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!