Realising why almost anything is better than smoking


IT IS early enough in the year for there still to be some interest in the notion of self improvement. I'm heading back to the low fat spread myself this week. People are inclined to put on a lot of weight when they stop smoking. Putting on weight is so depressing that it is not one bit surprising to read that recent research shows the main reason women, anyway, don't make a harder effort to give up cigarettes is that they're afraid of getting fat.

I'm sure the weight gain matters more than they say to men, too. Men don't like being heavy any more than women do. These are commonplaces but they're truths, too. They should count when public policies are being formed. The weight issue will have to be admitted and found words for if governments are serious about stamping out smoking, which I hope they are because it is well worth saying this at least once a year almost anything is better than smoking.

This is one of the few subjects on which I expect to be listened to. I know about smoking, I have been that soldier and I feel qualified to talk to smokers because the ghost of me still lingers in their camp.

I have stopped actually buying cigarettes and putting them between my lips and lighting them and so on. But I'm still, really, a smoker. I miss cigarettes. I long to smoke again. I promise myself that I will start again when I'm 65. I miss the physical fact of smoking. I like it when other people blow smoke on me.

And I am compelled to nibble things all evening, like a rabbit, because I haven't properly adjusted to having no smoking to do. This, after three years and one month and two weeks.

I identify with smokers, too. I like people who can't control themselves who have serious, strong appetites. There is a contemporary ideal of being as clean and neat as a Mormon. The thrusting young, these days, work out and play competitive games and never drink too much and don't smoke and are only too ready to take over from the last of the shapeless old tobacco scented bosses.

I identify with the opposite of these self loving careerists, with tired waitresses and prisoners and people who will never be thought of for the big job.

Nevertheless, it is better not to smoke. I read that when Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Dublin she didn't have a drink in a pub as scheduled because she couldn't stand the smoke and had to leave.

If this is true, I'm really ashamed of us. No matter what anyone may say, no one has the right to insist on smoking in a shared space, not when there is somebody in that space who minds.

IT IS the smoker who is altering the shared environment, not the non smoker. And so, traps are closing in on smokers. They are being starved of Lebensraum. And rightly so.

If any social engineering at all is permissible, anti smoking measures are permissible because smoking makes you permanently less well than you could be. It gives you grooves in your upper lip that make you look ancient. It makes you smelly and dirty. And your precious unique life already far too short, is further shortened by the toxic deposit of all those cigarettes.

That is why it is worth asking yourself whether you could start to raise your consciousness about controlling your weight now as a preliminary to stopping smoking. Needless to say, I don't know how to do this myself Or rather, I do know what you must and must not cat and drink so as to lose weight but I haven't trained myself into following a regime.

I've always looked down on people who diet, who wallow in the puritanism of the over privileged. The Earth is so full of such delicious things that to deny them seems a perversity. But now I sense that there is a range of pleasure, too, in being disciplined and in control and fit.

When I went to a psychologist type woman in London to try to stop smoking, one of the things she had us do was make a list of the benefits of, not smoking. When we felt the desire to smoke, "I accept this discomfort", we were supposed to say in our heads, "because in exchange I will gain..." and then go through all the good effects on the, list.

There must be a way of doing that about food and drink, too. There must be a moment when you decisively choose such and such a loss so as to get such and such a gain.

The Government would be well advised to talk in these kind of terms to smokers instead of just putting up posters. Posters are all very well. But each individual smoker is caught in a very complex web.

Simple slogans are not appropriate to the case. Smokers feel, for instance, that cigarettes are their" friends. They also feel defined by smoking, that their identities would be formless if they stopped.

They also feel they say something about their independence of the world's approval when they smoke. They judge their relative attractiveness and unattractiveness around the central fact of their smoking if someone wanted them enough, they announce to themselves, they would want them even though they smoke.

Smokers feel superior to non smokers in being less materialistic than they smokers fear gluttony as well as weight gain after stopping (not seeing smoke and ash as things consumed).

SMOKERS interrogate their whole lives to decide whether on the evidence so far they are valuable enough to themselves or to anybody to assert the self importance involved in making the effort to quit.

And those are just a few opening remarks. Smoking is not just a habit. It is knitted in a thousand ways into the personality of the smoker.

There is no point in being simply censorious. I don't know how it became acceptable to talk about smokers as if they are mentally deficient or criminal. But a harsh and punitive tone has become allowable on this subject as on no other, a tone which demeans, in my opinion, the anti smoking fanatics who use it. And one which doesn't help the problem.

Practical things would help. Quasi medical supervision for a year alter quitting would be a help. Link ups with commercial weight watching outfits would help. Free entry to leisure centres for anyone on a state stop smoking course if there were any state stop smoking courses would help. Just a central telephone number where information about whatever help is on offer can be obtained, would be a help.

Smoking has to be combated person by person, and blanket appeals, such as posters make, are of very little use.

I've forgotten myself why I wanted to stop smoking so badly that I was actually able to do it. But it happens that a few people who are very dear to me do still smoke. When I think of how thrilling it would be if they were able to stop, how happy I would be for them and how proud of them, I recapture some of my own motivation.

There is nothing I'd prefer for them in 1996 not winning the lottery, not anything at all than that they could find the strength to quit. And if Michael Noonan the Minister for Health, can do anything at all to help, he really will be ministering to health.