Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Smoking just became cooler

This ban thing that’s kicked in today is illiberal nonsense, it’s true. But I’ve been conducting an experiment for the last week just to see how bad it’s going to be for those of us who like a puff: I quit. I haven’t had a fag since closing time last Saturday.

Now I’ve been smoking on and off for twelve years, fluctuating between five and thirty a day during that time – with a tendency to chain smoke while drinking (i.e. in pubs). Bloggers who’ve met me in pub-like environments will doubtless attest to the Nosemonkey trademarks of a slightly bemused expression and a roll-up permanently on the go.

The thought of sitting in a pub, beer in hand, without a fag to keep the bitter company was one of the least appealing thoughts I’d had in forever – added to by my Canadian experience of trying to drink in a pub-like bar without being able to smoke at the same time. (It didn’t help that Canadian beer tastes rubbish…)

I’m also one of those people who objects to being told what they can and can’t do, who tends to do the opposite of what they’re told out of a mixture of spite and contempt.

Plus – and most importantly, I’d say – I had precisely no desire to give up smoking. At all.

I like smoking – I enjoy the taste, the sensation of the noxious fumes trickling down my throat, the comfort of the little cancer stick nestled between my fingers. No matter how many times they try to rebrand it, for any lover of 30s, 40s and 50s cinema, smoking will forever be cool. With fag in hand, I’m Humphrey fucking Bogart.

I also don’t buy in to the whole “passive smoking” thing – I’m unconvinced by the supposedly scientific evidence, and certainly can’t see why it’s any worse than car exhaust fumes. As I don’t drive, to be told by the owner of a car to stop smoking for the sake of their health strikes me as akin to Charles Manson ticking someone off for being a violent mentalist.

So, to spite the government, rather than struggle to cut down from the ban kicking in today, I decided to stick two fingers up at the bastards who introduced it by reducing their tax revenues a week early.

(I also refuse to get stuck in to the pathetic “we’ll help you quit” industry of hypnotism, nicotine patches and the like. Having tried nicotine lozenges in the past – and nearly throwing up in the process, they’re so foul – this time I’ve gone the cold turkey route. Far more efficient – the nicotine’s out of your system within 24 hours, the pangs diminish to a tolerable level within three days, plus you’re not paying someone good money to take advantage of your weakness of mind and prolong your addiction via a far less satisfying delivery method.)

The most striking revelation of my experiment? It’s entirely possible to have a few beers without lighting up, and nowhere near as hard as you might think.

Is it as fun? No. Obviously. But where a few weeks back I’d have said it’d be impossible for me to go for more than a single pint without a fag (and would have said it’d be a struggle to have even a half without at least one ciggie), now I’ve made an intriguing discovery. It’s all a load of bollocks. The addiction is not chemical, at least not really – it’s psychological. And it’s not really that hard to break out of the habit if you adopt the right mindset.

Will I go back to smoking? Yep. No doubt about it – why give up something you enjoy? And, at the same time, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Herein lies the Nosemonkey method to cutting down on the fags without getting pissed off about it:

Chain-smoking is an automatic, unthinking response to a situation, like Pavlov’s dog and its on-cue saliva. Far better, surely, to keep smoking as a pleasure – an occasional treat.

Do alcoholics really enjoy their booze? Of course not – otherwise they wouldn’t drink special brew. So why should us smokers do the equivalent? Just as it’s better to have a single dram of a fine single malt than a four-pack of Tennants Super, surely it’s better to savour a single decent cigarette every now and again rather than chain-smoke the hideousness of Lambert and Butler, just because they’re a bit cheaper?

So here’s the key – smoking has just become a luxury, and luxuries are always more enjoyable. Approach this crappy ban with that attitude, you may not mind quite so much.

And hell, Humphrey Bogart always looked his best while hunched over and wearing a raincoat – being forced outside for a puff might even add to the coolness…

10:30pm update: This evening I went to a couple of local pubs. Neither had anywhere near the number of people you’d normally get on a Sunday night. Whether this is an ongoing trend or not is obviously impossible to say. (If it is, sod the pub inindustry – what the hell’s going to happen to all the local breweries that have already been struggling in the last couple of decades with the boom in idiots drinking lager and not appreciating proper beer?)

However, largely out of spite I’ve just had my first cigarette in eight days. And you know what? It was OK. That’s it. A pleasing experience, much like a chocolate bar – not something I see myself doing all the time. I still, thanks to the Nosemonkey method, have no desire to light up all the time, as before. The fag was a nice two fingers to the government but, once I run out of baccy, I doubt I’ll be buying more.

Treating smoking as a luxury is the way forward. And, unlike the usual approach to quitting where you’re not allowed one again ever, it seems to be working. Yes, of course a week or so is too early to tell. But so far, having shaken the chemical addiction, I can’t foresee a problem with this approach.

Updates as and when.