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COLIN CAMPBELL: Good riddance to smoking as habit finally dies away

By Colin Campbell

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NHS sites should be a smoke-free zone.
NHS sites should be a smoke-free zone.

Sitting in the cafeteria at Raigmore Hospital, I was irritated by the sight of a young man standing outside taking out a rolled up cigarette from his shoulder bag and striking a match.

This struck me as either brazen or idiotic. If he was aware of the no smoking rule within hospital grounds and was ignoring it right at the hospital entrance he was being brazenly defiant, and if he didn’t know the rule even existed he was poorly informed to the point of being idiotic. A woman sitting on a bench facing the entrance a few yards away glared at him.

When the smoking ban in the grounds of all NHS properties was introduced a few years ago there was widespread scepticism. At that time, it seemed unenforceable and heavy handed. Why stop people smoking in the open air?

But times have changed and attitudes have drifted towards antipathy towards smoking. Opposition to moves to curb it has gone up in flames.

Now there are plans to supplement the graphic warning images on cigarette packets with measured advice inside on how to stop smoking. A token gesture maybe – there’s no shortage of guidance around already – but something else that may annoy long-term smokers.

So much has changed over the years, some of it almost incomprehensibly for the worse. Will fevered debate over the use of gender pronouns and all the rest of it ever end?

But the drastic reduction in smoking is one sweeping social change which is very welcome.

Four or five decades ago everyone smoked, or it often seemed like it. Sometimes in our household we’d have a gathering of uncles and aunts for a periodic Saturday night visit and after an hour or two it was difficult to see who was smoking and who wasn’t because the dense grey haze in the living room had reduced visibility to around two feet.

At the time fears over the impact of passive smoking on youngsters and everyone else simply didn’t exist.

Smokers would drop in to visit someone and automatically light up without seeking even a murmur of permission. Now it’s difficult to think of a more heinously antisocial offence, other than urinating on the carpet.

And many if not most workplaces were filled with smoke and overflowing ashtrays every hour of the day.

The drive to reduce smoking was led by taxation which year after year has sent the cost of cigarettes soaring.

This is particularly tough on those who yearn to give up but find it a real struggle. However it is one factor along with the relentless, graphic and unmissable health warnings which makes it less and less common to see people smoking.

We know there’s now a vaping problem among school kids – it seems there’ll always be something – but I’m told by my school-age offspring that smoking is now grossly unfashionable, in stark contrast to the days when it was the height of fashion, and virtually no one is taking it up.

Before these youngsters are many years older, smoking will probably be a rare and unusual habit. And good riddance that will finally be to a social vice that undoubtedly despatched some of my generation to an early grave, even though at the time they did seem to much enjoy puffing away in that long gone hazy fog.

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