When I was 13 I smoked my first cigarette. When I say smoked, what I mean is I breathed the smoke in, held my breath, counted to 3, looked away so no-one would notice and then exhaled. The only time I tried to inhale the smoke properly like I had seen my parents do, I coughed profusely and felt a little nauseous. Not cool. This way, my peers would be none the wiser.
My preferred place to ‘smoke’ was the top deck of the bus, sat at the back with my friends. My friends and I would go to the only newsagent in town who would sell us cigarettes singly. I’m pretty sure this was illegal but at the time we were glad he did it because our pocket money wouldn’t stretch far enough to buy a whole packet. We would save our three cigarettes each until we got on the bus and then plan when we would smoke the other two.
I hated smoking. Even though my parents were heavy smokers, I was constantly guilt ridden that they would find out and ground me. They didn’t have a leg to stand on and no doubt I could have used this to my advantage but, smoking aside, I was quite naïve and kick myself now that I wasn’t more adept at making them feel guilty!
One day, walking along the High Street in my school uniform, my head mistress caught my friends and I walking along, cigarette fashionably perched between our fingers. Mum and Dad were immediately called into school and I was sorely reprimanded. Going to a grammar school, the crime of smoking was deemed much more severe than if I’d gone to the comprehensive and it was enough to make me stop then and there. These days, of course, smoking is the least of teachers’ concerns.
My teenage son knows my ‘smoking history’ but has also been raised by parents who haven’t smoked during his lifetime. He’s adamant he will never smoke and, at least for now, I believe him. Smoking you see, was the reason his Nan, my Mum, died.
I grew up with my clothes permanently smelling of smoke, the ceilings in our house were stained nicotine yellow and overflowing ashtrays were strewn everywhere, even in the bathroom. As I grew older, I travelled to work on trains that had smoking carriages I would have to walk through, restaurants, pubs and planes all catered for smokers and walking behind a smoker would, and still does, make me cross the road.
My children are luckier than I was and I’m grateful that smoking has been somewhat limited. Not because I want smokers to feel that they are being punished but so that my family and I can enjoy a meal without wafts of Marlboro clouding our food.
Of course, we now have to run the gauntlet of smokers stood outside but it’s preferable to the alternative.
I believe in freedom of choice. I believe if someone wants to smoke they should be allowed to – as long as it doesn’t clog my lungs up. Does this mean smokers are being penalised? Somewhat. If you choose a ‘hobby’ that has the ability to affect someone else’s health, you should at least be held accountable to some extent, even if it is just being made to smoke in the rain.
It’s a subject close to my heart, as well as my lungs, and I don’t under-estimate the gravity of how difficult it is to kick the habit. My father still smokes after losing his wife of 45 years – it has a very dangerous hold on him, and that’s something I will have to deal with when the time comes.
I don’t lecture my children about smoking. If ever I was told not to do something, invariably I did it. I do, however, talk to them about my experiences and hope that I’ve raised them well enough so that they can make an informed choice.
Then I hold my breath and hope.