Friday, October 17, 2014

I heard a few rumblings last week about Ireland turning into a nanny state following an announcement by children’s minister James Reilly that he proposed introducing legislation banning smoking in cars where there are children under 18 years of age. While I think there are many things which are turning Ireland into a nanny state, this is not one of them.

I was a smoker from the time I was 12 years’ old. Don’t ask me exactly how I started but when I went away to boarding school at 12 I brought a few hundred fags with me. Apart from satisfying a craving for nicotine, they were also a good source of income. I never had a problem selling the odd packet or two.

Unknown to myself, I became quite a heavy smoker, but on Ash Wednesday 1983 I decided to try to give them up. Recently married, I found it increasingly difficult to support my habit. Three years later – again on Ash Wednesday – I stupidly accepted a roll-your-own cigarette and before I knew it I was back on them as bad as ever. In 1993, I again tried but my heart wasn’t in it and after a couple of months I was back on them again. By this time, I was a very, very heavy smoker. It is true what they say: if you ever give them up and then go back on the cigarettes, you want to make up for lost time and end up a heavier smoker than you were before you stopped.

A couple of years later I had the good fortune to interview an addiction counsellor about substance abuse. Some time later, I bumped into him and he challenged me to give them up, but not just yet. I was to do so four months in the future, but between the date of our meeting and the suggested start date I was to tell family and friends that I intended to stop on a certain date.

I mentioned it to my young son and from then on he kept reminding me of that fact. “You promised” is all he would say. Eventually, the planned date arrived and that morning I opened a 20 pack and was about to take my first for the day when I was reminded of the promise. That was almost 15 years ago and thankfully I am still off the cigarettes.

I don’t know how my family stuck with me for the first few months because I am sure I was a giant pain in the arse. I do remember smashing a mobile phone off the wall on one occasion and the waistline certainly took a bashing – I was never a Slim Jim but as I went into withdrawal I literally ate for Ireland. The weight piled on, but even though I have yet to get that under control I never regret giving up the cigarettes.

Unlike many reformed smokers, I do not have a thing about it. I will not insist that smokers go out to the backyard to have a cigarette if they are visiting me. All I ask is that they be discreet and not blow smoke everywhere.

But I do think I got my first real taste for nicotine while travelling in the car with my late mother. She absolutely loved her cigarette. There were times the smoke was so thick in the car that you could hardly see your hand in front of your face – a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture.

At that time (we are talking about the mid 1960s), very little was known about the side effects of smoking. Not so today. It is a killer and anything that can be done, including banning smoking in cars, should be done to ensure that the numbers starting smoking are kept to a minimum.

Unfortunately there are still young people who consider it cool to smoke – mostly girls, it would seem – so apart from banning smoking in front of teenagers minister Reilly should also increase educational programmes as well as giving whatever medical help is necessary to get as many people as possible, both young and old, off cigarettes as quickly as possible.

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