Smoking: it’s bollocks

In Life, Running by All This Running Around7 Comments

I had my first cigarette when I was fifteen. I remember it well. It was a filtered menthol, and was given to me (after I asked for one) at the party of a mutual friend. I didn’t like the taste particularly, but certainly enjoyed the head rush that resulted from my body’s first intake of nicotine. I wouldn’t say I was immediately hooked; I didn’t go out and buy a packet of cigarettes the following day. But I had started smoking.

Prior to that day, I’d always been fairly anti-smoking. Dad smoked (mum didn’t), and I would occasionally give him a bit of a hard time about it. I was very much into sport at school, and I just couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do something in the full knowledge that it was bad for their health. But dad never smoked in the house – in fact, he never smoked anywhere as far as I could tell. I have absolutely no memory of ever seeing my dad with a cigarette in his hand until I was outed as a smoker myself at about age seventeen. However, the evidence was there. He used to keep his B&H in a pot on top of the dresser in the kitchen. When I was young I used to sometimes take one of the packet and sniff it, wondering what the attraction was. When I got older, I used to pinch one and smoke it outside the conservatory.

I smoked throughout my last two years at school, but really cranked it up a notch when I arrived at university. I was certain that it wasn’t doing me any harm. I still played rugby, I felt like I could run all day if I needed to. I saw no reason to stop, and smoking was a way of fitting in with the ‘cool’ people at university and distinguishing myself from the ‘boring’ people that didn’t. And because I was an absolute idiot, I felt I should smoke loads to really make a statement. After university, I left and got a job for a major road-building company. Naturally a lot of time would be spent outside, so naturally I carried on. And on. And on. It makes me cringe to think about it now, but I would have a fag in my mouth more often than not. After that, I had a few different jobs and there were always a bunch of other people my sort of age that smoked. I enjoyed the social aspect of it more than I enjoyed most of the cigarettes, and I was very conscious of that. I still wasn’t moved to stop.

In 1999, I moved into a flat with my then girlfriend (now wife). I never smoked inside the flat, which would have been a handy way of cutting down were it not for the fact that we lived directly opposite a pub. In 2000, I made a big show of packing it in. I didn’t. I stopped smoking during the day, but would still have a few when I was in the pub. I had cut back a lot, and this to me was a victory of sorts. But I was still smoking, still a smoker.

So where am I at right now? Do I consider myself a smoker? I guess I do, in the same way that an alcoholic is always an alcoholic. I find it relatively easy to not smoke, even in social situations. I must admit, I was at a wedding this weekend and was sorely tempted. But I didn’t. The good news for me is that running and smoking simply do not go together.

You might have seen the ‘Reach the Beach Relay’ videos I’ve posted on here. They were put together by a guy I know from New York called Pieter. He said something to me a few years ago that stuck in my head. He’d been a smoker, but gave it up when he started running. As he put it, “I swapped one drug for another”. It’s taken me a while, but I understand that now. What better way to give up than to find something entirely incompatible that you enjoy doing more? I love running; I don’t think I can say I’ve ever loved smoking. Or ever particularly liked it. Most smokers that I know feel the same. And here’s why: smoking is a con. It’s a trick. And every smoker, whether they admit it to themselves or not, knows it.

I’m thirty-seven years old now. You cannot smoke cigarettes on a regular basis and run, so I don’t. That is a simple truth that I am very grateful for. Running is, in every possible sense, an immeasurably better habit. Plus it’s cheaper. It costs eight quid for a packet of fags these days. Eight pounds! I don’t know how anyone can even afford it. And yet, I’m still not completely free of them, still can’t say “I’ve given up” with 100% honesty. It’s coming, but in a way I’ve made it harder for myself by being able to leave it months between the fabled ‘odd one’. That’s the final step on the stupid, selfish journey I started twenty-two years ago. It’s tempting to say “well, I smoke so little that it barely even matters”. It’s all part of the con, and I know it.

In conclusion then, if I could give fifteen-year-old me some advice on that night in 1990, it would be not to bother lighting that horrible menthol cigarette up. Smoking is surely the biggest waste of time and money there is, and an excellent way to drastically increase one’s chances of premature death. But it’s too late for fifteen-year-old me. Fortunately, it’s not too late for the bald duffer that’s typing this.

Finally, five indisputable reasons why smoking is shit: Graham Chapman, Douglas Adams, Ian Fleming, George Harrison and Bill Hicks. Who wouldn’t want another Bond book? Or some more Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy? Who wouldn’t want to have heard Bill Hicks riffing on George Dubya? Another Python film? More incredible music?

So stick that in your pipe, then stick your pipe up your arse and go for a run instead. (That would work a lot better if people generally smoked pipes, but you get the idea.)

Shaun