One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is that when public figures reveal themselves to be antismokers, any good opinion I might have had for them evaporates in about two seconds flat.
Conversely, when I learn that some public figure or other is a smoker, I feel a distinct glow of warmth for them, even if they have a few other undesirable characteristics – like being serial killers.
I can’t say that I ever had a particularly high opinion of Will Self. His chief claim to fame seems to have been that he (allegedly) snorted coke on a Prime Ministerial jet. As a writer I always found him a bit pompous, and seemingly forever in search of edgy and novel ways of stating the obvious, as if simple English was too tedious to use.
Anyway, he appeared on Question Time back in 2006 or 2007, back when I still had a TV set, to tell smokers that “The game’s up,”and how they’d have to pack in their habit and clean up their act. It was sneering, jeering little lecture he delivered. I could feel my hackles rise, and whatever good opinion I might have had for him draining away, never to revive.
Somebody bought me one of his books a few years ago, but I never managed to even open it. I seldom throw books away, but this is one that I’d happily drop into a street trash can, to end its life buried in a pile of empty cigarette packs and soggy cigarette butts.
This weekend, Dick Puddlecote’s link tank featured an article by him in Esquire. It seemed he’d become an avid vaper, and was now singing the praises of vaping, and explaining how much better it was than smoking:
I realised what successful vaping required was a suspension of disbelief: it was important not to think of it as a substitute for smoking at all, because there were so many fundamental differences.
The taste of the e-liquid was cleaner and more wholesome than tobacco; the throat hit was more accurately targeted and so less harsh; and the vapour cloud wasn’t like the smoke one at all. At a subconscious level, the tobacco-smoker registers his smoke: the bluey shreds and curlicues pluming from the lit tip; the brownish puffs and mini-cumuli expelled from the damp lungs; all are combined into a miniature atmosphere that enshrouds Planet Me.
It is this profound sense of autonomy gifted by his personal thunderhead that makes it possible for the smoker to ignore the reality: he’s just one more of the myriad drones whose behaviour is severely restricted – and whose lifespan is severely curtailed – by this picayune addiction.
But vaping produces only water vapour, and whether inhaled or not, the vape cloud has the same hue and dynamic: a steamy, greyish-white plume that rapidly disperses into the kind of sfumato Renaissance painters delighted in creating, a tawny-golden haze, softening the Apennine peaks ahead and filling in the Umbrian valleys behind.
As ever, he can’t just say “insignificant” or “petty”, but has to dig out “picayune”. And he can’t just say “hazy”, but must employ “sfumato” instead. He knows, of course, that most people probably won’t know what either word means. But that’s the whole point. It’s a way of trampling upon his readers, rubbing their noses in their ignorance, and reminding them that Will Self knows a lot more words than they ever will.
And of course he takes a sneering swipe at smokers, whose “brownish puffs enshroud Planet Me” and “make it possible for them to ignore the reality” that they are “myriad drones”. By contrast vapour is “cleaner and more wholesome” and the throat hit “more accurately targeted and so less harsh” and “not like smoke at all”.
But what emerges in this over-long article is that he was a smoker himself for over 25 years, on occasion hitting 100 a day. He seems to have given up, or cut down, some time around 2000. So when he he was lecturing Question Time’s smokers, he’d only recently become the worst sort of antismoking ex-smoker. Unless of course he was into his pipe craze phase by then.
What emerges is someone who can never do things by halves. He has to throw himself headlong into the deep end. First with cigarettes. Then pipes. Now vaping. And at each step his former enthusiams must be derided and belittled, and his latest flame lauded to the skies – like girlfriends who are sublimely beautiful while they’re with him, but who becomes fat slags the moment they leave.
Yet he can see what’s coming:
Take my word on it: within five years, vaping will be under strict controls of one sort or another; either medical ones, so that you have to get a prescription for e-liquid, or commercial ones that make it prohibitively expensive (and stop the market diversifying).
Either way, THEY will do all they can to stop the fun. So, take my advice, and get steaming while you can, because only that way will you have the opportunity to find out what it feels like not just to be an ex-smoker, but a former vaper as well.
Because don’t you just know that, in five years time, Will Self will be an ex-vaper, and will be telling another Question Time audience that “The game’s up” for vapers. Because by then he will have been there and done that too, and will be poised ready to scoff and sneer at vapers like he already does at smokers.
And one thing you’ll never find him doing is offering any resistance to the tidal wave of rules and regulations that is overwhelming everybody. Because he surfs that tsunami, and his principal goal is to ride it ahead of everybody else as it sweeps through the streets. For the first principle of Self is self. So by the time smoking bans arrived, he’d given up smoking. And when vaping bans are enacted, he will have given up vaping. And when writers start being persecuted and imprisoned, he will of course have given up writing as well, and will be the first to deride writers and their compulsion to write – and particularly to write emptily and pretentiously, as he did all his life.