Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Good-bye Cruel Weed

Last December, I recalled on this page that smoking and writing had prompted the death of anti-smoking guru Allen Carr. More recently, I read that Hollywood is going to give an “R” rating to movies in which cigarette smoking takes place. According to The Hollywood Reporter:
The Motion Picture Assn. of America (MPAA) said Thursday that its rating board will consider film depictions of smoking among the criteria for assigning movie ratings. Anti-tobacco activists have been pressing for an automatic R rating for films with smoking scenes, but MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman rejected the proposal for a more nuanced approach.

“The MPAA film rating system has existed for nearly 40 years as an educational tool for parents to assist them in making decisions about what movies are appropriate for their children,” Glickman said. “It is a system that is designed to evolve alongside modern parental concerns.”

In line with that evolution, the MPAA ratings board “will now consider smoking as a factor among many other factors, including violence, sexual situations and language, in the rating of films,” he said.
As a longtime smoker (see the proof in this Mary Reagan photo), I find this idea somewhat perplexing, especially when it comes to rating older works--the Bogart flicks, the Hitchcock thrillers, and the early Bond features--in which both the heroes and bad guys puff away as if there’s no tomorrow. Is it reasonable to punish those films for behavior that we only now deem inadvisable or atrocious? The notion is enough to get me steamed, and I’m sure there are many non-smoking old-film buffs out there who join me in my disgust.

Nonetheless, with a public-places smoking ban to take effect in England come July 1 (following the trial blazed by Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), I have finally decided to quit the weed. I know that chewing nicotine gum makes me look like a lactating cow, but I do feel a great deal better even over the last few days.

Being a contrarian at heart, though, I was amused to see the pro-smoking lobby group Forest issue the following quotes (which just made me chew all the harder):

“If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go.”--Mark Twain

“And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.:--Rudyard Kipling, “The Betrothed”

“When on occasion I’m asked by groups of aspiring writers what they should do to get on, my advice is always, emphatically, smoke. Smoke often and smoke with gusto. It’s a little known, indeed little researched, fact of literature and journalism that no nonsmoker is worth reading. And writers who give up become crashing bores.”--Novelist and journalist A.A. Gill

“I don’t smoke anymore, except on National No Smoking Day as a protest against [those] who want to control our lives.”--British journalist and broadcaster Richard Littlejohn

(There are plenty more such witticisms to be found here.)

And last week, just as I prepared to banish this evil habit from my life, I read an interesting article in The Guardian in which pro-smoking British artist David Hockney said that he smokes to preserve his mental health:
I have lived in California for a number of years. They started smoking bans, but they didn’t affect smokers that much. In California you move around in your own private space. If one goes to a public space, say the opera or Disney Hall, then because the climate is ideal the smoker can just step outside, at all times of the year. Many restaurants have gardens and the bans have never really bothered me. But something else has happened in California since the bans came in, unreported by the media, and it took me a while to notice because I have spent the past seven years working in England.

The amount of drugs advertised on television tells me what has replaced tobacco (although 20% still smoke): painkillers, Prozac and antidepressants, mostly prescription drugs--you just tell the doctor what you need. When prescription drugs are advertised in the press there is always a lot of small print listing side effects, and on television you get a speedy talking voice listing the side effects. You perhaps hear one word in four--paralysis, diarrhoea, death, headaches. I expect it all to come here. Drugs (legal and illegal) are the world’slargest business, and one can understand why, since they make us feel better.

I know about fanatical anti-smokers--my father was one of the first (although his eldest son has outlived him and smoked until he was 70, and I’m still smoking at almost 70--indeed, my birthday is nine days after the ban). I smoke for my mental health. I think it’s good for it, and I certainly prefer its calming effects to the pharmaceutical ones (side effects unknown).
At least the hard-puffing Forest folks balance their Web site with a guide to giving up smoking.

One thing’s for sure, not smoking will save me money. I used to consume a pack a day, each one cost more than £5 (or about $7 U.S.). In other words, my habit was costing me the price of a paperback book every day, or the price of a hardcover every few days. So, not only will I now be healthier, but I can increase my book-buying. And with an expectation of longer pleasure in reading, as regular smoking has been linked to macular degeneration. Since reading is my life, it’s a no-brainer to say good-bye to the cruel weed.

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