When I was 13, I had a friend at school named Billy.
Billy was also 13.
He was asthmatic. Many kids in our year took up smoking about this time, to look cool… to look more like the adults they saw around them. Billy really got into smoking. He died when he was 14 years old, of complications to his asthma. Billy’s doctor knew that he smoked and had already warned him to stop. But he didn’t. The reason Billy didn’t stop smoking was – he was an addict.
When we talk about people who take heroin, we talk about addicts and junkies. When addicts talk about themselves, they refer to themselves as users. Denial and abdication of responsibility is the language of the addict. Pipe smokers will eulogize about their aromatic smoke and the smoke cooling in the stem of the pipe, so it is not as dangerous. Cigar smokers will wax lyrical about their fine cigars and after all, you don’t inhale a cigar the same way as a cigarette. Finally, the cigarette smoker has just cut down to a low-tar brand, only when I’m drinking/with friends/after a good meal, gives me something to do with my hands. In a similar way, crystal meth addicts will say at least the meth got me off the crack.
Perhaps I am being extremist, comparing smoking to hard drugs. Apparently, nicotine is more addictive than heroin.
Addiction affects the brain. It short-circuits the areas of the brain that control behaviour and consider consequences. Many non-smokers (and smokers) do not realise this.
There are three stages of smoking:
Stage 1: Fun. This is the stage at which we all start smoking. Smoking is fun. Smoking is cool. If you are a little nervous, you can socialize more easily. You can start the day. You can end the day. Relax. Enjoy. In tobacco ads, smokers are invariably depicted in the Fun Stage. For some, it will last forever. My Grandfather would have made a great advert for smoking. He smoked from the age of 14 to the age of 80. He was a great strapping man – and literally never had a day’s sickness… not even a cold.
Stage 2: I will call this the Glum stage. This is the stage at which the smoker decides to try to quit. Often, this will be in response to a personal health issue, a doctor’s recommendation, or maybe they have a new partner or are about to have a child. Suddenly they realize that their actions affect not only themselves, but also those around them. Smoking, like other addictions, affects those closest to us… literally.
The more we smoke around these people, the more we expose them to our addiction – the more we expose them to the dangers of smoking. Addicted smokers will think of any excuse, after all non-smokers can always go somewhere else. If you work in a restaurant, how can you go somewhere else – give up your job? If you are a wife, can you give up your smoker husband? If you are a child, how can you give up your smoking parents? Smokers at Stage 1 will be tempted to respond to this letter, saying that I am ridiculous to compare smoking to hard drugs. Smokers at Stage 2 will not think I am being so extreme. Fake cigarettes, nicotine chewing gum, patches, acupuncture, all the rehab paraphernalia is there… and more often than not, it fails. I have a friend who has tried to quit a dozen times. My Grandfather quit smoking when he was 80 years old. A standard x-ray revealed a tiny shadow on his lung. He gave up for good the next day – after smoking for almost 70 years. That’s the kind of guy he was.
Stage 3: Living Hell. Living hell is how you die from smoking. Of course, in the modern era, we are all very familiar with death courtesy of TV and films. When our time comes, we might like to think that we will go out with a bang, realistically though, few of us will meet our maker in the style of Braveheart or Yoda. Most of us will endure a more or less insignificant death. Smoking-related deaths are not heroic and they are rarely quick. Smoke-related illnesses make for long, lingering, protracted deaths. We can, however, take comfort from the fact that we will most likely be surrounded by a circle of family and friends who will care for us, and sympathize with our plight.
After my grandfather gave up smoking, his health continued to deteriorate. The weight fell from his body. He became confined to the house… then a chair. My strapping grandfather – solid as a tree trunk – now drawn, paper thin, quivering like a dead leaf. And my grandmother – bustling about him, doing her best to help; trying to cheer him up. Telling him to pull his socks up, and fight it – ‘don’t give up George’. Later they brought in the oxygen cylinder. The tubes for his nose. It made his throat even dryer. As the months went by my Grandmother couldn’t cope with looking after him. She couldn’t deal with the stress. She couldn’t understand why her husband, a man who had never been sick one day in his life could not win this single battle. She grew frustrated. Angry. Meanwhile, he slipped into depression… and despair. By the time my grandfather died, my grandmother was a different person. She never recovered.
A smoking ban is bound to be opposed by many Stage 1 smokers; after all, it really is spoiling their fun. I doubt that there will be too many complains from Stage 2 and Stage 3.
But a smoking ban is not about smokers and non-smokers. It is about people.
There has been a call for non-smokers to respect smokers. Respect? Non-smokers love smokers. Smokers are our family and friends. My father is a smoker. Yes, my father smokes a pipe – just like his dad.