Night Cigarettes and Super-Dense Aircraft Smoke

One of the several topics of conversation in the Smoky Drinky Bar last night was mountaineering:

Cigarettes as an aid to climbing
Report, November 21 1922

Captain GJ Finch, who took part in the Mount Everest expedition, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, London, last evening on the equipment for high climbing, testified to the comfort of cigarette smoking at very high altitude. He said that he and two other members of the expedition camped at 25,000ft for over 26 hours and all that time they used no oxygen.

About half an hour after arrival he noticed in a very marked fashion that unless he kept his mind on the question of breathing, making it a voluntary process instead of an involuntary one, he suffered from lack of air. He had 30 cigarettes with him, and as a measure of desperation he lit one. After deeply inhaling the smoke he and his companions found they could take their mind off the question of breathing altogether … The effect of a cigarette lasted at least three hours, and when the supply of cigarettes was exhausted they had recourse to oxygen, which enabled them to have their first sleep at this great altitude.

So if you smoke cigarettes at high altitude, you can breathe easily. And if you don’t smoke you won’t breathe easily, and will need oxygen.

Since Mount Everest is 29,029 feet high, it’s only 4,000 feet higher than the 25,000 feet where the smoking mountaineers were camped. It seems likely that the beneficial effect of a cigarette wears off more quickly at higher altitude, and so very high altitude climbers would have to smoke cigarettes more frequently than one every 3 hours, In fact we may imagine one day witnessing chain-smoking mountaineers ascend to the summit of Everest, using no oxygen at all. And if smokers can do it without oxygen, they will have no need to carry heavy and bulky oxygen cylinders and masks, which will make it much easier for them to climb.

And what a catastrophe it would be for Tobacco Control if it could be demonstrated that far from impeding and damaging breathing, tobacco smoke improved breathing. And so I imagine that Tobacco Control will want to now make the upper slopes of Everest a smoke free zone, with No Smoking signs hammered into the snow every few yards, in order to prevent the possibility of anyone ever seeing chain-smoking smokers strolling up to the peak, passing oxygen-using non-smokers toiling slowly towards it (and very often dying, given that Everest is littered with dead bodies).

One problem that would need to be solved is the sleeping problem. But it really ought to be possible for smokers to smoke while asleep. So I’ve begun thinking about 8-hour night cigarettes which mountaineers would light shortly before falling asleep:

I imagine that the night cigarettes would be very long, and quite thick as well, and would be carried strapped on mountaineers’ backs like skis. And since the sleeping smoker would be unable to hold them in place, they would need special mouthpieces and supports at intervals along their length. The night cigarettes would also act as alarm clocks that would wake the sleeper when the burning tip reached the sleeper’s mouth. If someone only wanted brief naps, they could simply chop up an 8-hour night cigarette into 16 half-hour cigarettes, sure in the knowledge that they would definitely get woken up on time.

Another group of high-altitude smokers might be glider and hang-glider and hot air balloonists. The last group might consider using tobacco-powered hot air balloons, with the balloons full of tobacco smoke. Fine vertical control of these tobacco balloons might be obtained by the passengers lighting cigarettes to climb, and stubbing them out in order to descend.

Last and not least would be (tobacco-powered?) commercial aircraft flying at altitudes of 35,000 feet or more. In this case, it would probably be necessary to fill the interior of the planes with super-dense tobacco smoke to ensure that absolutely everybody (chiiiildren included) would get sufficient smoke all the time, allowing them to sleep if they wanted to.  These aircraft would have sophisticated tobacco burning devices that would constantly feed in fresh tobacco smoke into the planes’ ventilation systems (perhaps with a regular change in the type of tobacco being burned, from Golden Virginia to Balkan Sobranie), and with sophisticated electronic controls regulating the burn rate throughout the flight. The atmosphere inside these aircraft would be like that of a busy nightclub or party, and perhaps many passengers would regard them more as nightclubs than as means of transport.

One slight disadvantage of this might be that passengers walking around in the smoke-filled aircraft  (e.g. to the toilet) would tend to get lost. And passengers would usually be unable to see much out of the plane windows through the smoke either.

The only smoke-free zone on these aircraft would be the toilets, so that toilet users could see what they were doing. These toilets would probably be surrounded by green-faced antismokers trying to spend the entire flight in the toilets.

Another feature of these commercial aircraft would be that they would release smoke from their interiors as they descended, and so they would all land in a huge cloud of tobacco smoke as they “normalised” the atmosphere in the interior of the aircraft. One result of this would be that airports would also be very smoky places, in part because not only the arriving aircraft would emit smoke, but also disembarking passengers would be visibly exuding smoke from every surface of their clothes and hair for several hours (or days) afterwards. The only smoke-free places in the airports would be a few glass booths in which antismokers could congregate for a bit of fresh air.

