One of those ex-smokers

Like David Sedaris I am an ex-smoker.

I started smoking when I was twelve. I’d just seen Rebel Without a Cause and thought the way James Dean held a cigarette was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be like him.

So I started smoking. For awhile I smoked Rothmans because they were featured on the cover of one of The Jam’s albums—a band I was way into but none of my friends had even heard of. But I soon moved on to unfiltered Camel cigarettes because they came in such cool packets—I smoked Gitanes for the same reason—and because I was sick of having to explain to people about The Jam.

I was such a cool smoker that I could blow smoke rings. Not lame, see-it’s-kind-of-a-whispy-circle ones, but the real thing. I could also, while in my brief roll-your-own phase, roll cigarettes with one hand. Not very good ones, but recognisably cigarettes.

I quit when I was fifteen after being shown a gruesome anti-smoking film at school that included smokers smoking out of holes in their throats, smokers with limbs removed because of smoking-induced gangrene, smokers’ lungs drippy black tar, and wizened low-weight babies being born because of their smoker parents.

None of those images got me to quit.

Oh, no, it was the very brief mention of how smoking makes you ugly: stains your teeth (I’d started to notice that), shrinks the capillaries under your skin causing premature wrinkling (close up of a twenty-five year old with lots and lots of lines around her mouth—even at fifteen I knew twenty-five wasn’t that old), causes your hair to thin, and your eyes to redden, eventually turn yellow and fall out of your head.

If I kept smoking I would turn into a hideous crone!

Quitting was dead easy given that I’d never liked the taste of tobacco and had the extreme good fortune not to have gotten addicted. I’d solely been attracted by the Hollywood movie cool-osity of cigarettes. But smoking did not transform me into a dead American male from Indiana, did not give me one iota of his coolness. I’d gone through three years of a habit I didn’t much like for nothing but yellow teeth, wrinkles and eyeballs that could soon depart my head.

Needless to say the fifteen-year-old me was very cross indeed and became the most vehement anti-smoker you can imagine, which is pretty much where I remain. Especially after seeing people, such as my grandmother, die painful smoking-caused deaths.

I have rejoiced as more and more cities and countries implement smoking bans. Our recent and glorious tour of Europe was especially fabulous because now even places I thought would never do it—France, Germany, Italy, the UK—have brought in excellently stringent smoking laws.

The glorious spread of non-smoking laws has made the countries that have yet to comply more and more intolerable. It was shocking in Austria and Switzerland to see people smoking pretty much wherever they wanted to. Especially as they mostly wanted to smoke in my face at restaurants.

I have now decided that I am only going to countries where smoking is banned in public spaces, or, at the very least, in restaurants. Sadly, this means I can’t visit Spain, which I’ve been wanting to return to for years and years. Sorry, Lawrence. There’ll be no China, India or Russia in my near future. Bulgaria is also off my list. In fact, smoking is so insanely out of control in Bulgaria that I have a suggestion:

Why not declare Bulgaria Europe’s smoking country? Then all the other European nations can ban smoking completely and their smokers can move to Bulgaria, where they can happily smoke in cinemas, hospitals, or anywhere else that takes their fancy. Burma can be Asia’s. Though China’s so big you’d probably have to give over a whole province for the smokers. Maybe two.

The US is also on the big side. Maybe it needs a designated smoking state. Dunno what state it should be, though definitely not New York or California. What do you lot reckon?

Australia doesn’t really have the population to support a whole smoking state. Plus every one of her states and territories have fabulous bits; I couldn’t in good conscience give any of them to smokers. But I am willing to cede them Fort Denison, though we’d have to tow it further out to sea so their fumes don’t get blown back into the city. Just think future school children would never be forced to visit Fort Denison again.

We’d all win!


  1. Meghann on #

    Make the US smoking state Alabama. It can’t get any worse, and no one wants to go there anyway. 😉

  2. Mahek on #

    The governments should just make smoking really expensive. Teach the idiots a lesson.

    My friend smokes and I hate it. I want to tell her she’s going to die early. Well, at least Justine, you aren’t like kids at my school. I know one girl who has smoked since she was eight. That’s quite a young age to start smoking from.

    I just love smoking bans.

