Stopping smoking is easy. Deciding to stop smoking is not. The prospect is sickening.
All those moments of pleasure or pleasure perfected, all those waystages in the working day when concentration is revived and good work rewarded, all those instances of tactile anticipation painstakingly crafting the perfect roll-up, all those sacramental acts of social interaction, all those coffees and cups of tea and beers and glasses of wine that marry so well with a cigarette, all those meals immaculately rounded off by lighting up, all those swims concluded, rambles completed, and mountaintops crowned with a good sit down and a smoke . . . the thought that all these things will never happen ever again is quite appalling.
It's like having Poe's raven perched on your shoulder. Nevermore!
In consequence, envisaging a tenable life without smoking calls for an imaginative faculty so ingenious that, by contrast, the strength of will required to resist the lure of nicotine is a mere bagatelle. And yet, sooner or later, most smokers are willing to make the monumental effort required to cultivate this capacity because the cozening propaganda of the anti-tobacco lobby is so potent, so pervasive, and so irrefutable that smoking has come to be seen as life-negating rather than life-enhancing. This is most unreasonable.
The fact that something has terminal consequences does not necessarily mean it is anti-life, especially when the consequences are not immediate. A life that feels broader, larger, brighter, and louder is generally a life better lived than one that is merely longer. And, like most health-campaigns targeting lifestyle, the anti-smoking crusade can never quite escape its lesser and greater subtexts, the one puritanical, Stop that, you're enjoying it too much, the other evangelical, You too can be saved unto life everlasting. You can't. You're gonna die. Possibly not a lot later than if you never smoked at all. 50% of smokers die of smoking related causes? 100% of people die of living related causes. A fallacious argument, to be sure, but no less specious than the assumptions of a culture obsessed with the negation of decrepitude and death.
Naturally, if the health hazard could be reduced to a straight trade off between dying five or six years 'early' and enduring an extra half decade in the care home wetting your bed clothes and putting your underpants on your head, even the most militant proponents of healthy living would take up smoking directly. Unhappily, it doesn't work like that. There are some lucky smokers cheerfully puffing away into their nineties, but many more are killed off in their forties or even earlier. Worse, perhaps, there are all those hapless souls who spend their last dozen years crippled by emphysema, or croaking through a hole in their throat, or nursing a cardiovascular system so rigid and so fragile that it may as well be built of Lego. Personally, I've got to the point where a present certainty (I don't want to stop smoking) no longer outweighs a future probability (I don't want to die with doctors digging bits of my throat out).
As it happens, after thirty years at it, I've smoked long enough that the present sacrifice does not necessarily preclude the future. If I was destined to die a nasty death due to smoking, I probably still will. But at least I need no longer wake in the middle of the night and find that my second or third thought is "What the **** are you doing?!" I need no longer feel shifty and slightly ashamed (as if I am in some obscure way letting the side down and insulting the profession) when I meet a doctor - I can even allow myself the luxury of visiting one if I've got a sore throat or a persistent cough. I need no longer live with the embarrassing notion that I am going to die of stupidity - I may well do so, a large number of deaths, after all, depend upon stupidity of one variety or another, but at least I've stopped contributing to one among the many ways this can be achieved. And I don't have to hesitate about going to restaurants or parties or friends' houses because they're non-smoking and that would impair my pleasure.
Above all though, I have something to look forward to.
If I get to be 85, I'm going to take up smoking.
Make that 80, so I can be reasonably sure I'll remember what it is I’m meant to be taking up.
Some cocaine wouldn't go amiss, either. And I'll probably need some amphetamines by then.
Future's looking bright.
Where's my underpants?!
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace