Start Smoking

Usually when my eyes fall on one of the antismoking messages on “plain” packaging, they instantly recoil away in disgust. So I found it a little odd this morning when they settled on a new message – one I hadn’t seen before – sufficiently long to arouse real interest in it.

For the message – “Smokers’ children are more likely to start smoking” – didn’t seem to me to be a health warning at all, but merely an unremarkable observation, a bit like saying that “Tea drinkers’ children are more likely to start drinking tea,” or “Book readers’ children are more likely to start reading books.” Like father, like son. We’re all a chip off the same parental block.

But then I realised that since antismoking zealots believe that smoking is itself a disease, and in fact an epidemic disease, “starting smoking” must seem to them like contracting pneumonia or dysentery or cholera: a truly terrible thing to happen to someone. I vaguely wondered if they felt the same about drinking tea or reading books.

In fact, as a child I had next to no interest at all in doing what adults did. I had no interest in either tobacco or alcohol. Neither did I have any interest in the opposite sex, or any sex at all. And least of all did I have any interest in reading.

In fact, of all the bad habits the adults had, reading seemed to me to be one of the very worst. For, after lunch, my grandfather would disappear behind a huge newspaper. And the purpose of this newspaper, it was quite clear to me, was to simply shut the whole world out of his sight, and allow him to fall asleep behind it. The newspaper was a curtain that he threw up around himself, held up by his two hands until they relaxed in sleep.

For I had ascertained that there was nothing of any interest in the newspaper. It wasn’t full of cartoons or pictures like my comics. There were hardly any advertisements in it either. There were just rows and rows of meaningless black symbols on its white paper. And these were clearly what sent my grandfather to sleep.

And it was with some considerable dismay, around that time, that I learned that my mother was planning to teach me to read. For it meant that she was planning to teach me how to fall asleep, just like my grandfather. And when she added that, after she had taught me how to read, she would also teach me how to write, I wondered what the point of that might be, except to know how to write shopping lists. Why couldn’t adults simply remember what they needed to buy? It was usually the same thing every day. Coffee. Sugar. Bread. Why did they have to write it all down simply so they could read it again later when they reached the shops? Did they also need to write down which shops they were to visit, and how to get there?

No. I had no interest in doing what adults did. In fact I looked forward with no little gloom at the prospect of one day sitting in an armchair, shrouded in newspaper, falling asleep. What sort of life was that?

I didn’t start smoking because my father (and occasionally my mother) smoked. Nor did I start smoking because my grandfather smoked. It was another pointless exercise of his, just like burying himself in a newspaper. Who wanted to light a pipe and sit reading a newspaper? Not me.

Nor did I start smoking because my friends started smoking. They and I only ever smoked cigarettes in order to break school rules. If we had been encouraged to smoke at school, we would never have done so.

And neither my father or mother or grandfather ever encouraged me to start smoking.

No, I had no interest in smoking until, at age 17, I encountered the virulently antismoking Dr W. He was, for me, an entirely new species of being, one that I had never encountered before: someone who so passionately hated smoking that he would shout it out loud. It was like finding someone who passionately hated custard, or newspapers, or shopping lists. And in Dr W there was real hatred: and quite obviously irrational hatred. It was the shocking encounter with an antismoker like Dr W that started me smoking. And if his hatred had been directed at custard or newpapers, I feel sure that I would have started eating copious amounts of custard and interminably reading newpapers. For I was utterly determined that I was not going to be like Dr W. And if I was to not be like him, then I had to start smoking. And within months I’d bought myself my first packet of 10 cigarettes, and taken about three weeks to smoke them, one by one.

And so this morning I found myself entertaining the thought that it is antismokers who are the very best advertisements for smokers. All they have to do is to exhibit their hatred, and people will naturally recoil from them (just as I did), and start smoking.

And back then, the antismoking Dr W was a novelty. And now people like him are everywhere. The world is full of coughing, spluttering, hand-waving antismokers. And they are the very best ads for people to start smoking.

