|Kate Moss smoking a cigarette|
I don’t know whether it’s just because it’s the New Year and we’re all obsessed with resolutions and cleaner living, but last weekend’s papers seemed to me to be filled with cigarettes or the reminders of them. The Saturday Guardian alone had front page news about the cost of the NHS, a full page article on Kate Moss turning 40 (and I couldn’t help remembering all the times I’d seen her with a fag in her hand or between her lips), and a DPS (that’s double page spread) on e-smoking; and all before the mid-point of the main paper.
I don’t often admit to having been a smoker, mostly because it seems arbitrary now, but I was, (on and off) for a long time; for so long, in fact, that the first time I stopped smoking it was because a pack of twenty had gone from 98 new pence to a quid as the result of a Conservative budget. When I started smoking you could still smoke everywhere, including in all bars and restaurants, in shopping centres, on buses, trains and in aeroplanes, and, if memory serves, Woolworths still had ashtrays on stands inside their shops. Of course, we no longer even have Woolworths.
I stopped smoking on December 5th 2008. Yes, I know the date seems arbitrary so close to the New Year, but that’s when I stopped. I stopped dead, I didn’t use any substitutes, as I figured they were just something else to become addicted to, and I stayed stopped. The brand I used to smoke now costs more than £8-50 for twenty, which is 42.5 new pence each, and about the cost of a pack of ten when I took up the habit.
I have it on pretty decent authority that cigarettes cost about a new penny each to make. The current taxes payable on an average packet of cigarettes in the UK is about £6-20 or £2,263.00 per year for a pack a day smoker.
Smoking is bad. I am never going to be an apologist for the habit and nor am I going to take it up again, although I have often said that if I get to the age of eighty I’m going to smoke as many fat Cuban cigars, drink as much single malt whisky and have as much sex as I damned well please (assuming it’s still possible to buy tobacco and alcohol legally, and that anyone’s still willing to indulge me with the other).
Here’s my point, because you know very well that I’m going to make one. The government is willing to do almost anything to stop us smoking in public places, but it absolutely isn’t willing to stop us smoking. The government might tell you that’s about human rights and free will, but if nicotine and alcohol were new substances to the market they’d be very heavily regulated or banned entirely as other drugs are. Opiates used to be available to buy over the counter at all good pharmacies, but were subsequently regulated, and the same applies to firearms.
Some would argue that the taxes on cigarettes pay for the medical care that cigarette smokers need as a result of the habit that they choose, and it’s true that there are plenty of illnesses exacerbated by cigarette smoking and plenty of diseases caused by it. However, cigarette smokers live shorter lives than non-smokers, and the single biggest NHS expense is geriatric care. Dead smokers don’t need geriatric care and they don’t claim their state pensions.
If you want to screw the government, and don’t we all, one of the things you can do is not pay exorbitant taxes on cigarettes by not smoking them. You could give up smoking or you could simply not start in the first place.
When I started smoking it was still cool, chic, glamorous to do it. We didn’t stand huddled in the cold and rain away from the party. We stood at the bar or sat at tables and enjoyed each others’ company. Pubs didn’t smell of stale beer and body odour and vomit masked with too much bleach and air freshener, which, even as a non-smoker is a far nastier atmosphere than the smoky haze of yore.
Smoking isn’t cool anymore or sociable and it’s bloody expensive, and let me say just one more time that it’s the government that’s taking your money, not the tobacco growers or even the big corporations.
Go find something more sociable to do, grow old and take something back.