Tobacco: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

It’s quite disconcerting when a politician/party/government I despise comes up with a sensible policy. When the politician is Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, the party is the Tory Party, and the government is the Coalition, the cognitive dissonance sky rockets to head-exploding levels.

Lansley’s announcement that smoking is no longer part of life is backed up by legislation coming into force today , banning display of tobacco products in large stores and supermarkets. Small shops will be covered by the legislation in 3 year’s time. After I’d picked myself up from the floor, I had to admit that even a stopped clock is bound to be right twice a day.

I’m exaggerating my reaction a bit, but not too much. Nevertheless, as a good lefty, it was therefore incumbent on me to qualify my approbation of this thoroughly enlightened move by remembering the hatchet job Lansley has perpetrated on the NHS. A sentiment shared by many other Guardianistas, judging by the comments beneath this news article. Indeed, the Guardian felt obliged to commission an opinion piece on the legislation, pointing out that Lansley has missed the point, and it’s really socio-economic factors that drive smoking.

The point is to stop young people from starting to smoke and support those who want to give up. I hope it works. My own experience was different. I was a devout non-smoker until 16 or 17, at which point I started smoking hash and marijuana. You need tobacco to roll a joint, and by the time I stopped smoking dope in my early 20s, I was completely hooked on tobacco. In other other words, it wasn’t the dope that was addictive, but the tobacco.

So displays of tobacco did not get me started, but they certainly made it a lot more difficult to stop. True to my origins in the business of rolling joints, I stuck with roll-ups for another 20 years, during which time I made numerous attempts to quit. Some were successful for short periods. The problem was not in giving up – there’s a real high in getting your senses back, taste and smell in particular – but in resisting the lure of tobacco. Displays in shops and supermarkets really don’t help. Those blue pouches of Drum drew me like paparazzi to a sleb. And yes, I was a roll-up snob – only Douwe Egberts would do, though I would slum it with Golden Virginia when times were hard. People who roll their own have another handicap in giving up the crafting their own cigarettes out of Rizlas and tobacco. There’s pleasure in the nimbleness of fingers that in my case was a faint echo of the ritual of rolling a joint.

I gave up for good on February 7, 1988, as I moved into a rental cottage on a farm in Cumbria. I really wanted to stop, and this time it worked. Perhaps it was the idea of a fresh start in a new place. It certainly helped that I was working in a health food shop.

This ban will help, but tobacco addiction has many entry points and fewer exits. So good on Lansley for this legislation (even though it pains me to say it) and let’s look at the socio-economic factors as well.

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