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Smoking

Very few people smoke cigarettes these days, which is probably a good thing. There are the health risks, the nuisance to others and the fact that it makes your curtains smell bad.

But it wasn’t always like that. There were adverts in the 1950s telling us that smoking was good for the lungs (so I’ve been told). Even into the 1960s, smoking was a sociable habit, and perhaps even quite cool. You’re never alone with a Strand! (When setting a pub quiz once with the question “You’re never alone with a ……?” I felt a bit old when someone answered, “… a Nokia phone.”)

Go forward a few years… I started smoking in my early teens (about 12?) because it seemed like a grown-up thing to do at the time. Ain’t hindsight a great thing? A happy coincidence for me was that a packet of 10 Embassy Regal cost the same as a school lunch. Thus that led to another, then, social advantage of never having to worry about having a boyfriend shorter than me. No one liked tall girls much then. Jerry Hall, eat your heart out!

My father smoked and, needless to say, I pinched his. But what seems more odd now is, that in those days, it was quite polite to offer cigarettes to guests whether one smoked or not. I remember our coffee table being a good source to blag the odd fag (when I’d run out of dinner money) as there were nearly always some there just for guests. My mother, who never smoked, particularly favoured these bizarrely coloured “Sobranies”, or whatever they were called, for the coffee table. (For those readers with more taste or less memory, these things came looking like coloured pencils all lined up in a lovely box.) I used to hate the pink ones. I guess, like Smarties, they all tasted the same really, but I wasn’t keen on them. Give me an Embassy Regal any day.

Fast forward a few years to the 1980s, and by now I’m as near to being grown up as I’ll ever be. Smoking is still acceptable although, because of the cost, most people cadge rather than “crash the ash” – as it used to be known. Then I go and live on another planet, well, Pakistan actually. There’s no duty on the fags so, because it’s so cheap, you smoke as much as you can to get your money’s worth out of being there. And so it goes on as an expat until…

Fast forward again to the 1990s. Smoking is not acceptable in the UK (like it hasn’t been in the US for years) and you feel like a complete outcast when you have to sit alone in the garden at parties, because you’re not allowed to smoke inside. You try to stop but it’s just not that easy. None of your mates smoke any more and you don’t like stinking up their houses. You get to the stage where you feel you might as well say, “I hope you don’t mind if I just find a vein,” whilst injecting yourself with a rusty syringe full of whatever it is that’s fashionable these days.

I know smoking is a disgusting smelly habit, but that news just kind of crept up and ambushed me when I returned from overseas. I still smoke, I confess, but only roll-ups and they don’t make so much smoke as these tailor-mades. Well, not that much anyway. I don’t blame people who don’t like smoke. Even I’ve been in places where it was so bad it nearly made me throw up. But that’s mainly been caused by the fact that in a group of, say, 100 people maybe 40 smoke but they’re crammed into a space for five or ten. (I made these figures up but not everywhere is squeaky clean like the US.) It’s just daft to cram us in like that. The demand is there – why not let us kill ourselves in comfort?

Apparently the most common cause of air rage is not allowing people to smoke. They have a couple of drinks, they want to light up, they’re not allowed to, and then the trouble starts. If it’s a non-smoking flight, fair enough, there should be no smoking. But having felt like head-butting a jumped-up twit of a steward/ess before now, I’m not surprised there’s air rage.

When it comes to this smoking thing though, it’s not the badly trained staff who lack skills in customer service to blame, it’s the airlines themselves. They take your money when they sell you one thing, then try to palm you off with another and expect you to be happy about it.

Why can’t they tell you honestly when you book whether or not you can smoke? We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve booked a smoking flight (we’ve even chosen the carrier specifically so that I don’t have to suffer for hours without my nicotine fix) and then at check-in we’ve been told that they’ve changed their policy or some other such garbage.

Our most recent experience of this, alleged, misrepresentation was our flights back from Bangkok in early January 2000 with Alitalia. Even though we had chosen the airline that some call (although we wouldn’t – even if it might be true) Always Late In Taking-off, Always Late In Arriving mainly because they were one of the few carriers which still had smoking flights, when we turned up at Don Muang airport, we were informed that they had changed their policy on 1 January. First we’d heard of it.

Fortunately, because we’ve been used to being messed about by British Airways (guess that’s sponsorship out of the question then?) I was well stocked up on that vile nicotine chewing gum which doesn’t help much.

Smoking or non-smoking, feel free to make your choice. But airlines shouldn’t be surprised if people get angry when they pay for one thing and get another. “We’ve decided your destination will be Ulan Bator rather than London, Madam.” Get real.

PG Author: Phil McCollum

Phillida McCollum is a freelance writer who specialises in writing about stuff to fill space on BE. [Can't think of anything amusing right now... ho hum]

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