Well, it’s finally happened. A life of debilitating asthma and six years of chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes have finally come to bear on one another. Now my doctor says I have to choose between the ability to take in oxygen and the joy – no, the privilege – of sucking down tobacco smoke. I’ve deferred to the former till I can make up my mind squarely one way or the other. In the meantime, I use an e-cigarette that looks like a dolphin’s privates and tastes like a Care Bear.
Conservatives are generally thought to be the types to prohibit vices, which on the whole we are. I’d like to ban lots of things that are bad for public health, public order, public morale, and the public good more generally. First on the list would be smartphones. How these uniformly awful things haven’t been heaped in a pile and burnt I’ll never understand. Smartphones are nothing but an excuse for the most literate generation in human history to not read books, which are also more abundant than ever before. All of Evelyn Waugh’s novels are available for $9.99 apiece from any decent bookshop. Whoever chooses instead to spend their train rides watching American romp-coms and browsing listicles should be exiled to the arid furrows of Bill Shorten’s forehead, there to languish and die of exposure.
But I wouldn’t ban smoking. Smoking is good. I’m very much pro-smoking. Every rational person would be if the nanny state didn’t use taxpayers’ money to give us all daily enemas of anti-tobacco propaganda. The intellectually stimulating and spiritually fortifying effects of that crop are second only to tea. It’s chief among the simple delights we’re blessed to enjoy each day, like kissing the wife ‘good morning’ or giving the dog a gentle kick when he whimpers in his sleep. Sitting on the porch in the early morning hours with a hot cup of coffee… Ducking out of a hectic office building to meditate on the sounds of the city… Bursting from a too-warm pub in a half-drunken stupor and feeling the rush of cold air… Smokers relish these small departures from life’s endless tedium as no one else does. Our addiction forces us to pause the world and come back to ourselves, if only for a moment.
Sure, we could theoretically find another excuse for doing so. But try telling your boss you’re just popping out for a non-smoke break. Besides, it’s like the time my doctor (this nosy little Spaniard; how I hate him) told me to get help for my drinking after I tripped into a briar bush and lacerated my face. When I assured him I would, he arched an eyebrow. ‘Are you really?’ I thought about it awhile. ‘No,’ I said; ‘I’ll probably rest up for a few days and then get back to the bottle.’ Of course, it would be lovely if we could go around being mindful and sober all the time. But this is the 21st century. It’s loud, ugly, disappointing, and smells of Nando’s. Everyone’s a deranged pervert and we’re all just one stubbed toe away from pushing an old woman into traffic. God gave us tobacco and booze to console us; we’d be ingrates to refuse His gifts.
By all means, for those of us who simply can’t indulge this heavenly vice, e-cigarettes are the easiest means to quit. I’d understand the government’s scepticism if it was concerned about something sensible, i.e. what a deeply humiliating thing it is to suck watermelon dew from a delphine phallus. But so far as the rest of the population is concerned, our elites’ vicious prejudice against fags is simply unconscionable. Who do these exorbitant cigarette taxes hurt, anyway? Not toffs like me, surely. It doesn’t make much difference if a pack costs $30 as they do in Sydney, or $6 as they do in New Hampshire.
But it makes a great deal of difference to the tradie with a wife and four kids to feed. He spends all day looking forward to plopping down in his ute, rolling down the window, cranking the radio, and taking that first long, soul-soothing drag. Jacking up the cost of tobacco only makes that sublime satisfaction a privilege of the wealthy. Our political class should resolve to let the markets get back to their work of making men more equal.
And these are fully grown adults we’re talking about, for Christ’s sake. They know the risks. No need to splash them all over the cartons, which used to be things of beauty themselves. Plain packaging is nothing more than cultural genocide. It’s a deliberate effort to wipe out centuries’ worth of craftsmanship by the finest admen in our civilisation’s history.
The old packs of Marlboro Lights were finer than any Greek temple: their pitched golden roof crowned with a ruby, held aloft by twenty aromatic, slow-burning marble columns. And the great cinematic auteurs – Welles, Kubrick, Herzog – live in the shadow of those visionary wits who wrote adverts for Hamlet Cigars. Health Nazis have killed their muse stone-dead, and we’re so much the poorer for it.
Alas, it’s too late for me. I’m resigned to fellating sea-mammals for little whiffs of nicotinic pixie dust. That’s no kind of life, though sadly it must be mine. But you, my friends – it’s not too late for you. Never mind the hen-peckers and tongue-lashers. For the sake of yourselves, your souls, and the West, cry it from the rooftops: fumer et mon droit.
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