A SMOKING GLUM January 28, 2010Posted by markswill in Navel Gazing, Politics, Schmolitics.
Suppering with a friend not seen since she moved abroad over a decade ago found me in Shepherds Bush last week with four other acquaintances not seen for even longer, and an evening of bawdy gossip and cheerful reminiscing. But perhaps the most striking aspect of the evening was that everyone at the table was unselfconsciously smoking and had I brought a cigar with me, I’d have joined them. Just like the old days in fact, before social smoking confirmed pariah status on anyone who inhaled. We’d all put on a few pounds since we’d met, but there we all were in our early sixties in pretty good health and indeed looking it, and whilst I have also lost friends to cancer and have a couple more currently battling it – smokers both – I am not a nicotine nazi when it comes to what others inhale.
As I swayed uncertainly back to Goldhawk Road tube station I got to thinking that if the anti-smoking lobby had their way, and that nominally includes a government primarily concerned with the cost of smoking-related diseases, then how would the social landscape look? Would there be a black market in Silk Cut? Would drug dealers turn to Chinese-made Camel Lights to keep them in tinted-windowed Range Rovers? And would hardened nicotinies furtively puff away behind the blacked out windows of tobacco shebeens?
Well since New Zeeland is about to impose such a ban on its citizenry, we shall soon undoubtedly see, but what we already know is that the pub and club trade has suffered enormously since the ban on smoking in public places came into being. This has had a clear effect on drink sales and helped augured the supermarkets’ cheap booze promotions which in turn fuelled so much anti-social behaviour. It also means fewer people socialising in pubs – a bad thing in my view – which in turn accelerated if not directly caused the closure of many of them and ergo, reduced the tax revenues on booze.
And this is where it gets interesting. Irrespective of that specific loss to the exchequer, according to the Tobacco Manufacturers Assoc. if tobacco sales were banned outright, the exchequer would’ve lost £10billion in tax revenues last year. And yet according to the NHS, the annual cost of treating smoking related ailments is £2.7b. Do the math and you realise that if smoking were banned outright the economy would suffer tremendously, and never mind the cost of providing benefits to all those unemployed tobacco industry and NHS staff. Get the picture?
When I started blogging early last year I determined not to make it too personal but having since scanned a few other people’s digital efforts, such social rectitude might seem unduly high minded. So without wishing to drag my reader too deeply into my personal hell, and a’propos the wider benefits of gaspers, I should say that with one exception during this past thirty years every one of my girlfriends, or ‘partners’ as those of us of a certain age must now describe them, has been a smoker. I used to observe that the way most women held and smoked their ciggies was part of their allure, but since some of my female friends have succumbed to cancer in recent years and I began encouraging at least my last two ex-, erm, partners to cut down on their habit, it’s become prudent not to articulate such views.
By a similar token in recent months I’ve found myself defending my inability to hold down a relationship for more than three years, usually to women who for some absurd reason had ‘taken a shine’ to me (I do love the quaint sophistry of that phrase). Hardly considering myself an emotional cripple or commitment-phobe – although of course I may be both – I’ve put it down to self-preservation under private duress that led my then partners to cut things off at the pass, or maybe I’m just a lousy lover and a selfish old sod. But I think the truth of it is that having lived on my own for so long I have become, to quote Richard Ford, “so absorbed with how exact segments of time are consumed (yet) can begin to feel a pleasure with life that is hopelessly tinged with longing”.
But longing for what, my friendly female interrogators might (and do) ask? Well fairly obviously there’s the next vocational goal, the next rendezvous with (possibly smoking) friends, the next trip on a balmy summer’s day in the Lancia (now that really is a longshot), the next gobsmacking show at Tate Modern and on and on it goes, this litany of small pleasures. But the easy and hopefully unfettered shared intimacy which is of course a major virtue of a relationship is pretty much possible with friends of long standing who you’re not sharing a bed with, and it’s these relationships which I realise I cherished more than those that left the rails after some barely articulated loss of trust, lust or whatever it is that love actually is.
Heavy going is not what I intended when I began this latest scribble, but having seen a trio of films up in town which sorely questioned whether loving partnerships can ever be permanent (The Road, A Serious Man, It’s Complicated), and had my battered old Yamaha stolen and vandalised outside my temporary digs, I am momentarily feeling a tad dubious about the innate goodness of the human condition. So much so, I rather feel like remedial Marlboro Light.
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