Ok, a word of warning. This is going to be a somewhat controversial blog post. It is going to step well outside of my usual happy shiny comfort zone and possibly insult some people, possibly even people I love. My disclaimer is that if we’re going to give people the right to damage themselves in a way that costs the state to correct, it can be no great leap to acknowledge my right to freedom of speech. If you’re gonna kill yourself, I’m gonna complain about it. That’s my prerogative.
I have never been a smoker. I have smoked, yes, I have accepted cigarettes when offered in social situations. Almost exclusively (with the exception of a particularly stressful morning at university with the girls) after drinking. The last time I smoked was some years ago now – the smell and taste make me feel particularly sick so I don’t do it.The last time I was out in the company of smokers, I ended up giving in and getting up at 3am to wash my hair, because the smell was bothering me too much to sleep. It makes me feel horribly ill.
Because I’ve never been a smoker I accept that I don’t understand the pull of cigarettes. I accept that I don’t have an addictive personality and so cannot comprehend the difficulty quitting can pose. A smoking friend of mine recently informed me that it is more difficult to wean yourself off fags than off heroin – having no experience of either I can’t comment.
The BBC today are reporting on the life expectancy gap between the UK average and those in poorer communities. Apparently this gap is widening despite efforts to close it, and part of the problem has been identified as related to smoking. Smoking and poor diet are not being tackled readily enough by GPs, and the National Audit Office has recommended the government double the capacity of services to help people quit. GPs, the report says, should be encouraged to focus more attention on needier groups, where current quitting programmes are proving unsuccessful. The report appears to read in an almost accusatory manner, that the GPs are failing in their duty to save smokers from themselves. There is little or no blame apportioned to the choices individuals make.
Now, I’m all for educating the masses on the importance of diet and general good health. I recognise that, in the long run, teaching people how to look after themselves should save the country money. But I also accept that, even with education, many people choose not to treat their bodies with the respect they deserve. And as we extend our life expectancy, nature will continue to find new ways to kill us off. I don’t believe that cancer is any more common now than, say, a century ago, just that these days we live long enough and cure enough other formerly fatal diseases that it’s all that’s left! If we live long enough, cancer becomes inevitable.
I personally abuse my own body like you wouldn’t believe: I eat wheat although I know I’m intolerant to it, eat cake and chocolate although I know that they have no health benefits whatsoever and drink alcohol because I like the taste of wine and gin. (Not together, mind!) And I don’t get nearly enough exercise. I am overweight and frequently over-tired. It’s fair to say my body is no temple, and yes, that does make me a hypocrite!
Yet I have little sympathy for people who spend a minimum of £5 a week on cigarettes then claim that they can’t afford fresh fruit or veg for the kids. I could not afford to smoke, even if I wanted to, and it riles me that my tax pennies should be spent on those who spend their own money so freely!
*ASIDE: this probably grates a little more just now because I don’t quite see why my NHS money should be spent on those who choose to damage their health, while to keep my teeth healthy should cost me so much. Especially not when the dentist tells me that neglecting my gums now could cause heart problems later. So the end result is pretty similar.
**ASIDE 2: I also have huge problems with the obliviousness of some smokers with regards to where their smoke is going. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been walking down the street only to be hit in the face with the stuff as the person walking in front of me lights up. It makes me want to vomit, it makes my hair smell, and above all it draws attention to the complete lack of awareness all too often exhibited by modern society. It’s the last that make me really angry.