Once a social pariah, always a social pariah would seem to be the clarion call of the nation’s healthiest people, states Iain P W Robertson, who quit smoking 19 months, 11 days, 14 hours and seven minutes ago (and counting….)

ecigs1It is undoubtedly my fault. Roman Catholic guilt will always out. I never point accusatory fingers at anyone, just in case they return the compliment. Yet, we do live in strange times, where we are observed by everyone that should not watch us and that includes a growing niche of sanctimonious ne’er-do-badlies, who would never give the dying minority of ne’er-do-wells half a chance of survival. Very Christian.

Allow me to put that prior comment into perspective. Driving along a familiar country road the other day, I overtook a slower vehicle, without speeding, only to receive dog’s abuse from the driver, who sounded both horn and flashed headlamps in an highly irascible state. Clearly, I had done something wrong…perhaps? I would soon find out, as I drew into a shop car park in the next village.

He pulled his car in behind me. Directly behind my car, so that I would be unable to ‘escape’. Then, from his driver’s seat, with the window open no more than two inches, he proceeded to give me a comprehensive dressing-down for having the temerity to pass him. Why? I did not know. There were no other vehicles on the 60mph stretch of road, upon which he was only travelling at 40mph.

When I put this point to him, he described me as irresponsible, a child-killer and a young hot-head. Although I might have some agreement with the first, I am most definitely not the second and my fast disappearing, silvered barnet would seem to deny me the third remark, even though I was probably around 15 years younger than the mobile prosecutor. Somewhat flummoxed, I spun on my heels and went shopping.

When I returned to my car, the offended party had departed but not without leaving a hastily scrawled note under my windscreen-wiper blade. It said: “I have your number and I am reporting you for dangerous driving!” Truth is, I have never driven ‘dangerously’ on public roads in my life. I have heard no more.

ecigs4I started smoking cigarettes in my early-20s. They made me feel like part of a perfectly acceptable, social crowd. Can you recall TV chat shows of the mid-1970s? Alongside puffing guests, even some of the hosts used to smoke. ‘Marlboro-man’ was a well-established icon and cigarette smoking could often be treated as an ‘ice-breaker’ in some circles.

I hated smoke-filled pubs, clubs and discotheques. There was always something quite odious about them, let alone malodorous. In fact, dining out, for me, could be ruined with the presence of cigarette smoke. Yet, as a writer, I could find myself consuming between two and three packs of 20 every day in my private office, the vast majority of which were little more than a puff-to-light-up, followed several minutes later by a return to a long curved line of ash and a smouldering butt-end…on the cigarette, not me. It was wasteful.

At the time, I was able to acquire duty-free stocks, as a result of making up to three Continental visits every week, which saved me a fortune on the tax-heavy UK alternatives. I practically knew how to request a carton of ciggies in every European language (and a few more besides) and locating a ‘Tabacos’, ‘Presse’, or ‘Tabak’ outlet was a regular practice, shared with several colleagues.

Those were the glory days of sitting in the back rows of aeroplanes, where one could smoke, because a curtain of chilled, conditioned, fresh air would separate the ‘nons’, from the smokers. It is worth noting that recirculated air is now the common practice on-board passenger planes, which allows germs to proliferate and guarantees that the air you breathe is really more foul than when smokers ruled the skies.

ecigs2Anyway, following a minor operation that hospitalised me for a week, a couple of Septembers back, having hobbled outside to the ‘smoking area’ at the rear of the infirmary, I caught a window-reflected glimpse of my pathetic, dressing-gowned form, desperately drawing some salvation from a gasper and I determined that the time had come, finally, to quit. It was not a good look.

When that annoying little twit, Blair, made his pronouncements about ‘Britain stopping smoking’, I was actually on the verge of quitting. However, I would not be told by a politician to cease the habit. How dare he and his minions…? As to my GP, he had no grounds to ward me off either, with his smoking and drinking issues combined. Therefore, I kept it going for another couple of years, out of spite.

I will not tell you that it has been easy. ‘Cold turkey’ was my route to quitting and, after ripping the heads off several children’s teddy bears and dollies, losing temporarily the friendships of several chums and gaining a short-term repute for anger management issues, I no longer smoke tobacco. However, I do have a craving for nicotine, which is the habit-forming aspect. Nicotine is not deadly, unlike tar. Therefore, I adopted the ‘electronic cigarette’ as a useful and relatively harmless prop.

ecigs3However, the Welsh have now decided that even ‘e-cigs’ need to be banned from public consumption. While not wishing to incite a return to cottage conflagrations in the Principality, I urge any e-ciggers to avoid the place like the plague. However, I do feel that in our nation of do-gooders and whistle-blowers, some aspects of order and sensibility ought to return. We all know that eggs, butter and bread are bad for us. We all know that cars pollute and kill people. Yet, to object to a relatively harmless but still quite expensive finger-occupier and habitual-puffing pencil is going someway off course.

For heaven’s sake, give it a break. Stop complaining about those little things that move the goalposts for some people and spend more time reflecting on your own feeble existences. Leave me and my ex-smoking pals to our own death-defying devices, please.