The smoke-exuding passengers from these flights would also rapidly fill any bar or restaurant or hotel with smoke, without lighting a single cigarette or pipe or cigar. In this manner most bars and cafes and restaurants near airports would soon cease to be “smoke-free,” regardless of the number of No Smoking signs in them.

In this manner, smoking would be first re-introduced where it was first banned – commercial flights.

Last but not least a photo of cyclists lighting up on the Tour de France:

I’m not sure when this photo was taken, but the bikes look quite modern. Was it taken at the end of the race, or the start? Or was it that these cyclists smoked throughout the race, and what I thought were canisters of water on the handlebars are actually cartons of cigarettes? Or perhaps they only smoked in the mountainous high altitude regions of the tour?

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26 Responses to Night Cigarettes and Super-Dense Aircraft Smoke

    • Frank Davis says:

      From your first link:

      Well-exercised athletes are able to clear nicotine and carbon monoxide from their bodies more quickly than most, explains Dr Michael Ussher, lecturer in health psychology at St George’s Hospital Medical School. “Carbon monoxide reduces your capacity to exercise. But if you’re only having the odd cigarette, several hours beforehand, it will make marginal, if any, difference.”

      Nevertheless, says professor Stephen Spiro, deputy chairman of the British Lung Foundation, “It’s wrong to assume that if you’re an athlete and have super lung function, smoking doesn’t matter. You’re making such demands on your lungs that any impairment will affect performance. These guys work at 120 per cent of normal, so a few percentage points off their lung function could be the difference between a gold and a bronze.”

      It seems to be the automatic assumption that smoking always impairs lung function. But my quote at the start of my blog post above is clear testimony from mountaineers of improved lung function at high altitude: they didn’t need oxygen while they could stay awake to smoke

      Perhaps the same is true for the Zinedine Zidanes and Wayne Rooneys: they know from their own experience that smoking improves their performance, regardless of what the so-called experts say. These people will know when they’re playing well, and they’ll know much better than any expert or doctor what they ate and drank and smoked prior to any good performance of theirs. And if smoking a few cigarettes preceded their best performances, they’d probably try to ensure they smoked a few.

      Dr Michael Ussher and professor Stephen Spiro won’t be able to tell a good football performance from a bad performance. Only a footballer can do that. They also won’t know exactly what these footballers were doing in the days and hours before a game, unless they accompanied them everywhere and watched every single thing they did.The only thing they might know anything about is a bit of psychology and physiology.

  1. Rose says:

    Captain GJ Finch, who took part in the Mount Everest expedition, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, London, last evening on the equipment for high climbing, testified to the comfort of cigarette smoking at very high altitude. He said that he and two other members of the expedition camped at 25,000ft for over 26 hours and all that time they used no oxygen

    Nitric oxide helps high-altitude survival

    “CLEVELAND, Nov. 6 US researchers have discovered high blood levels of nitric oxide allow people to live at high altitudes where air has low levels of oxygen.
    Dr. Serpil Erzurum, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Pathobiology, and colleagues from Case Western Reserve University analyzed blood samples and blood flow readings from 88 Tibetans living at altitudes of 14,000 feet. They compared the measurements with those of 50 people who live at locations near sea level.

    The Tibetans were found to have 10 times more nitric oxide and more than double the forearm blood flow of sea-level dwellers.

    The researchers said they believe the high levels of nitric oxide cause an increased blood flow that provides body tissues with sufficient amounts of oxygen despite low levels of oxygen in both the air and the bloodstream.”

    “Instructor in Anaesthesia Dr. Jesse D. Roberts, Jr., a member of Zapol’s research group, said the discovery also explains why mountain climbers short of breath often claim that smoking cigarettes makes them stronger. The seeming paradox may be due to the presence of nitric oxide in cigarette smoke”

    I do like a logical explanation.

  2. kin_free says:

    Here’s a relevant comment that I made on quora some time ago;

    As the anti-smoker agenda has developed into a religion (healthism), more and more rubbish is spoken about it, information that challenges it goes missing and those who question it are sidelined, smeared and ridiculed. OTOH more and more people have been conditioned to support it and comply with its dogma. It seems that almost everyone thinks they are an expert in smoking ‘harm’ while ignorance of smoking benefits is frighteningly sparse. Many smoking sportsmen/women, at the top of their game, were smokers and have excelled in their chosen sport- a few examples;


    Steve Ovett (Is he still the 1500m and mile record holder?)


