Shortly after I was born, in 1965, the British Government banned the advertising of tobacco products on TV and introduced strict regulations on how print media ads could appear. What followed was, in my opinion, the greatest flowering of advertising creativity in history. Bound by rules the advertising creatives had to work harder and the results were spectacular. There were some structural changes in the media and the industry that helped, two in particular. One was the UK Ad industry invention of the Strategic Planner. The other was the production of the full colour Sunday Times supplement, the first cheap mass produced periodical.
As a result you got ads like this one above. There is a saying in the ad industry “When you bait a trap with cheese always leave room for the mouse”. You want your audience to walk into the ad rather than make it too obvious for them. Then when the “get it” they have a psychological reward. I loved these ads.
I did not love cigarettes. I absolutely hated the things. I hated the taste, and the smell, and the smell of my clothes after a night in a pub, and I hated the effect they had on me. I could see others around me relishing the drag and the hit, the dizzy buzz. Not me, and thank goodness, because I never became an addict.
Cigarettes and the smoking culture were pervasive in the 1960’s in Ireland. People smoked everywhere, in Cinemas, in Hospitals, in Doctors waiting rooms. I remember around 1975 going on a day trip to Skerries with my boy scout troop. As we were waiting for the train back to Dublin a passenger on the platform, with a few drinks too many, generously decided to stick a fag into each of our 12 year old mouths. Other adults saw nothing wrong with this, and probably thought it was just a nice generous gesture.
I was on a bus travelling into the city centre a few years later. In those days the downstairs was smoke free and you could go upstairs on the double decker bus for a smoke. A heavily pregnant woman sat across the aisle from me downstairs and lit up her fag. I objected and she let a tirade of abuse at me, asking if I wanted her to risk her baby by having to climb the staircase on a moving bus in her 6 inch platform shoes. When I commented that smoking probably wasn’t good for the baby she told me I was lucky her husband was not with her because I’d be beaten to a pulp.
Don’t think I was some holier than thou prig. I smoked. I tried cigarettes and hated the taste. I tried cigars and enjoyed quite a few of those. In my 6th year in school I had a cigar rating scale in my school journal. I would buy a cigar from Fox’s Cigar Merchants in College Green and smoke it upstairs on the bus on the way home from school.
In the pub I tried smoking roll your own mellow Virginia for a time. I even tried a pipe. But I never liked inhaling tobacco and I guess that is why I never developed an addiction. When I decided to stop I did it because I had a brand new full pouch of tobacco and it fell out of my pocket. I was quite literally too stingy to buy another. So I stopped smoking.
In the workplace people smoked all round me. I had no right in the 1980’s to object to someone chain smoking at their desk four feet away from me. But gradually it all began to change.
In 1988 smoking was completely banned on Dublin Busses and in all public buildings. On flights the smokers were pushed to the back of the aircraft.
I was working in offices where the staff voluntarily cut out smoking in the building from the mid 1990s. Then in the year 2000 I changed job and was shocked when I found people were still smoking in some offices. However we moved office to a new building in 2001 and the move came with a workplace ban on smoking indoors.
Ireland became the first country to implement a total ban on smoking in the workplace in 2004 and this included bars and clubs. One of the biggest impacts was a massive rise in the sale of deodorant. Without the tobacco to mask body odour the clubs stank of sweaty armpits.
Nowadays anti-smoking organisations are proposing total bans on smoking. As someone who always opposed smoking I can categorically say that this is a terrible idea. Just look at prohibition in the USA in the 1920’s. In Ireland tobacco is well regulated now. If children gain access to cigarettes it is probably through smuggled product, sold in the streets side by side with cannabis and class A drugs. Cigarette smuggling is a lucrative business and carries far lower penalties than drug smuggling. It is estimated now that about 30% of all tobacco consumed in Ireland is smuggled product.
My approach would be to decriminalize drugs and undermine the mainstay of the economic model for organized crime. Let Portugal follow our lead in Tobacco as we follow their lead in Drugs.
Smoke; by Henry David Thoreau
Light-winged Smoke, Icarian bird,
melting thy pinions in thy upward flight,
lark without song, and messenger of dawn
circling above the hamlets as they nest;
or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
by night star-veiling, and by day
darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
go thou my incense upward from this hearth,
and ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.