Sympathy with a smoker

Sympathy with a smoker

It’s 8.58, our train to Devon leaves at 9.06. But my brother must have a fag. He’s travelled on the Tube, where smoking isn’t allowed, for 40 minutes. Forty minutes without a fag but only five minutes at the most to have one. He has to leave the station because you can’t smoke in the station. He manages only bit of a fag, but it’s something.

The journey to Devon is three hours, three hours without nicotine and a satisfying drag. But luckily we have to change in Taunton, 90 minutes out of Paddington. Unfortunately the train is late, there’s only three minutes for a fag before our connection. You can’t smoke in the station, and there could be problems getting back through the barrier if he goes out. He creeps into the corner of the station and manages a quick drag.

The next 90 minutes must be tough, but will he manage a fag before our taxi arrives? Would he dare smoke in the taxi? Some minicabs reek of smoke, but smoking is not allowed in respectable taxis. As it happens, the taxi is not there when we arrive in Ivybridge. “I pity you non-smokers,” he says laughing, “you don’t know the joy of a fag after 90 minutes without one.”

Later that night at the Dolphin Inn in Kingston a crisis arises. My brother realises he’s running out of fags; worse he’s learnt that there’s no shop in the village; and there’s no shop where we are walking tomorrow. He may have to take a taxi to a village three miles away. The taxi will have to come from Ivybridge, some eight miles away. It’ll cost him about £30.

At breakfast the crisis is resolved. My brother had the idea that pubs could no longer sell cigarettes. But they can, they simply can’t display them. He buys some fags.

On our walk we unexpectedly encounter a shop. My brother, full of excitement, buys some more fags. A packet costs £8. When did they become so expensive? As we drink a coffee he puts the packet on the table. It has a picture of surgery on a lung with cancer. “We smokers collect these pictures like we used to collect cigarette cards. “Smoking causes nine out of 10 lung cancers,” the packet announces. On other sides it says “Tobacco smoke contains over 70 substances known to cause cancer” and “Smoking kills–quit now.”

I think back to 1981 when I interviewed the director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). He said that you needed multiple strategies to reduce smoking and looked forward to the time when the assumption would be that you couldn’t smoke unless a sign said that you could. In 1981 that seemed like an impossible dream. Now the dream makes life difficult for my brother.


2 thoughts on “Sympathy with a smoker

  1. Ah those were the days at ASH. I started the ” nonsmokers’ rights campaign at ASH in the 70s. We were afraid of backlash. Which we received. I was possibly the first to called a health fascist…


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