    I would die if smoking states were made in countries like Canada and Australia. These places are too pretty to be made into crappy smoking areas.

  3. Ju on #

    Western Australia has at least got fairly strict anti-smoking laws, and I believe that several states are set to follow after us. Hopefully this comes sooner rather than later… I’m certainly a fan of not having to worry about smokers in restaurants etc.

    In Fremantle there are bans set to come into effect that smoking outside along the cafe strip will become banned for others’ comfort – mixed reactions from people in general, but I for one am ecstatic – I want to sit outside to eat sometimes too 🙂

  4. Lawrence Schimel on #


    I do understand, Justine.

    And Spain is getting much better with its partial smoking ban (that’s only halfheartedly enforced), although it still has a long ways to go.

    We’ll get you back eventually. 🙂

  5. kris on #

    Amazing idea. I can’t stand it when people feel they have the RIGHT to smoke, in bars especially, but somehow I don’t have the right to go to said places and be able to breathe.

    Not my addiction, it’s yours. You deal with it, I shouldn’t have to.

    Luckily, Texas is slowly placing bans indoors. If I could only place bans in friends houses. 🙂 I bet if it were move or quit, people would quit.

  6. doselle on #

    The Jam?

    The Jam?

    You should never have had to explain the sheer excellence of The Jam.

    If your friends didn’t get it, there was likely never any hope for them.

    I’d like to second the offering of Alabama as the U. S. Although, Florida might be an OK choice, as well.

  7. Gabrielle on #

    Doselle: Florida is NOT an okay choice! Think of all the kids and old people there! Plus me! I suggest Wyoming. Nobody cares about Wyoming. 😉

    They’re actually not allowed to smoke in bars in Canada, since ’06 I think. Go us! I’m not sure if that’s the norm though. Ah well.

    The only place I’ve been where the smoking was kinda ridiculous, including some Europe, was Athens. There was literally a cloud of smoke in the airport. The AIRPORT!

  8. Mahek on #

    The Jam originated in the town I was born and live in!! I’m not bragging, really!! HAHA!

    Most people who live in this town probably don’t even know that!

  9. Justine on #

    Meghann: Doesn’t John Green come from Alabama? He might have something to say about his state being sacrificed.

    Mahek: Smoking rates are plummeting in the US. Just be patient–your friends will give up. Especially as more and more bans are introduced.

    Ju: Isn’t it pretty much like that in every state now? I was overjoyed last time I was in Sydney to be able to go to all my fave bars without going home stinking of cigarettes. Yay!

    I also heard there’s going to be an Australia-wide ban on smoking in cars if anyone under 18 is in the car. Excellent idea.

    Lawrence: I do miss Spain. And you, of course. Mmmmm, morcilla . . .

    Kris: Me, either. The smoking ban in NYC made my life SO much better. And those smoking bans just keep spreading and spreading and spreading. Yay!

    Doselle: It was more that they didn’t know who The Jam were. Remember this was a bunch of twelve year olds. You should have seen their faces when I made them listen to Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. They refused to let me play any more music and I had to endure ELO and Olivia Newton John for hours. *Shudder*.

    I will admit though that when I discovered that most of my favourite Jam songs were covers and went and heard the original versions I went off them quite a bit. Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” pees all over The Jam’s.

    Poor Alabama.

    Gabrielle: Isn’t Wyoming meant to be really pretty? Greece is bad but everyone says that Bulgaria is much much worse.

    Mahek: You’re from Working? Such history! Do they have a Forbidden Planet? 🙂

  10. JS Bangs on #

    I’m the other kind of ex-smoker: the kind who remembers it fondly, and who sympathizes with my former cohort. Nonetheless, I like smoking bans in places like restaurants (where the smokers can make things really unpleasant for the non-smokers). Not so sure about a smoking country. What will the Bulgarians think of the idea?

  11. autumn on #

    i’ve always thought having a smoking section in a restaurant was rather like having a peeing section in a pool.

  12. Justine on #

    Autumn: Wow. That’s the PERFECT analogy. I am so stealing it from you.

  13. Elodie on #

    Yaaay smoking bans! I hate the smell of cigarettes, let alone the whole bad-health part of it. When I was younger I thought all smokers should be simply killed and then all tobacco plants eradicated from the earth, and then we’d be free of it XD

  14. Mahek on #

    Woking don’t have a Forbidden Planet. The closest is in London, I think. My friends spend their whole lives there.

