I don’t smoke. Haven’t done for, er, well, quite a long time (Decades actually). Not really keen on the smell of tobacco, well cigarettes. Don’t mind the waft of a decent cigar, and will happily stay in the vicinity of pipe smokers. The smell of stale cigarette smoke might make me reach for industrial strength air freshener when I get home, but otherwise I’m not really all that mithered by it all.
The one big thing I lost when I gave up was the social side of smoking. Lighting up a cigar in good company with a decent pint was a simple pleasure without sin. The fragrant rush of exhalation, and the buzz from the first smoke of the day. A shared light. Pleasant banter. At the time I truly enjoyed it.
I suppose the rot really set in during the early 90′s with segregated breaks for smokers, and special ‘smokers rooms’. Up until then we all mixed freely, and the most laughter, the most free flowing conversation always came from; guess where? The smokers tables. Most of my friends smoked, and although I’d already given up, that did not stop me seeking out their company. There was nothing joyless or po-faced about them. Just a shared mutual enjoyment, and happy conversation.
When breaks were segregated, so was the happy noise that went with them. At that time the smoker to non-smoker mix in my workplace was around fifty-fifty. The people who smoked chattered and laughed, and on the other side, conversation dwindled, and dare I say a certain sullen grumpiness reigned supreme. A particular type of distrustful tension came to the fore. There were the in-groups and out-groups, and where before there was a certain mixing, a particular democracy of equals; this dissolved into a dull cliqueishness of wannabe alpha males and females.
There were also the pubs. Untouched by any bans, they thrived; but as the social tide turned, my boon companions of those years melted away, and with other events in the English licenced trade. Such as the policy of asset stripping Pub Landlords by breweries under the ‘tied house’ system. During the 90′s ever more good landlords were pushed out by a pricing policy that punished them for selling more beer. From a point where a pub might have provided a man and his family with a modest living for forty years or more, now landlord turnover moved into the one tenant every six months. Rising duty on alcohol simply sent the punters home early, and the economic canker killing the trade moved on to a new phase.
Now the pub is being supplanted by the private drinking session where people go to others’ houses instead of frequenting the pubs and bars. What Leg-Iron calls the ‘Smokey-Drinky’. What my own contemporaries would have called a ‘sesh’. There’s the future; these are the new speakeasies, where a man can talk a little harmless treason without sanction. Well, apart from being roundly told by his friends that he’s ‘full of shit’.
On this blog, I find that more than a few of my ideological fellow travelers in the blogroll are smokers, and with that I have no issue. Your body, and what you do with it is your business. Lets face it, you’ve got to die of something. No one lives forever. All we can do is live with what we have, and I’ve seen a lot of death over the years. A lot of it totally unrelated to lifestyle, often more to the cruel vagaries of fate and genetics.
The longer you live, one thing is certain, the more you take out of the public purse as far as health care / pensions is concerned, regardless of whether you smoke, drink, or eat excessive amounts of fatty food / salt / whatever or not. So perhaps living longer may not be such a good thing as far as any given exchequer is concerned.
So yes I do feel that smokers are being handed a bum deal. Okay, it may not be the healthiest of lifestyle choices, but frankly, who gives a shit? Apart from the brown shirts and brown-noses. Because although my social life might not have been quite so ‘healthy’ in those years, I also remember my times with smokers and drinkers as being more fun. And I remember them as good times.