I’m not a smoker but I did surreptitiously dabble when I was at an age where I cared about what my peers thought of me and wanted to fit in. I regularly went to parties where all the cool kids would light up and look unspeakably sophisticated with their cigarettes held nonchalantly between their fingers, smoke slowly escaping from their mouths without any hint of a cough. That cough, sparked by the first intake of fumes into inexperienced lungs, was the tell-tale sign of a novice, and opened you up to a whole volley of ridicule from the seasoned teenage puffers.
Once I was old enough and confident enough, I admitted to myself that I didn’t enjoy smoking at all, hated the taste it left in your mouth and the smell it left on your clothes, not to mention the considerable expense. Of course, at that tender age, health concerns about smoking didn’t even enter the equation.
So I never became addicted to nicotine like some of my contemporaries, who later in life would likely have to go through the most difficult process of trying to give up. The government and the NHS put an enormous amount of effort into helping people to quit, as well as trying to dissuade our younger population from taking it up in the first place.
Today’s youngsters will never experience the murky delight of travelling in smoke-filled buses, trains and planes, or work in offices where colleagues light up at their desks. Smoking is now prohibited in all enclosed public spaces and this policy, as well as the ever-increasing cost, is credited with contributing to a sustained decline in the amount of people taking up the habit. In fact, according to the Office of National Statistics, the percentage of smokers in the population has dropped from around 20% in 2011 to just over 14% in 2019, with the biggest decline among 18 to 24 year olds.
There are many tools available to help you quit, such as nicotine patches and, with the smoking ban in public spaces, more people are turning to e-cigarettes and other less harmful ways of enjoying a nicotine hit. In fact nicotine, although addictive, is in itself is no more unhealthy than caffeine, but it is the way in which it is consumed that makes the difference.
The quest for smoke-free alternatives has led to an increase in sales of snuff, ground dried tobacco leaves with various flavours added, a pinch of which you sniff into your nose. It is a product more usually associated with Regency dandies who would whip out their ornate boxes of this prized product to impress the ladies.
Dad mentions snuff in his column from 6th September 1980: ‘Some doctors said recently that this was by far the best method of enjoying tobacco. It was less injurious than smoking and did not produce such a risk of cancer.’
That is not entirely true. Since Dad wrote that piece, there is some evidence to suggest taking snuff can increase the chance of developing cancer in the nasal passages or sinuses. Despite that, it is still said to be 98% less harmful than smoking cigarettes.
Sweden has the lowest rate of smoking-related deaths in Europe, and that is put down to the popularity of a product called ‘snus’ (pronounced like ‘loose’). It is similar to snuff, but instead of being sniffed, small pouches similar to little teabags are placed between the gum and the upper lip. It gives an instant nicotine high, but with far fewer risks and has been enjoyed in Sweden for the past 200 years.
Oral tobacco products like snus, however, were banned in the rest of Europe in the 1990s amid fears of a future health crisis following the aggressive tactics of producers trying to market it to young people. It is suggested that the intention was to create a new breed of addicted consumers, without impacting on the sales of cigarettes.
However, it is the act of inhaling tobacco fumes that is the most dangerous to health, and according to one article I read, ‘If men in all EU countries had the smoking rate of Swedish men, nearly 300,000 deaths from smoking could be avoided each year.’ I’m not sure why only men are mentioned, but if true, it is an eye-opening statistic.
Are cigarettes are on the road to being snuffed out, I wonder?
Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug
This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 4th September and the Gazette & Herald on 2nd September 2020