I had my first cigarette in the mid 70’s aged about 13. It was a Player’s No.6 filched from my Dad’s pack in one of his jackets.
It wasn’t my first smoke. That had been a toke on a schoolmates fag down an alley after school but it was the first I had smoked and finished.
In those days it seemed like everybody smoked. My parents, my aunts and uncles, the neighbours, the teachers, the newsagents where I had a paper round. Everyone. You could smoke everywhere too. On buses, in cinemas, in restaurants/pubs. Even hospitals. I vividly recall going to see films where every other person had a fag on the go, the smoke rising up to the light beaming from the projectionist onto the ’big screen’ creating a cloud of glowing smog. Adverts for cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco played in the intermission. Very expensive and arty productions they were too.
I can’t say I started to be ‘cool’. It was just the ‘norm’. Mum and Dad used to tell me it was ‘bad’ for me and I shouldn’t start but it was half hearted. Well into the 80’s they used to tell me that when they started they didn’t know it was bad for them though I’m sure they carried on well after they knew.
Moving up to ‘big school’ it was definitely the norm to smoke and I quickly joined the smokers groups haunting the ‘bike shed’…which wasn’t actually a bike shed but a public playing field just outside the rear gates. Occasionally we were caught by Mr Booth, a canny, if odd science teacher, who took it upon himself to police the curtilage of the school boundaries. I used to hang out with a particularly ‘cool’ kid called Nick Angel (who went on to be a film producer) who only smoked American cigarettes. It’s how I learnt to smoke in a way. Mouth to lung. He would describe eloquently how he would draw the smoke into his mouth and draw it back so that it hit the back of his throat. American tobacco was particularly good at achieving this he would say. We used to buy different brands and compare. Marlboro, Chesterfields, Lucky Strike etc. He once told me that James Dean smoked Chesterfields. In 1975, that was cool.
I remember a weekend going to a Dickens Festival in a town in Kent. All sorts of things were on sale but my Dad and I each purchased a clay pipe from that era. That started a long period of trying pipe tobaccos. And lordy some of those were so good. I bought other pipes. I had half a dozen. Adept with pipe filters, cleaning, reaming the bowl, tamping the tobacco etc and enjoyed the whole process. Mum frowned upon it all but she would work nights leaving my father and me to enjoy a good pipeful watching the Sweeney and quaffing his home brewed ale. Happy days. Gold Block, Clan, all of them.
I started work in an office aged 18 in 1979. It wasn’t what I wanted but I’d messed about at school and didn’t make the grade for Uni (I eventually did aged 40 but that’s another story). My boss was a pipe smoker. Smoking was permitted everywhere. My first job in the morning was to go get his Bruno Rough Flake from the tobacconist down the road. I smoked at my desk, in the car on visits. It was just normal.
Now, my Dad gave up smoking in his 40’s (he was 80 last year) and as time went by and I began to feel the long term effects of smoking I aspired to do the same thing. I would be a non-smoker before 40.
I had married and had kids. My wife, who smoked when I met her, managed to give up after our second child. After that, from 1987 onwards I was constantly pressured into packing it in. I went through attempted abstentions. Failure was inevitable. I did manage a whole miserable 12 months off the cigs and it was hell. Cold turkey. Will power. Failure was inevitable. I still felt FIT. I used to go jogging regularly with a mate. I played squash three times a week well into my late 30’s. I smoked at work and scoffed mints on the way home. I could not understand how she knew I was still smoking. Bizarre that I could think that now. If pressed I always admitted it.
But then I began to get chest infections. Usually cleared up with the ubiquitous antibiotics. But they came back.
When my marriage ended in 2004 my furtive period of smoking became full time again. Divorce, a massive and injurious event for all of us though it was, brought freedom from nagging. I hit the bottle a bit too but that’s another story.
I started dating again aged 40. I used dating sites.
Yes I fucking did. I’d been out of that whole scene for two decades and I needed all the help I could get. And I put that I preferred smokers. I had dates. Loads. Some great some bloody awful. But I met one woman who introduced me to roll ups. Now I had had the occasional rolly but I hadn’t really understood how more flavourful they were. I was with her 5 years and it was five years of rolling tobacco and papers. I couldn’t any longer enjoy a ‘straight’.
4 years in I contracted pneumonia and I can honestly say I felt like death itself and was probably the only few weeks that I could NOT smoke a thing. I felt so ill.
BUT. Guess what? I got better. And started smoking again. Just as much as before. It felt like I would always be a smoker. Despite the damage it was doing to me I fucking enjoyed it. I also preferred the company of smokers
Roll forwards to 2009 I was at an engagement party and I was outside having a fag between beers when a guy was talking about seeing someone use this ‘electric fag’ which was ‘unbelievably realistic’. I was curious but didn’t take it any further.
In early 2010 a colleague brought in a cigalike called a ‘Smartsmoker’. Typical cigalike. I was intrigued enough to do a bit of googling. Which brought me to E-Lites. I ordered a starter kit. It came in a fag box size charging case, a spare (tiny of course) battery and a number of different flavoured cartomizers. I say ‘different’ flavours. Tobacco or menthol from what I remember. I puffed on these for a few days. They didn’t stop me smoking entirely and I quickly added up the cost of replacing the carts (which didn’t last long and I had no idea you could actually refill them with juice from bottles you could order elsewhere) and thought to myself there must be something better out there.
A more extensive google search (the first hits being E-Lites in those days) found me a vaping forum. A VAPING forum?! WTF?! Hang on, a meet up? Hell yeah. Vapefest 2010? I was there with the other 48 vapers.
It was an ego kit that finally released me from the grip of cigarettes. A decent battery (for then) and useable refillable cartomisers and early ‘tanks’ (laughably 1.5 ml capacity then) I knew I had found an alternative and managed to stop smoking with 30mg juice.
I haven’t touched on various NRT ‘solutions. Save to say I tried most of them without success. More than once.
The truth is I never really wanted to give up. I enjoyed it. It was part of me. Who I was. Yes I worried sometimes about my health but my attempts to quit were always tinged with the feeling I was doing it because others wanted me to.
Even having found ecigs I didn’t mean to quit. It just happened. I found myself not wanting a smoke. It was easy! And my health has improved so much since in all the ways we are all familiar with. I’ve had blips like when two batteries failed on me and a trip to the corner shop for Golden Virginia and rizlas felt like old times. I was advised have ‘spares and spares of spares’ Good advice to any newbie.
It saddens me no end that where there is a such a wealth of evidence from those who have made the switch that vaping just bloody works that we find ourselves fighting for our right to vape (and perhaps more importantly fighting for the right of smokers who have yet to discover or understand ecigs to have an available, workable alternative free of unnecessary restrictions and as available as cigarettes)
Mark Davis, Bolton