And it reminded me of the determined, young, freckle-faced woman who approached me in a pub garden a year or two ago, and asked if she could have one of my cigarettes. I rolled her not just one, but two. And she smoked them with great concentration as we sat together. What courage it must have taken her to approach a complete stranger. What planning it must have required. I now think that, like me, all the antismoking zealotry on display today must have made her absolutely determined to smoke.

In fact, I thought that the current antismoking campaign, with its shocking exclusion and demonisation of smokers, must be making a very great many young people as utterly determined to start smoking as I was after my encounter with Dr W. For the antismokers are their own worst enemies. There’s no need for tobacco companies to advertise their product: all they need do is let the antismokers do it for them, and breed a population of utterly determined smokers.

There was another thought that crossed my mind, as I reflected on the message on the tobacco pack. And it was that, buried within the message “Smokers’ children are more likely to start smoking” are the final two words: “Start smoking.” And perhaps even the longer message: “Like to start smoking.” The message was one about starting smoking. It was suggesting starting smoking. And quite clearly starting smoking at the earliest possible age.

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21 Responses to Start Smoking

  1. Jack Ketch says:

    I’m proud that two of my 3 kids choose to smoke (in a piddling ‘hobby’ or ’20 a day’ kinda way) the 3rd doesn’t-never has as far as I know…well, he’s crippled so i suppose that’s an excuse. I’m an alcoholic , one of my kids probably is (when he’s not on spice, hash etc), one of them is almost teetotal and crippled son drinks rarely .

  2. Heh, I can picture Leggy putting out an anthology someday titled “Tales of Horror from Dr. W.”


  3. We had five children. We were both smokers and they grew up in a house full of SHS. None of them smoke except my middle aged son – who smokes other stuff too, and whose guilt is making him ill.

  4. Jack Ketch says:

    “whose guilt is making him ill.” Guilt probably kills more smokers than cancer. That stuff is pure poison and is the real reason for the Path-porn packs. Slap your kid upside his head a few times, knock the guilt outta him.

    • Rose says:

      Yes, verbally of course using sound reasoning.
      Education must have been degraded tremendously since I was young if a grown adult can no longer be allowed to think for themselves.

    • He lives in another country – and ‘THEY’ got to him first. He believes science proves everything and works in Academia. Doomed I reckon!

  5. Clicky says:

  6. Roobeedoo2 says:

    Houston, we’re going back in time: NASA’s historic Apollo Mission Control Center set to be restored to the moment man landed on the moon in 1969 – even down to the coffee cups and ashtrays.

    • RdM says:

      And there’s a typo in the first few lines:
      “Will even restore the original ashtrays, coffee cups and paperwork form the Apollo era”
      About half the commenters think the landings were faked, of course!

  7. Smoking Lamp says:

    It looks like they are attempting to harness the power of propaganda (which often backfires in the long run).

    The recent call to ban smoking in French cinema reminds me of Goebbels’s steps to influence pre-war cinema. This quote from a recent article on that propaganda technique follows:

    “Goebbels wanted to keep the United States neutral for as long as possible. That meant stopping Hollywood from producing films intended to sway American public opinion against the Hitler regime. The propaganda chief knew there were many kinds of battles to be fought during the course of war, and he considered the battle to control the mind among the greatest. Goebbels understood a basic truth about the power of cinema: Movies matter the most about the things that people know the least. Many Americans got their first glimpse of what a Nazi rally or storm trooper looked like by watching movies or newsreels. Whether they thought of these people and their ideas as good or bad might well be determined by what they saw and heard on the screen.”

    From: “When Hitler’s Henchman Called the Shots in Hollywood, “

    Clearly the antismokers have been studying the propaganda tools used by totalitarian functionaries!

  8. Dmitri says:

    I’d love to see the source to that statement – have they been surveying people, or what? And how about the 90-s, when it became fashionable not to smoke, what happened to parent’s “bad example”? It looks like TC goes against its own statistics, which faithfully shows that everyone is giving up OR NOT STARTING (and not rolling own joints or growing own tobacco). Which means that the parents maybe smoked, but the children don’t. It should have been otherwise, with every generation smoking on just because the parents did it. .

