The last state will be worse than the first

I do not smoke. I have never smoked. I accept that smoking is not good for one’s health,

But, then, there are many things that are not good for one’s health, including being constantly fixated on all the things that are not good for one’s health. Stress and anxiety seem much more common among those who examine every label and count every calorie than it is among those who live with a carefree joie de vivre.

But to return to the evils of smoking.

The health puritans presumably imagined that when the last cigarette had been extinguished, when the price of a packet had been raised so high that the price was beyond the pocket of a working man, then a promised land of healthiness would be reached. (Although, they would by then have turned on sugar, alcohol, chocolate, potatoes, cheese, red meat, milk, eggs, anything that brings enjoyment).

What has happened is not what they had envisaged, and threatens to have a far more detrimental effect than a packet of Player’s No. 6.

Anyone who has been to a secondary school will know that cigarettes were always the mark of rebellion, the sign of teenage non-conformity. The cigarette smokers that I remember weren’t bad people, they were people who were determined not to be cowed by the system.

For at least a century, contravention of the social norms has been the mark of being youthful. Smoking behind the bike shed was a fairly benign activity, a relatively harmless assertion of individuality.

The cigarettes have all but gone. Few teenagers have money to buy them over the counter and fewer have access to the contraband ones that come from Eastern Europe.

Cigarettes have been superseded by vapes, and who knows what they contain? A drag on a cigarette might have caused someone a spasm of coughing, but would have had no hallucinogenic effects.

The teenagers whose breath once smelt of smoke now stare vacantly into middle space, those who once coughed now break into random bouts of giggling. There is no regulation, no quality control. School students will gather in the toilets to share vapes. The caretaker will complain that the pipes have been blocked by the used vapes that the users have tried to flush away.

Teenagers will always kick against the system. The health puritans have made that revolt more dangerous, for, whatever its demerits, cigarette smoking was a considerably more healthy activity than the inhalation of hallucinogenic substances.

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