Thursday, February 16, 2006

No Fire Without Smoke

From the EDP 15 February

MPs last night voted overwhelmingly for a blanket ban on smoking in all pubs and private clubs.

In a decision with far-reaching implications for Britain's social and drinking habits, proposed amendments to exempt pubs not serving food and private members clubs were thrown out as MPs approved legislation that will herald a massive change for pubs and clubs.

MP's have finally got around to voting a ban on smoking down your local boozer. Not a difficult call really. Only about 20% of the population smokes nowadays – and most of them would like to quit. Perhaps not being allowed to light up in their local pub may encourage them to quit. Or, will it?

The news was trotted out to a couple of die-hard smokers who were adamant that they did not want to quit and did not want to stand outside the pub either. Both were in their 70's and, apparently, fit as a fiddle. One old boy of course had been smoking since he was 10 - and “it never did me any harm”. A more responsible press might have left these two to their own devices. They are atypical in the extreme. Everybody knows smoking is dangerous and will probably kill you and has known this for 30 years.

It's easy to be condescending to smokers – if you have given up after 35 years of smoking. Like me. When I started smoking in the 60's no-one knew about the health risks. Or, if they did, nobody paid any attention. So, we smoked. We were young and seemingly invulnerable, and so the health risks, when they became apparent in the 70's and 80's, were ignored. You get so busy and so addicted you just carry on. By the time you consider the consequences, it's too late. So, you carry on smoking. Eventually, when the risks are so immediate and apparent that they can no longer be contended with or ignored it's far too late. Pressures of work, family, and just living leave you psychologically unable or unwilling to contemplate getting through the day without tobacco. So, you carry on smoking. People in this position are unlikely to be swayed by the risks – they already know them. When Parliament decrees that you have to stand outside the pub to smoke – you stand outside the pub. The Irish have been doing it for some time now. (In typical Irish fashion they ignore this while adopting their usual “holier than thou” attitude – no-one does this quite so charmingly as the Irish).

Over the years, as tobacco became more and more expensive and the health risks became more and more apparent, the case for quitting became more and more pressing. So, in April 2005 when Mrs K suddenly announced that she was quitting – not on health grounds of course, even the cheap rolling tobacco I drove to Belgium to get for her had become too expensive for her tastes – I immediately quipped, “Ok, I'll quit too.” She laughed and scoffed. Her comment, “You'll never do it.” Good to have the support of your family! The day was fixed in early April and we trooped off to the Doctor's for our appointment with the no-smoking counsellor. It took a few days to get the no-smoking aids on prescription (nicotine patches, gum and inhalator) sorted out. During this time Mrs K decided to bring forward the actual day we were going to quit. Fine. The day arrived. I got up, put on my no-smoking patch and had a cup of tea – without a cigarette for the first time in over 30 years. I fixed up my inhalator and had a suck on that. So far so good. I made it all through the day until about 7 that Thursday night. Mrs K was going to her art class so, after I dropped her off, I stopped at the local shop and bought ten cigarettes. I smoked one. I put the other nine in the glove box. I realised that if you smoke just one – you will want to smoke another. I was determined! That weekend I took my step son into Norwich. I took the nine cigarettes out of the glove box and gave them to him. I told him to give them to any old dosser he might see on the street. He did. He has never smoked.

That Thursday evening's was the last one I ever had.

The first week or two is tough – very tough. I was determined not to become a hermit and hide at home until I could face the world without a fag, so I carried on with my usual activities. A week after I quit I had to go to a meeting in a pub in Dereham. I had a pint – but no cigarette. It was not easy. (I hate those few people who can seemingly quit without any problems at all – or are they just very good liars!)

Uncharacteristically (for me), I got lost after the meeting and couldn't find my car! Perhaps it was the withdrawal symptoms! I really needed a cigarette. I think if I had had one I would have smoked it. Fortunately, I found the car before I found shop open. That was the worst time!

I'm concious that I'm an ex-smoker, not a non-smoker. You can still be tempted by the smell of tobacco occasionally. We have a smoker in the house, but it's only annoying to me – not tempting. It's Mrs K that is the problem. She cannot give up the lozenges. She sneaks a puff on an old discarded butt that she finds laying in a dirty ashtray! This I do not understand! Mind you, I'm just as bad I suppose. I forever have the inhalator in my mouth. There's no nicotine cartridge in it – but I can't seem to let it go.

If I can quit - anyone can. This is the message the government should be plugging. Stopping people from smoking in pubs may encourage a few to quit - but I suspect not many.

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