If you are, or ever have been, a smoker, you'll know what I mean by Smoking Legends. Smoking Legends are like Sexual Legends and Drinking Legends, only instead of carving out notches on the bedpost, or drinking until they go blind, the Smoking Legend acquires a reputation for puffing away with impunity against all the odds, however virulent the criticism, ludicrous the circumstances, or cramped the airplane loo.
I once visited a Smoking Legend when he was ill in bed with flu. I found him hanging off the side of the bed, trying desperately to spark a cigarette with a lighter that kept sliding out of his sweaty fingers. He forced me to light it for him, even though I kept protesting that I felt like I was enabling euthanasia. I think it was then I decided that, keen amateur though I was, I simply could never compete with such desperado loyalty to the weed. This was big-boy smoking, this was the cool, sexy Real McCoy, summed up by Michelle Pfeiffer when she said something along the lines of: `I no longer smoke, but I would never ally myself with non-smokers. I prefer the company of smokers.'
Nicely put Meesh, for there is a definite smoking personality which persists long after you've stubbed your last ciggie out. That's why, however long people manage to quit smoking, however much better, healthier and richer, they feel, nine out of 10 of them still yearn to be back with the smokers. It's a drum banging in the back of your brain. For ever.
At least it used to be in the UK. Is it my imagination or has Smoker Cool being torn asunder by, of all the unfeasible things, a British government health campaign? The first time I realized something was up was when I started noticing the warnings on the packets. Before it was just "Smoking can seriously damage your health" and even smokers who scared easily clung to that "can." It was only "can" after all. It wasn't "will." The whole thing implied an almost apologetic "More in sorrow than anger" mentality that was just asking to be ignored, a bit like those nice wet teachers in school who clung to the belief that patience and reason will triumph with the bad boys and girls even as the flick-knives whizzed past their ears.
In sharp contrast, these new ones shriek "SMOKING KILLS" in big letters that can be seen before you even enter the tobacconists. That can, in fact, be sensed even if you walk backwards into the tobacconists. With your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears.
The moment it appeared, smokers everywhere felt the first tickles of panic. Steady on, old bean. Where's "Can" gone? What's with all this "Kills" stuff?
Next thing we knew, the television adverts started appearing. Wheezing men, real people from the real world, bravely explaining how they felt when their routine chest scan came back showing shadows on the lung. The little bit of accompanying text explaining that the same men have since died. The pretty young girl, almost mute with shyness, quietly responding to questions about her dad dying of cancer, a solitary tear running down her cheek. A woman with emphysema, gasping out her story, choking through breathing apparatus. These adverts were like miniature horror movies -- I haven't wanted to scuttle behind the sofa so fast since watching sci-fi TV shows as a kid. In the emphysema one, the woman didn't even mention that she'd been a smoker. She didn't have to -- it was obvious. The question is, since when did the UK government take it upon itself to be obvious?