I’m writing this leaning over a laptop struggling for words and relieving my steadily mounting stresses with cigarette after cigarette. I’ve finally conceded; I am a smoker. But no one‘s listening, no one except for the bleary eyed Rastafarian who sits cross legged as part of my novelty ashtray guarding my stubbed out fag ends. He seems to be having a great time, but then he does seem to be smoking something different. I think I look smoky and romantic, but I’m actually just eroding away my body from the inside, like what reading smoky romantic novels does to your brain. I’ve only myself to blame, well myself and the rising popularity of social smoking.
Given that since the inception of the smoking ban heart fatalities has dropped by a third, the medical advantages are obvious. However, the ban also gave rise to a whole new scene, a people who’s existence was, prior to then, unprecedented. So how did social smoking develop so rapidly in popularity and popular culture?
See, back in the days of yore smokers and non smokers lived together harmoniously. They’d skip through fields of daffodils hand in hand, despite one having to stop and gasp for breath every ten meters or so and probably leave a wake of coughing flowers behind them. Yet the smoking ban drove a chasm between them.
Initially this seemed a wholly negative implementation for smokers everywhere, yet they managed to turn the situation around, forming an exclusive club for smokers only. A veritable paradise evolved, that caused sales of patio heaters to go through the roof. Here the music isn’t so loud as to obstruct normal conversation, and everyone laughs manically, looking arty and sophisticated with cigarette in hand. Gradually a sect of revolutionaries broke off from the non smokers, they weren’t pinned down by any genuine nicotine addiction; they could probably swim more than a length of a pool and their skin wasn’t ravaged and grey like a road worker from the effects of tar. Yet here they were flirting and flaunting themselves about in the smoker’s very own area.
This new scene comprised the social smokers; we wanted the best of both worlds yet were ridiculed by both smokers and non smokers alike. To smokers we didn’t love cigarettes so much that we hated them, we just loved them. We also never carried our own cigarettes and were perpetually blagging other peoples. Whereas non-smokers were confused why their friend, who’d never shown any inclination to smoke before, was now brandishing the cigarette like a poison snake – holding it close enough that everyone would appreciate what a reckless and dangerous person they were, but far enough away so it wouldn’t cause any real damage. No one liked a social smoker and no one wanted the stigma that came with it.
For those reasons and for other deep seated psychological issues, which will probably remain undiagnosed, I decided that I would take up smoking professionally. Although I’m old enough not to be ignorantly naïve it was probably because I thought there was a super slim hope it might make girls want me more due to appearing more edgy and reckless. That was the best case scenario. The worst was lung cancer, impotency and smoking when pregnant does risk the health of your baby. Yet every warning I’d temper with misplaced reason: Lung cancer you say? By being a smoker I’m filtering my chemicals, unlike those reckless passive smokers. Impotency? I could pretend I don’t know what that means. Harming my unborn child? Perhaps a secondary birth control measure?
Yet, unlike beer, I still I couldn’t fool my body into enjoying smoking. Following each packet my mouth tasted like an ash tray, I was smelling my fingers for a completely different reason and my clothes had a tobaccoey quality, like a Cuban virgin, but less sexy. So it wasn’t entirely that smoking addiction crept up on me, it was more that I had to creep up on the addiction and then force it into my body. At one point I was considering using nicotine patches just to give my body a taste for the drug in the twisted hope that it might yearn for more. Luckily I didn’t go that far which is probably why I remain un-sectioned. Yet there was a heavy price to pay: firstly professionally smoking isn’t that lucrative. If anything it costs you money, a lot of money – I think I’m up to about fifty quid a month and I don’t even smoke that much. Added to that professional smoking differs from social smoking in that it isn’t social, this seems obvious but now instead of smoking being an excuse to go and chat and socialise now I was excusing myself from conversations to stand alone, often in the cold, to get a nicotine fix.
I was now part of that exclusive social group ‘the smokers’ and could tick that extra box on application forms, yet smoking had lost the romantic view that I had held of it. I wasn’t Brando lighting up a cigarette after sex, I was some skinny kid smoking out his window so my mum wouldn’t find out and lecture me about the fire hazards of smoking on my bed sheets. Plus once you’ve been initiated as a smoker (an initiation that involves yellow finger tips, awful breath, and the realisation that even a expertly twirled moustache won’t detract from lesions bunched up all over the neck) you suddenly realise that what got you into this in he first place, social smoking, doesn’t look cool, it makes you look like you’re compromising your own enjoyment and health values to fit in with a scene, and James Dean would never do that.