Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's called Rocktober, and don't you forget it

Even though it is many years since I last touched a cigarette, I am still saddled with the piety that all ex-smokers suffer, largely from being able to climb a flight of stairs in one go.

It is, however, exactly this sort of smugness that turns the phrase "ex-smoker" into a pejorative term. Reformed junkies, alcoholics and gamblers are merely celebrated for their heroic abandonment of their particular addition, but a declared former smoker is to be avoided, lest they come out sanctimonious guff about their own epiphany.

Hard-core smokers, in particular, unrepentantly see nothing wrong with their habit, and make a point of enjoying it. The brilliant Bill Hicks was a zealous smoker, before dying at the age of 32 from liver and pancreatic cancer, and devoted vast tracts of his stand-up routine to the subject ("I go through two lighters a day, dude!").

Prowling the stage like a caged tiger, Hicks would belligerently puff away, exhaling to emphasise a point or simply to get up someone's nose. "People say to me, 'Bill, Bill, give up the cigarettes - you'll get your sense of smell back'. And I'll say 'Why the fuck do I want my sense of smell back - I live in New York City?".

In Paris - the capital of a country in which smoking is constitutionally enshrined - I have frequent reason to wince at uninvited smoke wafting my way. In France, smoking is as much of a fixture as the sky above and the dog turd-coated ground beneath. Over time, though, you grow used to it.

Smoking out in the open, with Nature's chimney evacuating the tarred vapors, does not bother me, either. Entering an elevator after a smoker has just left, on the other hand, is a different matter. Those of us with a sense of smell have all walked into a lift to be met by the fug of tobacco left by the clothing and breath of a recently departed passenger.

Still, I will not make a fuss. Apart from being the height of hypocrisy I am British and therefore terminally unconfrontational.

Which raises questions over a measure by the British government - that institution run, according to the wonderfully acerbic comedian Rich Hall, by "a pair of gay antique dealers" - has announced that the month of October has been renamed "Stoptober". According to the official website, it will be "a new, exciting 28-day challenge to stop smoking".

Firstly, October has 31 days in it, so presumably by renaming it Stoptober, three days have been lost deliberately as a part of government austerity measures. Secondly, devoting an almost-complete month to persuading smokers to quit, in order to see how their lungs, sinuses and clothing feel, is the sort of dumb-arse PR stunt only politicians come up with.

Rarely are these stunts fully thought through (as TV's The Thick Of It will mercilessly exploit). At some point during the month a high profile member of the government or a senior figure in the National Health Service, which is fronting the campaign, will be caught enjoying a crafty butt by the prying camera lens of a photographer who would otherwise be snapping topless royalty.

Thirdly and finally, October isn't up for renaming. Sorry, but the month has long been appropriated by America's fine collection of FM rock radio stations as, simply, "Rocktober".

And if ever that was a licence to carry on smoking, that would be it. Keep on rockin' in the free world...


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