Monday, 16 February 2015


Ten years ago I smoked the last of my tobacco, ran all my smoking appliances under water before throwing them away, and never smoked again.

I did actually mean to give up smoking before I turned thirty, but my will wasn't behind it, and I kept putting it off for just a few more months, and just a few more months, and then almost two years.

What finally tipped the balance, apart from having wanted to quit for at least five years, was the fact that on hot days I couldn't catch my breath anymore.

Breathing is such an elementary thing that you don't notice at all while it's working - apart from when it heats up as you trudge up a hill - but the minute it starts to go wrong it takes over your life.

It reminded me of an article I'd read when it said that you should ignore the lung cancer statistics, the real cost of smoking can be found in the hospital wards in the guise of emphysema, COPD and chronic bronchitis. Dying of lung cancer is certainly no picnic, but it's also still quite rare. Loss of lung function leading to complications from flu or cold viruses, or a chronic breathing problem that leaves you tethered to a machine without the ability to move freely through your life, were the far more common result of a nation's smoking habit.

I didn't want to end up tethered to an oxygen tank, or so tired I couldn't even perform the rudimentary athletics of office work, so I quit. Cold turkey.

My breathing problems worsened into asthma; my skin flamed into a dozen patches of eczema; my weight ballooned into obesity and beyond, but I never regretted it for a moment.

Apparently smoking does protect you from some things. I discovered that the minor cases of eczema and difficulty breathing when there was pollen around that I'd experienced as a child and a teenager were actually full-blown anti-immune disorders that smoking ten or twelve times a day successfully sublimated. I also may or may not have lost the protection that smoking offers or doesn't offer (I love medical science, it's always so decisive) against Alzheimer's disease.

On the other hand, after getting past the first year of asthma I've never experienced another moment of breathing difficulty except when exercise related (the hills again!) And my skin turned down a few notches into irritation and annoyance which easily resolves with a few week's holiday in the sun.

I've never felt angry at tobacco companies for my smoking addiction. I've never felt angry at alcohol manufacturer's for my alcoholism.

And then I watched Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and started to feel angry. I know why I took up smoking - I liked the way it made my head spin and I liked the fact that I could buy them even though I wasn't meant to - but although I can assign a certain rationale to my own fourteen year old self, I can't do the same with a two year old Indonesian.

Watching the Australian court battles with Tobacco Company Giants just reminds me all too well that my own country is about to be launched into the same battlefield with the same perpetrators when, or if, we implement it.

Why our public health policies are up for debate with foreign companies is a tad confusing. Much like the websites that sprung up in opposition to the bill for plain packaging when it was opened up for public debate. Some websites strenuously asserted that plain packaging shouldn't go ahead, it would cost us money to fight court battles, there was no proof that it worked to reduce the numbers of people smoking. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that many of these "public" websites were funded by overseas tobacco companies who 'were just making sure that every viewpoint of the New Zealand public was given a fair hearing.'

And of course there's always the threat that we won't be able to negotiate free trade agreements with countries who contain these companies.

So thank you very much John Oliver for putting a nice little campaign within easy reach of the general populace of New Zealand.

So I would like to lend my smoke-free voice to say #JeffWeCan

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