    Jimmy Greaves (arguably the greatest footballer ever)

    Wayne Rooney

    Zinedine Zidane


    Eddie Merckx (simply the greatest rider of all time (arguably))

    John Trevorrow (3 times Australian champion)


    Tim Henman

    David Ferrer


    Shane Warne

    Freddy Flintoff


    Tiger Woods

    Jasper Parnevick

    Darren Clarke

    Many mountaineers considered smoking helped them cope with high altitude climbing.
    “While those of my clients who’ve led a blameless, tobacco-free life frequently struggle with the altitude, long-term smokers tend to saunter up.” (Henry Stedman, author of Kilimanjaro: the Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain)

    I’m sure there are many more smoking, sporting heroes that could be identified and probably many more still, who no doubt keep it quite that they smoke, bearing in mind the demonization and ‘bad press’ that smoking now attracts.

    “Athletic performance relies upon a certain spirit of independence, an individual autonomy to pursue a goal of high physical fitness. Telling people how to live their lives – smoking and diet and everything else – tends to compromise initiative, which is really the essence of sporting achievement.” (Dr M Fitzpatrick medical journalist)

    Keeping fit is essential if you want to enjoy a good quality of life, but it if it becomes part of a fanatical pseudo religion and is practised to excess, the opposite can occur. James Fixx is one example; The ‘father’ of the jogging craze and veritable poster boy for healthism, he quit smoking and ran 10 miles almost every day for nearly 20 years until one day in 1984, while out jogging, he collapsed and died of heart failure at the age of 52. Fixx joined the ever growing death toll of those who faithfully follow anti-smoker advice.

    Given that smokers are more likely to survive a heart attack (referred to as the ‘smokers paradox’), we cannot know whether it was the result of excess exercise or quitting smoking (or indeed something else) that caused his demise.

    Some more info. here (of course as with any article that highlights any smoking benefits, the anti-smoker cadre have to have their say); “The puff of legends: What impact does smoking have on an athlete’s”; (This is the same link as SmokingScot provides above)

  3. kin_free says:

    Incidentally. Simon Clarke has pointed out the new year anti-smoker campaign;

    if anyone is interested there is an article in the DM where comments are allowed (they even accepted a few of mine for a change)

  4. C. F. Apollyon says:

    Prolly need one of these to pack a pack of those cigarettes up there. :-)

  5. Frank Davis says:

    I imagine that Nepalese nannies would probably like to ban all mountain climbing. That way there’d be no deaths or injuries at all.

    Nepal has banned solo climbers from scaling its mountains, including Mount Everest, in a bid to reduce accidents.

    The cabinet endorsed a revision to the Himalayan nation’s mountaineering regulations, banning solo climbers from its mountains — one of a string of measures being flagged ahead of the 2018 spring climbing season.

    “The changes have barred solo expeditions, which were allowed before,” Maheshwor Neupane, secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, told AFP.

    Neupane said that the law was revised to make mountaineering safer and decrease deaths.

    Experienced Swiss climber Ueli Steck lost his life in April this year when he slipped and fell from a steep ridge during a solo acclimatisation climb to Nuptse, a peak neighbouring Everest.

    The ban is likely to anger elite solo mountaineers, who enjoy the challenge of climbing alone, even eschewing bottled oxygen, and who blame a huge influx of commercial expeditions for creating potentially deadly bottlenecks on the world’s tallest peak.

  6. smokingscot says:

    Your photo of the guys on bikes. Must have been taken prior to 2003. That’s when they were mandated for all ICU races.

    Ghoulish article and relevant link’s t the top of the page.

  7. kin_free says:

    Have tried to post a comment twice but no show. Realised it has probably gone into moderation because of two links in it.
    If they are there – delete one of the comments please Frank .

  8. Igromyown says:

    I seem to recall that when George Mallory’s body was found on Everest that amongst his personal effects was a pipe,tobacco and matches.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Robert Graves’ tale of Mallory’s Pipe

      Robert Graves, who climbed with Mallory, in his autobiography recounts this story, at the time famous in climbing circles, about an ascent that Mallory made as a young man in 1908:

      “My friend George Mallory …. once did an inexplicable climb on Snowdon. He had left his pipe on a ledge, half-way down one of the Liwedd precipices, and scrambled back by a short cut to retrieve it, then up again by the same route. No one saw what route he took, but when they came to examine it the next day for official record, they found an overhang nearly all the way. By a rule of the Climbers’ Club climbs are never named in honour of their inventors, but only describe natural features. An exception was made here. The climb was recorded as follows: ‘Mallory’s Pipe, a variation on route 2; see adjoining map. This climb is totally impossible. It has been performed once, in failing light, by Mr G. H. L. Mallory.'”.[58]


      Did tobacco smoking hinder or benefit Mallory and Irvine?

