Monday, 2 May 2011

Smoking Boxes

The latest edition of New Scientist (30th April) has an opinion piece - Time to Pack It In on the latest moves in Australia to discourage smoking. The proposal is that all cigarettes should be sold in plain boxes with a prominent health warning and the brand name in a smaller standard font - with no logo or distinctive colours whatsoever.

It takes me back to my childhood in the 1940s and 50s. My father owned a tobacconist's shop and as a child I loved helping behind the counter. I took it for granted that as my father had a cough, and virtually all the older regular customers had a cough, it was a fact of life that all old men cough.  I even had what was then diagnosed as "childhood bronchitis" which I still have (re-diagnosed as asthma) and now know could be the result of secondary smoking.

I was never tempted to smoke - and interestingly went to an unconventional boarding school (Dartington Hall) where the pupils made the rules and smoking was allowed - so virtually no one did. There is no fun in having a furtive drag behind the cycle sheds if you are allowed to smoke in class! I can remember only two smoking incidents in four years. On one occasion two girls came into the common room smoking and everyone laughed.

The other time involved the French teacher, who smoked Gaulois (a very pungent tobacco) in class. The pupils asked him to stop - and when he pointed out he was free to do so, a "smoke in" was arranged where everyone came with something to burn, some real cigarettes and some brown string wrapped in paper to look like cigarettes. The stench was dreadful and the teacher never smoked in class again.

A few years later, when the link between smoking and ill-health was clearly established I did a calculation and came to the very approximate answer that, in terms of years lost through smoking, the equivalent of at least one customer a year was ending up in a box to pay my boarding school fees. Since then I have seen several smoking relatives die slow and uncomfortable deaths with emphysema.

Three cheers to the Australians - other countries should follow in the way - and perhaps all shops that sell tobacco should be required to display a sign saying how many deaths per year are caused by their sales.

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