Erikka Askeland: Smoking out a good reason for quitting

In Scotland, plans to control cigarette use will come into effect in April. Picture: Getty
In Scotland, plans to control cigarette use will come into effect in April. Picture: Getty
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I’M NOT going to try to defend the indefensible, but what’s a smoker to do these days? Next week is some sort of official “stop smoking” day – they seem to come around every year.

The UK government might use the occasion to unleash its plan to wrap fags in plain packets, except for the name of the brand and some gruesome imagery warning about the dangers of regular inhalation of the weed. UK government ministers are also thinking of banning smoking in cars that have people under the age of 16 in them.

In Scotland, plans to control fag use will come into effect in April, after Imperial Tobacco, which sells the hipster’s favourite gasper, Galoises, tried to stymie its plans in court. The merchants of death unsuccessfully tried to argue Scotland couldn’t ban the display of cigarettes in shops or vending machines because it wasn’t a real country. Let fans of Scottish nationalism put that in their pipes and smoke it. But then again what would you expect with a company that has the word “imperial” in its name.

The UK has more rules and regulations on tobacco than any country in the world and yet I still persist. It is true that Jack (now Lord) McConnell’s smoking ban in public places seven years ago worked for me – at least for a while. A few days after I realised there was nowhere in Scotland I could smoke indoors, I lit up outside and it started to hail. Being pelted by great chunks of ice that made my fag soggy – a sign if there ever was one – 
coincided with a cash flow crisis which saw me giving up for ­almost three years – until I began thinking to myself: “Oh, I’ll just have a drag outside the pub… Just one fag after this swanky dinner… I’ll just buy a pack of ten for the night and throw the rest away”… But let’s face it, by then I was back into it like a fish with a hook in its eye.

Australia banned branding on ciggie packs at the start of the year, and then some clever clogs set up a business selling stickers to smokers with which to decorate them.

Honestly, I can’t see why smokers would bother. The researchers at Stirling University who studied the effects of a packaging ban for the Department of Health basically admitted the way the packs look don’t have much effect on hardcore smokers. And with all these rules pitted against the feeding of my addiction, I am nothing if not hardcore. Preventing smoking in cars with children in them will be hard to enforce, but it is probably a good idea. I can still ­remember once waiting in the car with one of my parents, lying on the floor under the back seat in an attempt to avoid the stinging air. But it was a different time when children had no rights of their own as they were merely considered an extension of their parents’ foibles.

Really, we all know the downsides of tobacco – the stink, the disease, the penury, not being able to run marathons (is this a drawback?) And people think you are a simpleton. Some of the only upsides include the grim camaraderie of fellow smokers huddled outside the office. But you have to give us credit for our tenacity. Come hell, high water, blizzard, whatever, we are out there puffing away. And we always carry a flint or matches, which makes us unusually useful in situations requiring survivalist skills. Eat your heart out, Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

In one of my several attempts to quit I went to a hypnotist. He quizzed me about why I wanted to give up, which I realised was part of the suggestive process. I could tell he was annoyed with me because despite his best ­efforts to persuade me, I wasn’t that fussed about the health risk. Instead, youthful and insouciant, I was fixated on the money I’d save if I didn’t buy them.

I didn’t think the hypnosis had worked. He was a dull looking fellow – surely he could have at least worn a top hat – and I don’t recall actually losing consciousness. Yet when I left his office I was smoke free for about as long as it took to pay for the hypnotherapy session with the savings I made not smoking.

I will try it again. Having aged more, I am starting to have intimations of not being able to breathe which scares me. It could make something for a hypnotist to work with. I have an aunt who, despite having to use oxygen, sometimes takes off her mask apologetically to have a cigarette. To paraphrase St Augustine, Lord, make me a 
non-smoker. But not yet.