The glory of smoking
Smoking only ever features in the news because someone wants to restrict it in some way. Today, it is because of postponed plans for plain packs.
The next time you read about it will be over a ban on smoking in cars with children. Not long after that – five years perhaps – it will be smoking in a room or building with children in.
About the same time there will be a ban on pregnant women smoking.
About ten years after that, the anti-smoking lobby will feel sufficiently confident to call for a ban. It will take them a while, but they will probably win.
So, without any other motivation, it might be nice to say something pleasant about this dying habit.
Smoking is marvellous.
It kills half the people who do it, of course. It ruins the skin, complicates pre-existing medical conditions, ruins the capacity for exercise and makes you smell bad. But it is marvellous.
I first quit about three years ago and then again a little later, this time for good. My life is the poorer for it. But I still feel part of the club and I am most certainly on the side of my fellow smokers against the drab puritanism of the health lobby.
It is deeply saddening to lose a tactile pleasure. Of course, we do plenty of things purely for pleasure, from watching films to snacking. But the dual beauty of smoking is that it is purely sensual and has no function whatsoever.
This is not true for food, which no matter how grand is ultimately about survival. It's not true for culture, which touches the mind and not the body.
Smoking is pointless pleasure of the body. Thank God something is.
Smoking is deeply sexy – perhaps not to watch or smell, but to do. It is a sliver of pleasure. Not too much. Just a trace of sensual pleasure embedded in the drudgery of a working day.
There is something extremely sophisticated and glorious about the flutter of the throat which smoking gives you. At certain key moments – during coffee, after a meal – it is one of the great satisfactions of being alive. The key again is in the smallness of the pleasure. It does not overcome you. It treads water with you.
We currently see life primarily in terms of longevity. Pretty much all coverage of dietary habits is about prolonging life. Few people ever talk anymore about living life well; living it thoroughly. Late nights, rich dinners and good, visceral adventures take years off your life. They shorten it.
God, if he existed, would be a fair cop: Those who live life thoroughly, live it short. Those who live cautiously, live long. One must decide which path one wishes to take. But let us get rid of this absurdity where the latter camp claims moral superiority over the former.
There is no superiority to long life. It's just an individual choice. Living well is no different to paying more for a better cutlery set.
Ex-smokers often turn into the most vicious anti-smokers. So for once let me do the opposite. I am a former smoker. I miss it. It is beautiful. If you want to live experiencing all the pleasures which an otherwise challenging world allows, you should experiment with it.
I didn't. I chickened out and went for longevity. I am sorry for letting the side down.