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Stories & Scripts

Source: Adults

Author: Barry Gee

Title: More added tar and nicotine.

Author's foot-note to the previous piece; Added Tar and Nicotine.
The narrator, obviously a deluded fool, describes in almost romantic tones the effects of smoking on his father. I thought, and still think, that the description of a man having both legs amputated, losing a lung and suffering a heart attack before living out the final months of his life as a drooling idiot enduring endless fits of coughing would be read as a very strong anti-smoking message. This is how it was intended and I hoped the audience would encourage their teenage children to read it as a warning of some of the consequences of smoking. I omitted the risk of having a stroke, becoming impotent and other side-effects. I am sorry if I was misunderstood and wonder whether I was being too ironic.

In the early part of the 20th century the Academie Francaise stated that there were exactly 2198 different languages in the world. We now know that there are more than 6000. Apart from a common humanity the one thing shared by the speakers of these languages is that they all burn leaves and inhale the smoke. For many it is tobacco but for others it is leaves and plants with halucinatory or medicinal properties.

I had been given funding by an International Tobacco Company to do research into the universality of the use of nicotine and nicotine related products. To this end I placed an advertisement in several national newspapers asking for peoples' experiences, both good and bad, with cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipes and snuff. It was sometime during the second year of my research that I received a letter from a Mr. A. Scudron which illustrated and encapsulated, in thirteen pages of tear-stained foolscap, my deepest thinking on this matter. The following pages are excerpts from the letter.

"A few years ago," he wrote, "I proposed marriage to a young lady of my acquaintance and she accepted on condition that I stopped smoking. This put me into a quandary as, although I enjoyed the young lady's company, I was devilishly fond of smoking. I had been smoking since I was a lad and, at home, in the Manor, I had had access to some of the finest smoking materials imaginable. Fine Cuban cigars were freely mine from the cuspidor in my father's study and my mother's hand-made, pure Virginian, cigarettes were passed around after every meal. In the evenings our butler would fill my pipe with a mild blend of Balkan and Serbo-Croat tobaccos and I would sit outside and smoke myself into contentment before retiring for the night."

At this point in the letter I paused and considered his predicament. He was obviously very fond of the young lady or else he would never have proposed marriage yet, in order to gain her hand, he would have to give up something he loved dearly. Marriage is a very fine state of affairs for a young man who has been well brought up but he must choose his partner with as much delicacy as he affords to selecting a cigar for the evening. In short, he must avoid impetuosity. He continued,

"On receiving my beloved one's ultimatum I smoked long and hard into the night. As one pipe became too hot to handle I changed to another. It was a five pipe night and still I was not satisfied. I lay in bed with a fine Havana cigar between my fingers and smoked three before I turned off the light and fell into a disturbed sleep. I awoke in the early hours of the morning feeling decidedly unwell. My stomach was churning, my head was spinning and my whole body was bathed in sweat. I lowered myself from my bed and, on hands and knees, crawled to my bathroom. I hung my head over the toilet bowl, stared down at the water far below and saw my reflection. I swore to myself that if I survived the night I would do as my beloved bade. I would stop smoking from this moment hence. I made a lot of other promises before I was able to empty my stomach, wash and go back to bed where I slept deeply."

At this point I leaned back and contemplated his position. On the basis of an upset stomach he is willing to put and end to a lifetime of pleasure. While it is true that on the night in question he did smoke heavily, and mix his tobaccos, there is no conclusive evidence that the culprit has been identified correctly. Maybe it was something he ate at the dinner-table. I, myself, have, on many occasions, taken a turn for the worse in the middle of the night after an evening of celebration and, usually, I was able to isolate the likely cause as either a bad prawn in the cocktail, a stale egg in the mayonnaise or some such thing. I find that a good cigarette settles the stomach and aids digestion. I went back to reading his letter.

