Oh, to be able to smoke a cigarette again. I used to love sitting down to work with a nice fag burning happily away in the astray on my desk. The swirling smoke centred the mind, revved the imagination and drove off the mozzies.
But those days are over. Smokers have become today’s witches destined for drowning in the village pond or a cheerful bonfire in a city square. Their public shaming and hounding from polite society has become a uniquely successful social experiment.
Even the wildlife has got in on the act.
In the old days when it was still okay to leave the office and go outside for a quick hit of nicotine public servants in Bush Capital Canberra were more than once attacked by kangaroos as they huddled in the open air.
In fairness to the roos – and their handlers over at Intelligence – they also attacked a healthy non-smoking jogger who was bouncing along a trail on a popular leafy path in his lunchtime. When he came to in hospital some time later with cuts, bruises and a black eye, he said ‘I turned around and before I knew it, it took a swipe at my face.’
He added that even if he’d had a chance to punch it back he wouldn’t have done so. He respected the national icon and held no grudge against kangaroos.
For those who braved attacks by outraged non-smokers and wild animals another threat to their future loomed large. Price hikes. Twenty cigarettes rose to the dizzying height of fifteen bucks a pack. Now that’s a hit of nicotine.
And in case you were still hanging in, going without food and walking to save on gas, another trick was on the way. Disgusting pictures on the pack. Great black gangrenous feet with missing toes. Green toothless bleeding mouths. Cancerous eyes propped open with stents. And for those who were a bit slow getting it huge letters spelling out SMOKING KILLS; CAUSES BIRTH DEFECTS; BLINDNESS.
It was enough to make you light up in terror.
It made me recall my old neighbour in London who had started smoking at fourteen and was still puffing away at ninety. She claimed – like Bill Clinton – that she had “never done the drawback.” I wondered why she bothered.
I guess that once you have put one between your lips it is hard to let go even if it has come out of packaging featuring a blind toothless amputee. As a pack rose to nearly $20 a new tactic was deployed.
The plain packet.
No longer would tobacco companies be able to promote their evil wares. ALL cigarettes would come henceforth in black nameless packets.
“How well are these selling?” I ask the lady in the discount shop, pointing to a pile of flashy-looking cigarette cases that belong in a Bette Davis movie.
“The kids are all buying them,” she tells me. “We can’t get enough.”
But the unassailable truth is that smoking rates are down, and the kangaroo – unlike the camel – isn’t doing the drawback. I suppose that is something to celebrate.