      Andrew Irvine smoked a pipe, as is shown in a photo of him during the 1924 Everest Expedition, and George Mallory was (or had been) a smoker of both cigarettes and pipe — a published photo of him with daughter, Claire in 1917 shows a cigarette in his hand, and photos of the 1921 and 1922 expeditions had him holding the pipe. How on Earth could these fellows hope to get to Everest’s summit in the rarified air up around 29,000 ft with tobacco tar coating their extremely delicate and highly important lung tissues?

      • Rose says:

        The pipe may not have helped much as pipe smokers don’t inhale and though niacin deposited on the tongue and in the saliva is a vaso-dilator, I’m not sure it would have helped with a very low oxygen environment in that instance.

        According to a piece in the Daily Mail a storm recorded at the time would have whisked any oxygen away.

        “Professor Kent Moore, of the Physics Department at the University of Toronto, discovered readings from the climbers’ meteorological instruments suggesting that the blizzard was far more serious than previously thought.

        He said: ‘We analysed the barometric pressure measurements and found out that during the Mallory and Irvine summit attempt, there was a drop in barometric pressure at base camp of approximately 18mbar.

        ‘This is quite a large drop, in comparison the deadly 1996 ‘Into Thin Air’ storm (an attempt on Everest in which eight American climbers died) had a pressure drop at the summit of approximately 8mbar.’

  9. Emily says:

    I was just watching the film “Angels & Demons” over the holidays and there’s a scene (only in the movie, the scene doesn’t happen the same way in the book) where the lead character Robert Langdon is inside a climate-controlled chamber in the Vatican Secret Archives, and the oxygen level is quite low. A member of the Swiss Army who accompanies him is having trouble breathing and Langdon says to him sharply “Do you smoke?” The Swiss Army guy grudgingly admits he smokes “a little.” However, I was pleased to see that later in the film they pointedly show the same character lighting up a cigarette, as if in defiance.

  10. Smoking Lamp says:

    Of course Eddie Merckx, five time Tour de France winner and three time World Champion cyclist smoked and then there was diver Jacques Cousteau (inventor of the Aqua-Lung and Scuba diving) who was often filmed smoking a cigarette and was even filmed smoking in a submarine during on of his many undersea adventures. He died at 87 hardly young. The antismoker propaganda is just that…propaganda.

  11. Inspector Alleyne says:

    The great tennis champion, Fred Perry, was an incessant pipe smoker but tragically died at the early age of 85.

  12. Igromyown says:

    “Mallory’s pipe” a great climbing story Frank,and I believe that the general consensus is that Mallory did make it to the top of Everest and died on the descent,I wonder if he smoked his pipe at the summit of Everest?

  13. waltc says:

    Aside from the Nitric Oxide, there may also be physiological plausibility to the idea that smoking – by increasing CO2–aids breathing. At least that’s this guy Buteyko’s theory. Loosely based on the idea that hyperventilating (not only too much oxygen in, but, he thinks, as crucially, too much CO2 out) is an underlying cause as well as exacerbator of asthma and emphysema. I heard of this a while back from a friend with COPD who’d read this NY Times health column, tried the exercises and said they worked. FWIW:

    Then, too, hyperventilation is a natural physiological response to stress and anxiety (the converse is also true: hyperventilating can make you feel stressed and anxious) and the mere act of smoking slows and regulates breathing which itself may add to the stress relief and calming effect of smoking, (Think of it as Zen with nicotine.)

    • Joe L. says:

      the mere act of smoking slows and regulates breathing which itself may add to the stress relief and calming effect of smoking

      This is very true, Walt, and this is also a reason why NRT products have such an abysmal success rate. Smoking is a multifaceted physiological experience, of which nicotine is just one of many components.

  14. RdM says:

    Happy New Year, everyone…

    Broadcasting Auckland Sky Tower’s fireworks in the smokydrinkybar now… 12.02am 1 Jan 2018

    • RdM says:

      Well that was cheap this year, only just about 5min of fireworks;=})
      Nevertheless, the clock is ticking…

    • RdM says:

      Plenty of ‘secondhand smoke’ at these events, no one seems to mind too much…
      I’ve been in the square below in an earlier year and there’s a lot of firework smoke!

      Best wishes to all for a really happy 2018 to come.

  15. Pingback: Mountaineer Smokers | Frank Davis

  16. RdM says:

    Another version of the Tour de France picture:

    It’d be nice to find an higher resolution one!

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