always coincides with stress. In bad moments, smoking is a coping mechanism. No, that’s a lie. When I’m happy I enjoy a cigarette, too. At this present moment, I’m foolishly smoking one or two cigs a day during cocktail time. Time to give it up for good. Tomorrow.

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    1. I was smoking 25-40 a day. One or two at cocktail time is probably no more dangerous than the cocktails…As I said, I never judge. If cigarettes were still £1 a packet, I would never have tried to give up.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  12. You are on the mark. I only quibble with your last paragraph. It should read “But the next time you hear yourself say, ‘I’m dying for a cigarette.’ You are.” There is no PROBABLY to it.

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  13. I only finally quit smoking about 6 months ago. I tried the patches during a 3 day stay in the hospital, but ended up smoking with them on. It was a long, slow process of cutting back to finally do it.

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    1. I did 6 months once, cold turkey. I also used the patches, and smoked at the same time too!
      The electronic option worked, and I haven’t had a ‘real’ one since!
      Glad to hear you managed it, GP.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. Absolutely. I have not had a real cigarette since 2012. Mind you, I use the vape machine all the time, so still get the nicotine, but none of the other stuff. If you want, I will email with the details, costs, flavours, etc. Just let me know. x

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