The Demographic Shift - 15
Apparently new research shows that if you give up smoking before you are 35 you will be more or less fine (from the effects of smoking at least, compilation album buying and other post-34 side effects can not not be blamed on tobacco). This will apparently save the average person 16 years of their life, if they give up before they are 35. It's just coincidental that this all comes as tobacco advertising is banned from posters, press and cinema.
While I know this is all for the best, I am as I said going to miss it: both the actual smoking and the tobacco advertising. Although fag ads have long been generally acknowledged to be past their best, they were for a long while some of the best ads around and Silk Cut's "the fat lady sings" (cdp-travis sully) was a great way to bow out.
I should come clean. I actually stopped smoking on December 23. I hadn't planned to (not officially) although, like DIY, it was one of those things at the back of my mind. I knew, however, it was out there and that very soon, preferably before I crossed the demographic point of no return, it was going to happen ("look at me, no social crutches!").
I guess I was just lucky that I got very ill (the Christmas barfing incident) and that my giving up started sooner than I had expected. Starting on December 23, which, as a day perfectly acceptable and a run-of-the-mill kind of day, is decidedly better as it meant I got to avoid any auspicious New Year's resolutions.
Besides, I haven't been a proper smoker for years. Rather, I have been the worst kind of smoker (hated by real stand-up smokers) -- the persistent social smoker who goes through other people's cigarettes at a rate of knots. But hey, who am I kidding? I've had a solid 10- to 15-a-week habit for several years. I'm so going to miss it.
There are lots of things I will miss about smoking, beginning I think with the brand itself.
Everyone has their brand when it comes to cigarette smoking. Like so many choices, it is difficult to work out exactly how it happens, but there is a certain point when it definitely happens. For me, the moment that sticks in my mind was at university late one morning when I got up and came downstairs to see my house mate Keith sitting in his red dressing gown with a large breakfast cup of black coffee and smoking a Benson & Hedges. I did likewise rummaging for my own packet, left lying in the mess and found my Marlboros. We both sat there and had, what we all commonly referred to as, our Mexican breakfast -- it seemed so much easier to do without food back then. I had become a Marlboro man.
At the time, of course, they were Marlboro Red cigarettes. Everyone smoked Marlboro Reds and then one day, a couple of years later, after some late night out in Manchester I declared I had to give up those things ("these are going to kill me"). Of course, I didn't mean give up smoking I meant switch from full-strength blowtorch like Marlboro Reds to the more sedate carcinogens of Marlboro Lights.
So like so many of the rest of Generation X and Y, Marlboro Lights became the brand of choice of the next decade. A decade (frankly that is shocking), can you believe it? So I will miss that familiar packet. That familiar and comforting gold, white and black packaging.
Other things I will miss are cigarettes and alcohol combined. Such a good combination (like perfectly matched dance partners) that Oasis wrote one of their best songs about it -- "It's a crazy situation, but all I need are cigarettes and alcohol". That always seemed so true.
I'll miss the things that people used to say about cigarettes as well. There was this one girl that I dated once who would always say if I offered her a Marlboro Light, "No darling, I have my Silk Sluts". Or another friend who, when lighting his Marlboro Light, would say "What do you say about a brand that's killing an entire generation?" And with 3m 16- to 34-year-old cigarette smokers, he wasn't wrong.
There were few areas in life that seemed to excite such high levels of brand loyalty. People I know (me included) would run from the pub and literally go door to door (always somehow ending up at the 24-hour BP garage) in search of Marlboro Light cigarettes should the fag machine have nothing left but Benson & Hedges and Silk Cuts, as was inevitably the story ("That bastard over there got the last packet of Marlboro Lights").
Certain people I knew would swear by their Lucky Strikes ("got to have my Luckies") or similarly Camels (Lights). There were the odd few who stood by peculiar brands such as Dunhill cigarettes, which came in those curiously old-fashioned slimline boxes. That said, the only person I knew who smoked these was a hunt saboteur, so what that said I don't know. Then there were the other cigarette brand certainties such as the fact that Northerners smoked Embassy cigarettes and people from Essex and Essex-like places smoked Benson & Hedges and Rothmans.
My friends and I, I am sure, were first suckered by a certain cool that came with smoking (how stupid were we?). Besides, we wore lots of black, had Zippo lighters (cue lots of "I love the smell of petrol in the morning" quotes) and drank excessive amounts of black coffee while pontificating at length about some American novel or other. It all went together. It was part of the smoking camaraderie. It was a lifestyle choice.
That is one of the signs, and one of the reasons why it is easier to give up smoking, because what this demographic shift is partly about is leaving certain things behind and loosening ties with others (not severing) and smoking is one of those things. This is a good thing. I never wanted to be older and still puffing away. Anyway (darling), it's really terribly bad for your skin (apparently).
There are many things that I will not miss about smoking, not least of all the yellow teeth and smelly breath, not to mention the "no I will not kiss you as your mouth smells like you've eating out of an ashtray all evening" line.
All I have to be really careful about now is not turning into a militant reformed anti-smoker (in the same way I turned from a "Hell no, we won't go, we won't fight for Texaco" in 1991 to a "well, I don't have a problem with it being about oil" in 2003). This would be a terrible thing to be worse than a peacenik. When I smoked (like all people who smoked), I was really good at trotting out the line that reformed smokers were the worse militant anti smokers around and I don't want to be one of them (who wants to be worse at anything?).
Besides it's not quite true, Alison (of best job, best looking, best house fame) is the worst by a long way and she has never smoked. Alison is one of those people who will sit there fanning themselves rather too vigorously when in the company of people smoking cigarettes (and while I love Alison dearly, I do tell her she really shouldn't do it). She was at this late last year as I was winding down my habit.
"Ali, you're only going to wind everyone up and get their back up."
"Is that a joke? My fanning carcinogenic smoke away from my face is getting everyone's back up? Do you have any idea how ridiculous a statement that is?"
"Well, I'd say it is just about as ridiculous as someone who as a corporate lawyer defends tobacco companies in the face of countless legal assaults. Besides no one ever said that modern life does not contain the odd paradox or two."
She's funny. Anyway I've digressed again, but I guess what I really did want to say was a so long to Marlboro country. I've no idea what I will do with my Zippo now.