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25 September 2017 00:55 (South Africa)
Opinionista David Gemmell

Where there's smoke...there's a fool?

  • David Gemmell
    gemmell opinionista 02
    David Gemmell

    David grew up in the Free State, where his father worked on the gold mines. He has variously been a barman, labourer, truck driver, roughneck, trader, project manager and is now a full time writer.

    He has had a column in Business Day and the now demised Weekender. David has an unusual talent for making people open up to him, which he later turns into a gripping read. He gained nationwide fame after he completed the biography of Joost van der Westhuizen, Joost: The Man in the Mirror. He has recently completed a biography on Father Stan Brennan, Colour Blind Faith.

Recently, actor Eric Lawson, once the face of Marlboro cigarettes, died from respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He isn’t the only former face of Marlboro to die from smoking-related diseases. Wayne ‘Tobacco will kill you, and I am living proof of it,’ McLaren, who appeared in Marlboro print ads, died of lung cancer in 1992 and David McLean, who appeared in print and television spots, died of lung cancer in 1995.

The problem with smoking is that the first cigarette doesn’t kill you. If it did, of course, nobody would smoke. But one of them will get you. The reason I can make this statement is because cigarettes are unique; they are the only product on earth guaranteed to hasten or cause your death, if you use them exactly as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Weird, don’t you think? So what this means is when you buy cigarettes, you are actually paying to kill yourself; albeit in small portions. Like suicide on higher purchase.

And before we move away from the scare tactics, if any other products, like say chocolate, bread, cheese or milk, carried a warning saying consuming them would cause cancer, would you buy them? Would you eat or drink them? Don’t think so. No-one can be that thick. Yet millions of smokers conveniently ignore the health warnings stamped all over their packets of cigarettes and blithely continue to smoke. Why?

Cigarettes contain an addictive drug called nicotine. So addictive, many people, (Eric Clapton for one) who have been able to give up heroin, have been unable to give up smoking. Scary stuff, hey? But nicotine is not only addictive - it is lethal. If you distil the amount of nicotine in a single cigarette, and inject it into your veins, it will kill you.

Also, through smoking thousands of cigarettes and associating most of them with pleasure – with coffee, sex, parties, breaks, drinks, etc., smokers become conditioned; just like Pavlov’s dog, became conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell. This makes for a pretty tough combination; a strong, addictive drug and repeated conditioning.

But I think there are worse things about smoking than its capacity to kill you or ruin your health.

No, the worst thing about smoking is the smell. Smokers stink. They don’t think they do, but they always have bad breath. If you are a smoker, don’t kid yourself; peppermints and gum do not make any difference. You perpetually have disgusting, stale, foul smell of smoke enveloping you.

For my money, there is nothing nicer than kissing a girl with fresh breath, who axiomatically, therefore, doesn’t smoke. The mere fact that she tastes and smells clean creates a feeling of wellbeing that makes further intimacy so appealing. With smokers, I’m always concerned about their personal hygiene. Bad breath and stinky clothes don’t actually inspire initiating more personal contact. Words like grubby, grungy, filthy and mucky spring to mind. And bizarrely, more young females are smoking now than ever before. Are they trying to put guys off them? Why?

Another curious feature about smoking is it does nothing to you. I mean, smoke a joint, at least you develop an altered state of consciousness – you get stoned. Or drink alcohol; same thing, you move into a different mood or, to be more blunt - you get pissed. I’m not advocating either of them – I’m just saying there is some return for indulging in them. Good or bad, you get something back.

However, smoke a cigarette and zero changes. Smokers claim cigarettes calm them down. Rubbish. When smoking a cigarette, a smoker’s pulse increases by a couple of beats per minute. So it actually increases stress.

One thing smokers often raise as an obstacle to quitting is that they don’t know what to do with their hands. Do me a favour. What do non-smokers do with their hands?

And of course the best excuse not to stop is, ‘If I stop smoking, I’ll put on weight’. Oh, so like there are no fat smokers? The two are completely disconnected. You put on weight by eating too much. Smoking or not smoking has nothing to do with it; unless, of course, you replace the habit of smoking with a new habit of snacking and over-eating. But why would you do that?

These days we continually hear how bad the economy is. The cost of everything just seems to scream up, while incomes increase, if at all, at a snail’s pace. Yet, somehow or other, smokers from students to beggars to lowly paid clerks, always seem to find enough money to buy a packet of cigarettes. Every year the so-called ‘sin’ taxes on booze and cigarettes are increased. Ever known anyone stop because ‘cigarettes are too expensive’?

A simple calculation based on the cost of buying a packet of cigarettes a day will show if a smoker quits, they will immediately give themselves an increase, bonus, whatever you want to call it, of a R1,000+ a month. Who couldn’t do with extra money?

And if you run a business - what about your employees who smoke? If they have just four cigarettes a day, at say 15 minutes a cigarette (getting up – going outside – chatting to the other smokers), that’s an hour a day; twenty two working hours a month; two hundred and forty two hours a year (11 months). Well that equates to SIX-and-a-HALF working weeks a year you are paying your staff to stand outside and kill themselves. And that’s only based on a very conservative four smokes a day.

And if you believe the old adage that smoking stunts your growth.... It means you are gradually getting less worker than you hired… So why on earth would anyone employ a smoker?

So putting it all together: smoking kills (eventually); it makes you stink; it wastes money and for all of that, it doesn’t offer a return. So why do you smoke?

In the old days, before the health implications of inhaling tobacco smoke were properly understood, it was sold as a pastime sexy, beautiful people participated in. Movie heroes like James Dean were used to propagate its appeal as a cool, manly thing to do.

But now, in the information age, there is no excuse not to know that smoking is the biggest avoidable cause of death in the world.

So: uncool, unhealthy, grubby, smelly and expensive - what’s with you still smoking? DM

  • David Gemmell
    gemmell opinionista 02
    David Gemmell

    David grew up in the Free State, where his father worked on the gold mines. He has variously been a barman, labourer, truck driver, roughneck, trader, project manager and is now a full time writer.

    He has had a column in Business Day and the now demised Weekender. David has an unusual talent for making people open up to him, which he later turns into a gripping read. He gained nationwide fame after he completed the biography of Joost van der Westhuizen, Joost: The Man in the Mirror. He has recently completed a biography on Father Stan Brennan, Colour Blind Faith.

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