    • jaxthefirst says:

      Smoking has always been attractive to young people precisely because of the kind of people who don’t approve of it. That’s true right down through the ages and will continue to be so all the time the anti-smokers keep right on bangin’ that drum. Many of the new breed of anti-smokers don’t see it, of course. They distance themselves from what they regard as the old-style Victorian Puritans or the 1950s straight-laced disapproving parents and think that as cool, trendy, down-with-the-kids type parents/teachers or whatever that they’re somehow different – and that young people will react differently to them because of that.

      What they don’t realise is that that kind of parent/teacher has, quite frankly, always been something of a private joke – or, worse, an embarrassment – to young people. Young people are extraordinarily adept at spotting anything artificial in their elders. You can lie to little kids, and you can lie to adults, and you’ll often get away with it, but try lying to a teenager and you’ll be rumbled in an instant. They just have an instinct for it, and no amount of low-slung jeans or use of teenage language will deceive them.

      When a would-be trendy Dad tries to show his recalcitrant teenage son “that you can have fun and live a wholesome life,” all he does is makes said teenage son cringe with embarrassment and retreat to his bedroom, his computer, and his friends on social media. Couple this with the fact that Dad is (natch) very much against smoking and the whole package – including the anti-smoking bit – becomes something that his son is extraordinarily averse to. Little wonder, then, that smoking (and drinking and swearing and spending hours on social media, and all the other things that Dad doesn’t approve of) become so irresistibly attractive to said son! I’ve always said that if parents really, really want to prevent their children from starting to smoke, the best thing they could do is to smoke, often and in large quantities. It would soon become something that “only old fogies do” and their children would avoid it like the plague!

  9. smokingscot says:

    Just thought I’d bung in a few stats.

    There are 70,000 children in care in England. 15,000 in Scotland and 5,600 in Wales.

    (all these figures from said site, click at foot of page)

    of these 65,000 are in foster care.

    and there are a little over 1,050 kids awaiting adoption.

    So there are a fair number of people out there who, beneath it all, couldn’t give a flying fart about their children.

    I’ll also venture that the 90,000 are the tip of a much larger iceberg.

    Case in point; a health fanatic who left her two very young sprogs with her teenage son while she bogged off to Spain. And got a year in jail for being a selfish bitch.

    So these advisories on tobacco packaging will have no effect whatsoever on parents who generally see their kids as a means for greater child support, or larger housing. Or who never wanted to be lumbered by them in the first place.

    Another very dramatic example of how callous and calculating they can be. In this case the father decided to simply burn a whole stack of unwanted kids by setting fire to his council house.

    This tobacco messages is irrelevant to all singles who smoke. Same as the crap about pregnancies to confirmed bachelors. And I very much doubt that any parent with the IQ of roadkill hasn’t grasped the potential of child mimicking.

    So it’s really our tobacco control lot (like so much else they do) trying to impress others within their field. Kind of like young boys who show off to each how far/high they can pee in the public urinals.

  10. Joe L. says:

    My parents did not smoke. Well, my father apparently smoked until my mother (who was very controlling) laid down some kind of ultimatum around the time their first child (me) came along. Thus, I never saw my father smoking, nor did I ever think of him as a smoker.

    Much like you, Frank, I started smoking because of Antismokers. I was fourteen years old, I had recently entered high school, I was an aspiring musician; I was rebellious yet I was also a good student. I was very aware of and interested in the world around me, and I was always seeking to understand it more. I examined the “famous” people whom I admired; those who made a profound positive impact on the world, and on me personally. John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, John Belushi, Richard Pryor, Albert Einstein, Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, and most recently on the radar at that time, Kurt Cobain, to name only a few. These people all shared a handful of common traits:

    An unquenchable thirst for knowledge/answers/explanations/understanding of the world around them and/or the people that inhabit it
    Open-mindedness / “out-of-the-box”, creative thinking
    Lack of concern for the opinions of critics / experts
    Enjoyment of smoking tobacco