    And, Autumn, I loved your comment. It really disturbed me though!

  15. Gabrielle on #

    Justine: I dunno, I haven’t really heard anything about Wyoming. I actually looked at a map and chose the one that meant the least to me. XD Oops. I might have driven through it a few years ago though. If I did, it didn’t really stand out amongst the northern states. 🙂

    Autumn: Haha, that was so awesome. And so true.

    I was gonna quote Letterman and say “Nobody cares about the Dakotas,” but Winner, South Dakota is the home of all awesome! So I revised my choice.

    And the thing about not smoking in a car with a minor there is a fantastic idea.

  16. emmaco on #

    I think all of Australia is smoke free now, even the Northern Territory since New Year.

    The city I was shocked about the amount of smoke indoors was Copenhagen – I’m so used to associating Denmark with sensible Scandinavian policies!

  17. Ellie on #

    I wish they would put a smoking ban on cars in Michigan. I hate having to go home smelling, no reeking of smoke because of my friends. As for a smoking state, how about Alaska but only outside that way it would encourage people to stop. Everyone I know hates having to go outside to smoke I think it has it’s benefits. (Not smoking the being outside bit)

  18. Kadie-Wa on #

    In Minnesota, where I’m from, they passed a law that you can’t smoke inside buildings anymore. Including bars.

    We are all starting to change.


  19. Hillary! on #

    I say Illinois. Mainly because I went there almost two years ago and at a restaurant they asked us smoking or non-smoking. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! . And I said the funniest, but truest thing “you still do that here?!” I was so shocked! I haven’t been asked that since I was, like, eight years old. But the kid looked at me like I was crazy! My dad laughed at me, actually my whole family laughed at me, including the six year old.
    So, deffinitely Illinois. Especially because it’s ugly.

  20. Walter Jon Williams on #

    Make Nevada the US smoking state, because it pretty much already is. The gamblers in Vegas smoke nonstop, and the casinos are totally cool with it.

    I’d like to think that the only thing that keeps me from becoming a Totally Awesome World Poker Champion is that I’d have to spend all my time around smokers, and I’m allergic.

    (And yes, I know that the tournament tables are smoking-free, but the cash games where the poker players make their actual living are not.)

    We were in Turkey last year, where smoking is allowed everywhere, and we had a couple lovely meals spoiled by the toxic atmosphere. The Turks smoke vastly, but oddly their rates of lung cancer are far lower than their cigarette consumption would suggest.

    This suggests to me that a lot of tobacco’s carcinogenic effect comes not from tobacco, but from the chemicals that US tobacco companies process the tobacco with.

    So if you smoke in the US, smoke American Spirit: natural tobacco, certifiably un-fucked-with.

  21. M. on #

    I wish my mom would quit smoking. I spend the majority of my time back in my room to get away from the smoke, and there’s not much I can do in the car, except keep the windows down. I wish they’d just ban cigaretts entirely. That’d do wonders.

  22. Laini Taylor on #

    Oh I SO feel the same way. Though California and Washington have smoking bans, Oregon where I live has still not followed suit. We’re hoping this year. As for Bulgaria, we traveled there a few years ago and found smoking to be only one of its many charms. The Guardian article says they have good food? Not so much! Bulgarian food is terrible, and the people were so mean. I think it would be a perfect smoking section for Europe. Great idea!

  23. Mahek on #

    People who smoke should be shipped off to some remote place in Greenland. The population there doesn’t even reach 80,000 people. And it will be so cold, they may not want to smoke. Or ship them off to Antarctica. No one lives there!

  24. Cei Cei on #

    I wish smoking was totally baned. I have severe asthma and both my mother and elder brother smoke, which means when they’re home I can hardly breath. It sucks.

  25. janet on #

    I think the obvious choice for a smoking state is Alaska. It’s the least densely populated state by a long shot, so the smokers would have plenty of room to spread out. Maybe they could even be banned from cities so as to have the least impact on the local population.

    I just finished reading “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” and I feel that there must be an obvious joke to make here that I’m not seeing.

  26. Cei Cei on #

    not Alaska! i live way to close 🙂

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