Wednesday, 9 March 2011

National no smoking day

Today is No Smoking Day. This is of course a blog about men's style and grooming beyond the age of 35, when the mags tend to lose interest in us. Smoking has historically been part of that style.

Flickr: M.Markus
Glamorous images of tobacco are all over the place and unless we want to rewrite history they're here to stay. Churchill chomping on a cigar. Groucho on a cigar. Paul Henreid and Bette Davis blowing smoke into each other's faces in "Now Voyager" - ever so seductive. In "Dr. No", James Bond is first introduced whilst lighting a cigarette. And of course we have the current vogue for "Mad Men".

All very positive, sophisticated and comforting. And look at the ages of the people who were smoking in these scenarios by the time they died (Bond doesn't count, the character is fictional and I have no idea whether Sir Sean Connery actually smokes - ditto "Mad Men" and the actors involved). Bette Davis was a dedicated smoker who was very old by the time she passed away. Churchill was indomitable until his eighties and Marx was still appearing on TV until the 1970s.

Only...smoking's never like that when you encounter it in real life. The actual image we see is more like the one in the picture here - a bit grubby, smelly, and leaves a bit of a stain. My dad smoked and I grew up pretty much in a smoke-scented house. My mum didn't by the time I was around but she moved to a flat over a decade ago and the woman in the flat below enjoyed cigarettes - so mum's flat would suddenly smell of tobacco.

That's a bit invasive, isn't it? In the same way that during my twenties I couldn't return home from a drink with friends in a pub without smelling of stale tobacco, needing to get jackets dry cleaned and so on. Smokers couldn't see what the fuss was about (I'm one of the lucky ones who didn't start - very uncool at the time but one of the best decisions I've made).

But back to my mother. She moved to this flat by herself. The reason was very simple: my father died of a heart attack in 1984. He left her (aged 46, my age come April) widowed with me (then 19) and my brother (14) in tow.

Heart attacks are caused by many things - if I don't lose a bit of weight I'll have to consider myself in the "at risk" group as I ease into my late forties - but we were assured by the hospital that in this instance smoking would have been a major factor. Dad's lungs were found also to contain emphysema, so even if he'd lived he'd have had a wretched illness to face. Nearly 27 years later what really hurts is that he did it to himself through an indulgence - it was completely unnecessary.

Never mind Churchill and Marx. We all know someone who's gone on for years working on the principle that a little of what you fancy does you good and including tobacco in that equation.

The fact is that if you smoke it smells bad, makes a mess (whoever told my smoking in-laws that it was acceptable to throw cigarette butts aside in the street or on my patio when they were visiting I have no idea) and you have no way of knowing whether you're going to be one of those people who goes on until your nineties or checks out in your forties like my dad. Or your twenties with agonising cancer, as an old mate from school did. Sorry, I said "old" - clearly he never was.

Suddenly smoking seems less like a style statement and more like a totally crazy idea. If you're reading this blog then there's a good chance you're at the age when we need to start taking these things seriously if we haven't before.

Smoking is a clinical addiction and you may well need help from a GP or advice from a pharmacist, but if you're a smoker aiming to give up then good luck - and if you're a smoker not aiming to give up, have a think.


  1. Good post; I gave up 4 years ago after my first coronary 'event' - I'm now 44 and counting.

  2. Well said Guy and I appreciate the part straight from your heart about your dad. That must have been difficult to write.

    I tried a cigarette at 18, got addicted and it took me 20 years to kick the habit. I feel the same way as you and I wanted to be around to see my kids grow up.


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