    After more thought and examination, I realized that pretty much all of the people I encountered who parroted the Antismoking propaganda of the time (including my mother, unfortunately), were all utterly unprofound and shared some or all of the following traits:

    Poorly educated, due to a lack of personal motivation/yearning to explore/learn about the world around them or the people that inhabit it (i.e., self-centered/narcissistic)
    Closed-mindedness / content with believing what they’re told to believe without question
    Self-consciousness / hyper-concerned about how others view them (again, narcissistic)
    Hatred of tobacco smoke

    I realized that these types of people are polar opposites (and if it wasn’t for the Antismoking rhetoric that was being spouted at the time, I doubt I would have related attitudes toward tobacco with this sharp contrast in personality). Obviously I gravitated toward the traits of the people I admired, so I started smoking tobacco, and I found that I rather enjoyed it … and I still do, over twenty years later.

    • Joe L. says:

      My lists of traits were supposed to display as numbered lists, but it appears WordPress doesn’t like HTML list tags. It’s not as easy to read like this. If only there was an ‘edit’ button :(

  11. Joe L. says:

    And so this morning I found myself entertaining the thought that it is antismokers who are the very best advertisements for smokers. All they have to do is to exhibit their hatred, and people will naturally recoil from them (just as I did), and start smoking.

    This reminded me of the late, great comedian Bill Hicks, who, way back in 1990, claimed that “obnoxious, self-righteous” non-smokers (a.k.a. Antismokers) were the “worst advertisement for non-smoking.” He left this world before the comprehensive smoking ban epidemic; before Antismokers were empowered. I wish I could hear his opinion today.

    Also related, Bill Hicks’ take on cigarette warning labels (I also wonder what he’d have to say about plain packaging if he was still with us).

  12. waltc says:

    2AM buckshot:
    I find it hard to believe that telling a smoking parent of a young child (parents likely being in their 20s and 30s and perfectly healthy) that his kids will grow up to be like him or her would be very much of a threat. (Why not? I’m okay.)

    I wish yesterday’s doctor would come back and answer some of the questions he was asked and cite that Korean vet study. Most of the men who fought in it were 19 and 20; the rest of them were older WW2 vets who’d been exposed to about everything war can expose you to–at least what had been invented as of 1945. But the doctor says the men who were autopsied were “young” in which case, in general, they’d most of them smoked for only 3-4 years so it’s hard to believe they’d be on their way to cancer, which usually doesn’t manifest for 30 or so yeats. And then too, considering these were battlefield deaths and the autopsies must have been done later, stateside, how would the coroners know if the corpses had smoked? Or not? Who would they ask?

    “Pre-cancerous.” . A while back I had a ferocious tooth ache while my usual dentist was on vacation so I went to someone else. He gave me an antibiotic but noted that my gums were “pre-cancerous” and that I must –absolutely must–stop smoking. A week later I went to my regular dentist who looked at my gums and asked me if I’d suddenly started using a particular brand of mouthwash. I had. He said, Stop. It kills good bacteria and irritates gums. I stopped. My pre-cancer disappeared in a week.

    • smokingscot says:


      Name of mouthwash please.

      • Sounds off topic, but our dog’s teeth were coated with yellow plaque. Vet whiffled on about anaesthetic and teeth cleaning. My dear friend the Internet suggested Coconut oil tooth brushing for the dog. In a week, the plaque simply fell off. See – When I next visited the dentist I told her – she said “Oh we do that all the time. It’s called Coconut oil pulling. Don’t use mouth wash it kills the good bacteria.” So I Coconut Oil pull when I remember, or brush my teeth with Coconut oil which is not ‘runny’ but thick. – and the dog chews on his coconut oil filled tooth brush every night. he’s got perfect teeth and no bad breath.

      • waltc says:

        Sorry, I don’t remember. It was a new product at the time and was being widely advertised as a super plaque killer.

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