"I awoke the next day and the realisation of what I had vowed swept over me like a cold, arctic wind. I stopped breathing for a full minute. What I needed at that moment was a cigarette but that was the one thing denied me. I suddenly felt very tired, pulled the blankets up over me and went back to sleep. I awoke several hours later and found that my resolve to stop smoking was slightly stronger. I made it through the day without a cigarette but the evening offered more temptations. During the day I had been able to keep busy and distract my thoughts through physical action. I accomplished a great deal and completed tasks that have awaited my attention for months. In the evening, after the meal, with no prospect of a cigarette, I retired early and was asleep soon after nine o' clock."

I tried to empathise with him but as I have never tried to give up smoking I found it difficult. If it causes such distress then I doubt whether I will ever try it. My correspondent's suffering is self-induced and I find it hard to sympathise with someone who knows the solution to his problem but is unwilling to help himself. This is the path of the socialist. He continued,

"The following days were no better but I found that if I slept fourteen hours a night I could get through the other ten hours by keeping busy and eating sweets. One day I consumed a pound and a half of toffees. I tried to vary the sweets so as not to grow tired of one or the other. There were hours when I did not miss smoking but these were counterbalanced by the long minutes when my body and mind screamed out in silent agony for a cigarette. I experienced moments of panic when I thought I was breathing my last breaths and was sorely tempted to light up a final smoke. I did not succumb. I suffered head-aches, stomach cramps, and such fits of coughing that I feared to rupture myself. Coughing was a thing I had experienced only rarely in the past but now it was a constant companion. Eating was the one activity that eased the condition and so I spent many hours daily at the dining-table. I ate with gusto and enjoyment and took seconds of everything for I knew that the end of the meal signalled a return to debilitating spasms of coughing and the craving for a cigarette."

By this point I was losing sympathy. I had tried to understand the obvious attraction he felt for the young lady and, although I have never tried it myself, I have heard that marriage is a splendid thing for the right people. I have had friends who were married and they swore by the institution. I suppose they seemed happy enough on the infrequent occasions I saw them down at the club and I never visited them in their domestic abodes. One by one they stopped coming to the club and I have no idea what happened to them. My correspondent should think carefully before he takes the step with no return. Human companionship is all very well and good but does it measure up to a Balkan Sobranie after a meal of fish or game? Can it replace the contentment of that first pipe after breakfast? My young friend should ask himself these questions while there is still time. He went on,

"Weeks passed and my resolve grew stronger as my body got bigger. I had to buy a whole new wardrobe but even those clothes were now sitting a little tight on me. The day of my wedding approached. I saw the young lady frequently. She commented often on my physical appearance and said that it displeased her to see me having grown so portly. One day she gave me the ultimatum of losing three stones in weight or she would call the marriage off. I went home, smoked a few cigarettes, and wrote the young lady in question a letter explaining why I was calling off the engagement. I told her that, while I was willing to give up smoking for her, I was most certainly not going to give up eating. What would be next, I asked her, that I give up breathing?"

The letter continued in the same vein for many more pages but to finish on a lighter note, another correspondent wrote to say that he backed my enquiries one hundred percent and looked forward to reading the findings of my research. Mr. P. Stroud from Essex wrote;

"I have enjoyed the pleasure of smoking for more than forty years and hope to die with a cigarette between my lips. I smoke eighty cigarettes a day and have never had a day off work with illness in all that time. My wife smokes as well though not as many as me but we can go through three packets between us in an evening. Our friends are all smokers and when a few of them come round you can hardly see who is sitting opposite you even though our sitting-room is tiny. I have smoked the same brand of cigarette since I started and wouldn't smoke anything else. I worked it out the other day and I found that I had smoked more than three million cigarettes since I bought my first packet. If I had all the money that I have spent on smoking I'd have been a rich man today with my own house and a nice car but possessions aren't everything. I've got my memories of wonderful moments that would not have happened had I been a non-smoker. I regret none of the money I spent and wish I had had more to spend on tobacco. Smoking has been good to me."

There, I thought to myself, is a man to be trusted with one's life. That is the kind of man I would like beside me in the trenches. Loyal to the same brand of cigrettes for more than forty years. Steadfast and true. I shall smoke a pipe to him this very evening.

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