Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A bad smell

I don't smoke.

Well, I do smoke the very occasional cigar - nothing complements the smoky subtlety of a good malt whisky like a quality cigar - but I don't smoke cigarettes. It's not because I have any particular objection to cigarette smoking - I don't - it's just a habit that never caught on with me.

One of the reasons for that is possibly that I grew up in a household that was permanently shrouded in a fug of cigarette smoke. My dad smoked cigarettes, my mother smoked cigarettes and both my older brothers smoked cigarettes. I remember how we would all be sitting around chuckling along to Morecambe & Wise with a blue grey haze hanging from the ceiling like an inverted morning mist.

I know that all of my many cousins grew up in similar households as did my school chums. I remember wedding receptions where the adult guests smoked freely in the local village halls while us kids sipped our bottles of cola through straws and how a dozen or more of us would crowd around a table at the local British Legion where the ashtray would be overflowing with stubbed out cigarette butts while we peered through a shroud of cigarette smoke at the band playing "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" for the third time that evening.

Despite all this, neither myself or any of the other kids I knew at the time suffered from the effects of "passive smoking". There was one kid at school who was always ill with ear infections, asthma and the like, but his parents were amongst the few that didn't smoke, refused to allow smoking in their home and were obsessive vegetarians. I remember going around there once for tea (not the drink, but the evening meal as it used to be when we had dinner at midday) and being confronted with a plate of leaves. I never went there again and that kid never seemed to have any friends.

Anyway, people of my generation grew up in homes filled with cigarette smoke. We played in streets choked with leaded petrol fumes, smoke from coal fires and pollution from the Slough Trading Estate.

So why is it all different now?

Between 500 to 1,000 children a year end up in hospital because they are exposed to their parents' smoking.

Right. So we now live in a world where kids rarely come into contact with cigarette smoke, don't play in streets clogged with pollution from coal fires and leaded petrol and they're less healthy than we were?

Something stinks about this story and it isn't cigarette smoke.


JuliaM said...

It's just more evidence of the over-medicalisation of our culture - things that would be shrugged off as 'one of those things' are now seen as something that must be caused by somebody. Someone must be at fault!

Richard Matthews said...

The Government must make pots of money out of smoking from all the tax revenue. I can't for the life of me understand why there is this drive to discourage smoking. What are they going to replace the tax revenue with if everybody in Britain quits smoking?

I think the government could do a lot worse than lifting the advertising ban on smoking and get fags back into the pubs. I can even remember, just ten years ago, at my first 'proper' job, we were allowed to smoke at our desks if we stayed in the office beyond 5:30pm - mainly because the senior partner at the place was a 40 Bensons a day man. Completely unthinkable now.

Let's make smoking 'cool' again.

bernard said...

In the 1950s there were about 3 million vehicles on the UK roads, now there are over 30 million.
Yet still we are told it is passive smoking that is the big bogeyman of kids health.
Catalytic converters may have a very marginal effect but they don't filter out soot, and when I travel into any big town these days the smell is awful and palpable.
THAT is the real cause; Imagine what it does to tiny lungs 24 hours a day.

TheFatBigot said...

I can see that exposure to any potential irritant might cause problems if you are not used to it. When everyone was used to ciggy smoke there was no reason why it should be an irritant because it was just part of everyday life, but if you live life in a clinically clean bubble and are suddenly exposed to it things might be different.

That does not explain why more children have asthma now than when smoking was more prevalent ... or maybe it does. The answer might be that exposure to a potential irritant at an early age allows one to develop immunity.

The absurdity of the piece you link to is that it is impossible to isolate ciggy smoke as THE cause of a child's asthma. It might be THE cause, it might be a contributory factor or it might be irrelevant. No one can tell. My version of common sense tells me that a child exposed for all its life to ciggy smoke is unlikely to develop a reaction to it when previously it had no such reaction.

Stan said...

Thanks for all your comments - Julia, I think you are right. Not only that, but I know from personal experience that the medical profession are always looking to attribute illness to smoking even when there is no evidence.

Richard, given our aging population, debt and pensions crisis you'd think the government would actively encourage smoking - especially in the over 65's!

bernard - very true. And don't forget that diesel engines were far less prevalent too - and diesels chuck out the filthiest muck of all.

FB - I agree entirely. Correlation is not causation - but when the incidents of (A) rise significantly while the prevalence of (B) drops substantially you can be pretty sure that B does not cause A.

I remember just after the smoking ban was introduced in Scotland there was a small drop in the number of heart attacks - and the anti-smoking brigade were quick to jump on this as an indication that the ban was having an effect. The following year the incidents of heart attacks had increased significantly - does that mean the smoking ban made things worse?

Richard Matthews said...

Another two cents on the smoking ban: for what it's worth, I'm a former smoker, so the only noticable affect of the ban on me is that I don't have to worry about taking my suit to the dry-cleaners if I nip to the pub for a jar after work. I do feel a bit sorry for the old boys in the traditional country pubs who have to go out in the cold for a ciggie, though.

Quite a few smokers tell me that, since the ban, outside smoking areas are good places to chat up birds - away from the noisy, crowded bar. Well, good places to chat up birds who smoke anyway.

Stan, a definite 'hear hear' to the ageing population point. Get 'em smoking and snuffing it early. The government will have a lot of unintended consequences to deal with if everybody breaks the nicotine addiction.

Stan said...

That's funny about chatting up the ladies - if I weren't married I might be tempted to start smoking!

On the "old boys" in country pubs subject - my wife and I used to know an old lady - well into her nineties - who was half deaf and virtually blind. She couldn't read or watch TV and had to have the radio turned up loud to get anything from that. She'd been a smoker since she was 13 or 14, served as a Wren during the war and had never wanted anything from the state, but due to her age and ailing ability to get around she was reliant on home care. However, they refused to buy cigarettes (fire hazard they said) for her so was reliant on neighbours and myself and Mrs Stan to slip a couple of packs when we could.

Once a fortnight my wife and I would pick her up and take her out to a country pub where she could enjoy a half of bitter and a cigarette. She lived for those days and you could see the sheer pleasure she got from it. That all stopped with the smoking ban. Myself and Mrs Stan continued to try and tempt her out, but as she couldn't smoke with her beer she wasn't interested - "no point" she said.

That old lady died a few months later - she just gave up living as much as anything.

I will never ever forgive the anti-smoking zealots who deprived that woman of the one small pleasure she was able to enjoy in the twilight years of her life. It makes me angry to even think about it - I hope they never ever have to endure the persecution that they have dished out to this old lady, but I also hope their lives are miserable and empty.

I suspect they are.

Richard Matthews said...

Yes, there is a term given to chatting up lasses in the smoking area outside the pub / club. It's called 'smirting' (smoking + flirting).

That is a terribly sad tale about your late elderly neighbour denied the simple pleasures of a ciggy with her beer. Point is the anti-smoking lobby will never be happy. E.g. banning smoking in cars in case there are children in there for example. Lunacy.

Even though I am (now) a non-smoker, I find the smoking ban reprehensible. It's the principle at stake here: the government butting into far too many areas where they should have no business.

bernard said...

RM - The smoking ban has spawned quite a few expressions.
Londoners obliged to smoke outside are called 'snoutcasts'.

Richard Matthews said...


Snoutcasts! I love that one!

I'm surprised I hadn't heard it before given that I live in London.

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