couples

'There are so many reasons I thought smoking was completely fabulous.'

I’ll give this to my Mum: She was a bloody good smoker. I mean seriously great. Imagine this: a woman who for at least 40 years lay back in the bathtub every night, much like Cleopatra waiting for a denuded grape, dragging back enthusiastically on a Winfield Red, reading a mag, ashing precisely into her special bathroom ashtray. And staying there FOR HOURS. She had immense skill in the smoking-in-the-bath arena: She never dropped an ash, never upended the ashtray and her hands remained freakishly dry the entire time.

My whole childhood is filled with smoking. I remember cups of steaming instant black coffee and ciggies with a distinctive ring of red lipstick (‘It shows you care‘, she’d lecture). I remember the times she’d duck out for a fag with fellow conspirators during speech day at the boarding school I went to. On long car trips, the windows would remain steadfastly UP so her hair didn’t get messed up – we’d sit there in the fug, oblivious to the impact of secondary smoke on our pre-teen lungs.

She once pranged our new-ish Ford Falcon on her way to work at the local hospital after a particularly vigorous fit of coughing. She’d get me to light up for her in the car (this after she found out I was sneaking the odd durrie anyway). I think she smoked through her pregnancy with me, although she quit for my sister five years later.

Annie: My whole childhood is filled with smoking. Image: Betty Draper from Mad Men, via Tumblr. 

Like most kids in the 70s, I'd trot down to the local shop to buy cigarettes for her - mum started on Ardath, then switched to Winnie Reds.  'Bumhole', who own the shop, never asked who the packet was for; he knew mum was a smoker and besides, the laws around smoking were pretty much non-existent back in those days.

ADVERTISEMENT

So I was no exception in a world where smokers were everywhere.

"My dad rolled his own and would give me 20c to go across to the milk bar and grab him some tally ho and Log Cabin. The shopkeeper happily handed these over to a SEVEN-year-old," says one friend.

"My brother and I would always get loose tobacco in our eyes - dad was careless (and often plastered) so we'd be sitting on the floor of the lounge room, minding our own business, and rub our eyes and rub tobacco into them. It's the most excruciating pain ever."

There were lollies that looked like fake cigarettes, and we'd mince around dragging on them extravagantly. Smoking was so cool, one friend would pick up her parents' discarded butts from the garden and give them a suck.

'Fags', lolly cigarettes. Image via Tumblr.

I deeply admired my cousin, who had a flicky fringe and smoked Alpine. The Marlboro man seemed the sort of bloke you'd like as your boyfriend, and debonaire Stuart Wagstaff urged you to light up a Benson and Hedges "When only the best will do" (he later died of complications from a lung disease).

EVERYONE smoked in the workplace: My second job was at the Inverell Times in northern NSW, where one of my workmates favoured sky-blue scoop shorts and could balance an inch-long ash on the end of his B&H for ages. It was kind of impressive.

ADVERTISEMENT

A friend's first job out of school was a receptionist in an accounting firm.

"I sat in front of my boss, who chain smoked menthols all day long. I was in charge of buying them for  her every morning."

On my first trip overseas, I was in the non-smoking area. It was two rows from the smoking section. It was, well, smokey. By then I'd given up (Mum had had an aneurism, and almost drowned in the fluid on her lungs), but most of my mates still loved a ciggie. I'd have dinner parties where I'd serve spag bol and righteously urge people to smoke at the table rather than break up an evening of such extreme sophistication.

And then it all changed.

Ads on the telly urged us to 'Quit. For life', and we started to understand that actually, life could be at stake. They showed sponges wringing out the most disgusting substance - I can't remember if it was real tar or not, but it was thick and glutinous and I didn't especially like the thought of it being inside me. Cigarette advertising was banned at sporting events, and in the media more generally. Cigarette packs started to feature people missing limbs and with grotesque mouth cancers and in the throes of death.

This is how drastically smoking patterns changed.

I started to notice that people who smoked well, stank. And later, that friends who persisted were starting to develop tight little lines around their mouth, which made them looked pinched and older.

It's now 30 years since Quitline was established.

I can remember people railing about choice and wasting public funds and their right to smoke and how all the regulation was a nanny state. But I can also remember friends crying after losing parents and grandparents to insidious diseases linked to smoking. One friend is still struggling to kick the habit - he wears patches and chews gum incessantly, but the grip of the nicotine remains vice-like even after years of effort. I honestly believe years of smoking a pack a day gave my mum years of ill-health, even though it was non-Hodgkins lymphoma that got her in the end.

We still laugh about the permissiveness around smoking back in the day. It just seemed so glam, all nightclubs and rock stars and couldn't-give-a-damn. And kinda fun and grown-up, but maybe that's because we didn't really know any better.

But every time a government increases the tariff on tobacco, I applaud. Every time I hear about stricter laws around access and plain packaging, I'm glad. And every time I see a little kids screw up their nose and wave their hands in disgust at the smell of smoke, I think we're heading in the right direction.

Like this? Why not try ...

Fasting as part of a healthy diet? We get the scientists to weigh in.

How healthy is your brain? Stand on one foot to find out.

The vital role mothers play when girls go through puberty.

Tags: health , reflection
00:00 / ???