There are few things you can do that scale to quite such dizzying heights of stupidity than smoking. Smoking is a fool’s game. Unfortunately, smoking is also one of the most enjoyable, glorious things that you can do with your time. I am still a smoker and the reason I have yet to kick the habit is because I really like to smoke. I’m an idiot, I know, but in a world this shitty it sort of makes sense to enjoy the kind of things you enjoy. Besides it’s virtually impossible to hurt anyone else with your smoking these days. Except by dying, which can be hard or easy on others, depending how much of an arsehole you are. I don’t know exactly why I started smoking, but I definitely know that by the time I was fifteen or so I was keen to give it a go. When I was a boy I would love to flick through the duty free magazines on our Brittany Ferry trips to France every year. In an age when cigarettes could be advertised with giddy, almost pornographic abandon it was a strange kind of pleasure to see curls of blue smoke wafting their way across magazine pages or to see The Marlboro Man having a moment of quiet contemplation as he slowly clogged up his lungs, somewhere in Montana. Marlboro, back then, were always the coolest cigarettes. They would still be today if they were allowed their branding back.
If we think back to the days when sport was festooned with tobacco advertising it really does boggle the mind what big business could get away with. The fact that a lot of sports ‘personalities’ also smoked didn’t do the cause any harm (well, it did, but you know what I mean). It is no coincidence, for instance, that darts has become a much more precise game in recent years now that the players don’t have to guess where the board is through a fog of smoke. Almost everyone in snooker could be caught chuffing away in the background, doubtless perfectly happy to let their opponent build up a formidable break, so long as they could suck on a couple of chunky Rothmans. It has also been suggested that the main reason Formula 1 cars go so much faster these days is simply because they are not weighed down by so many massive stickers for Lucky Strike and Camel. You may as well laugh at just how cavalier it all was. Laugh and cough.
One has to also take into account the enormous influence of film on the enduring allure of your average cancer stick. Most black and white movies have fewer than three screen minutes of their running time when someone isn’t lighting up. Indeed they were so fond of cigarettes back then that a lot of films liked to include team smoking, whereby so many of the cast would be drawing on a fag that you would begin to think you were watching footage from inside a particularly angry storm cloud. Humphrey Bogart even smoked when he slept. And even as death by nicotine became less popular there were still some beautiful films where the smoking just looked so go. Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout springs to mind. As do Powers Boothe in Southern Comfort and Robert De Niro in Midnight Run. These guys really knew how to smoke. They made it look like something you could get better at with practice.
Of course, nowadays smoking couldn’t have a worse reputation, and that’s fine, because it is a very stupid pastime. Countries like New Zealand and Australia almost seem to think that smoking is worse than paedophilia or incest, which is a step too far if you ask me. On the packet I’m working through at the moment, from Portugal, there is a photo of a sad looking woman in a wheelchair on a hospital ward. I look at that photo and wonder that she might just perk up if she could only sneak out and fire up one of those bad boys. I miss cigarettes when they weren’t covered in stark warnings, terror and badly damaged internal organs, and I think we should at least do the same for all of the other dangerous stuff that people shovel into themselves. Beer cans and vodka bottles should sport images of adults shitting themselves in their sleep, and every McDonalds advertising board should have an image of a Big Mac next to a photo of a morbidly obese man trying to find his own cock. Smoking may be daft, but on the big list of stupid it has a hell of a lot of company. Simple rule: if you’d don’t smoke, don’t start. And if you do smoke then by all means try to give up. But trust me when I tell you that if someone says “blimey, I’d love a fag right now” they really, really mean it.
G B Hewitt. 02.01.2022