I have officially become one of Those People. Yes, I’ve begun talking to strangers in the street. At airports. Shopping centres. Cafes. Usually, it’s to offer a wee word of encouragement or a compliment. “You look so beautiful,” I tell pregnant women. “Hang in there,” I urge harried mothers grappling with recalcitrant toddlers in supermarket car parks. “That scarf is a lovely colour on you, ” I say to old ladies who look a bit lonely. It’s not all sweetness though. Sometimes I want to dish out a scolding. Like this week when I was standing behind two tall, young, beautiful girls while waiting to check into my hotel on a business trip. I’d first noticed them at the airport, climbing into a taxi and, even without seeing their faces, I’d clocked them as models. Their body shape was modally, as was their walk – that signature slouchy lope that off-duty models adopt when they’re not striding down a catwalk. As they handed over their credit cards, one pulled out a cigarette and held it impatiently. The moment they were finished with the paperwork, they both lopped outside to light up. I watched them through the glass surprised, the way I am whenever I see people smoking these days. It’s become a rare sight. None of my friends smokes (actually one does, but never around me). And with the new anti-smoking legislation, I’m blessedly free from smoke in public spaces. Even at the shops, all cigarettes are now hidden from view. Seriously, why does anyone smoke? Addicted, sure; I get that. But these girls were young. Teenagers. I had to restrain myself from marching outside to way my finger and say, “You don’t look cool. You don’t look grown up. You look stupid and tacky and you smell bad. Now go to your rooms.” I know from my time at Dolly that it’s futile to wave around statistics or photos of cancerous lungs in an attempt to scare teenagers off smoking. They think they’re bulletproof. Just as we did. But vanity? That’s a language teenage girls speak fluently. Casually mention that smoking makes your skin grey, your teeth yellow and your breath, hair and clothes stink now (not in 20 years’ time) and watch their ears prick up. Back in the hotel lobby, I reluctantly decided not to deliver my lecture, partly motivated by the knowledge that no one takes you seriously when you come up to their belly button. Dissatisfied, I spied another teen model sitting on a couch with her mother. They, too were watching the smoking girls and, on my way to the lift, I walked over to them. “Don’t ever smoke,” I advised the girl, who appeared mildly startled that a stranger was giving her instructions. I can’t imagine why. Her mother nodded vigorously: “We’ve been talking about that.””Just don’t smoke,” I reiterated, gesturing with my head to the girls outside. “You’re so pretty and it’s SO ugly.” Gee, that was deep. I really should be a life coach. The girl nodded and, encouraged I explained I’d never smoked, which meant I’d never had to quit. Much easier. “You have nice skin,” she replied. “That’s because I don’t smoke,” I declared in triumph. See what I mean about skin trumping lungs?
But I wasn’t finished. Having deduced that the girls had something to do with Australia’s Next Top Model, I contacted judge Charlotte Dawson via Twitter and dobbed on them. Publicly. Told her to smack them. Verbally. She agreed and we shared a tsk-tsk nanna moment in cyberspace. Very modern and old-fashioned all at once. Yes, I’ve tried cigarettes but I’ve never been a smoker. My dad smoked when I was a kid and even though he only did it at work (back when you could), I knew he smoked and it terrified me. I’d read those warnings on the packets. They didn’t include photos of gangrenous feet, but the link between smoking and death was pretty clear. I used to sneak into his briefcase and tear his cigarettes in half, leaving impassioned little notes in the packets: “Please don’t smoke! Smoking kills you!” see, even then I was bossy. My dad never mentioned it. But he quit. Some of my friends smoked at school but I never got into it. Then at about 19, I gradually slipped into “social smoking” at night until I suddenly found myself craving a cigarette during the day while driving. That’s when I knew I had a decision to make. I chose not to become a smoker. Thank God. There are so many reasons not to smoke any more. Mobile phones are one of them. As someone who is very fidgety and prone to social awkwardness, I like to be occupied always. Once upon a time that could have involved a cigarette: something to do with your hands; a way to look purposeful while you wait. Now a phone ticks all those boxes, allowing you to look and actually BE occupied at all times. So suck on that cigarettes. Or rather, don’t. Now will someone please tell those models? Do you smoke? Do you have someone in your life who does? If you smoke do you feel persecuted? And if you managed to quit, please share your wisdom for those who might want to. Image