Smoking is one addiction I certainly can’t blame my parents for. My family did and does not smoke and I can’t recall anyone ever smoking in the wider circle of our family, except for my granddad on my father’s side that is.. I remember a picture of him sitting in a easy chair holding a cigar in his right hand. One day, when I was still very young, someone told him smoking was bad for his health. He probably nodded, put down his cigar and never smoked again.
Some years ago I was going through my grandfather’s legacy and I found some old black and white pictures from family parties from the fifties. The tables had white coffee cups filled with cigarettes. Like snacks you could take one if you felt like it. I think these didn’t have filters either so the rooms on those pictures were definitely cloudy. Smoking was a social activity like any other and everyone seemed to be happy and joyful. The spectre of cancer had not yet risen.
I did smoke because of my family background, I learned to smoke when I was in my early twenties when I started to study history at the University of Amsterdam. One day I was paging through a series of role play books in the American Book Center in Amsterdam, when someone approached me and asked me if I liked those books. I said yes and he introduced me to a role playing group.
People of this group also played in another group and via that group they knew other people who roleplayed too. It turned out there were a lot of people about my age who studied at the university and played role play games. Roleplaying soon became just one of the activities that we did: we went to movies, hung out in parks chatting till the sun came up or sat at the home of a good friend of mine playing risk and watching MTV and TMF. In those days those channels still broadcasted mostly music clips. I think they stopped doing that nowadays. At least whenever I happen to turn on the television and switch to MTV the channel is filled with anything but music clips.
It this group of people that started to smoke. Actually some started to smoke as an extension of smoking weed. Weed was introduced by someone who made a weed cake. People liked it, but making a cake like that took too long and therefore we bought weed to mix with tobacco. Later on hashish was also introduced. It also was cut up and mixed with tobacco.
Soft drugs are however expensive, so the habit developed to smoke tobacco in between the weed and hashish. And that is how smoking as a habit developed. After about one and a half year of doing soft drugs, everyone suddenly stopped. It was over like that. Just like you flipped a switch.
Smoking tobacco however did not stop that sudden, but lingered on for a long time. Some friends never smoked (I have to grant them that), some smoked for a very short time, others smoked for a very long time.. till their forties.
Here is a wicked formula that you might recognize: Alcohol and smoking are intertwined. Smoking increases the desire for drinking, drinking increase the urge to smoke.. Add salt to the equation and you might not find it strange that some bars hand out free salted peanuts. Salt creates thirst which is quenched with alcohol, alcohol creates the desire to smoke.
Still, over the years, one person after the other stopped smoking. Two friends kept on smoking however, until one suffered a collapsed lung a few years back and the other got diabetes. They both were urged by their doctors to stop smoking because of health reasons: they had to.
Nowadays smokers in my country have been marginalised. I am currently in France where people are still allowed to smoke in cafes and restaurants. In the Netherlands this is forbidden. This policy started some years ago when a law was passed to protect employees from working in conditions where customers smoked. Everyone knew this law was an just an excuse to prohibit smoking. It is interesting how anti-smoking we have become. Interesting because we are far less strict regarding that other big drug: alcohol. Interesting also because smoking mostly affects the smoker, but alcohol has a tendency to affect others as well. But alcohol is too big to be touched.
People found a way around the law though: if you did not have employees, the law did not apply. Hence bars develop where the owner ran the bar without employees. However, this was just a stay of execution: this year the law was amended. Now smoking is just prohibited in any public place. It won’t surprise me that the next law will prohibit smoking altogether except for smoking in your own home.
I sometimes see the odd collection of smokers huddling together at the entrance to the office building I work in. If they don’t get some smoke related disease they stand a fair chance to catch a cold, for they have no shelter against the weather.The smoker has become the modern day pariah.
Poor smokers, I sometimes think, until I sit on a terras in France having my lunch spoiled by some French smoker blowing wafts of tobacco in my direction. Then I appreciate it that someone banned smoking from our public spaces.