Passive smoking is a terrible thing. If I were given a Wand of Definitive Disparition I would, in the bat of a sorcerous eyelid, rid the world of two things: mosquitoes and cigarettes. Ok, and possibly a few persons too, but I cannot go public on that. What? Yes, yes, war and weapons too… yes, and disease. Ok, I suppose I could include Justin Bieber… Hey! It is my wand and it has only limited charges, ok? And anyway, my point here is that I hate cigarettes and it’s not about making the world a better place!
Ashes of the past
I have always had a deep hate of the thing. There I would be, frolicking around happily, a child playing in a world as yet uncontaminated by carcinogens and nuclear fall-outs (or at least not conscious of them) when an acquaintance would walk up to me, enveloped in a bluish haze. Said acquaintance would take a puff, exclaim how quickly and healthily I was growing and then proceed to ruffle my hair (yes, there was a time when even I had a mop) with the same offending hand holding the damned cigarette!! No wonder I lost my hair early! Surely, there must be a study somewhere linking smoking relatives to early baldness.
I grew up back in the times when people smoked cigarettes everywhere: in the office, during meetings, in cinemas, during sex, in operating theatres (patients included), while diving, while doing physical exercise; why, some even smoked cigarettes while smoking other things. The only place spared was the church, where one was only allowed to inhale incense instead. Possibly there was a commandment somewhere that I missed: ‘Thou shall not burneth rolled nicotine in the presence of the Almighty.’
Be that as it may, at least it provided a place to breathe. Otherwise no space was spared, no matter how confined and airtight. Planes, even two-seater ones, had smoking areas and restaurants would have cigarette vending machines to encourage customers to deaden their taste buds before judging the quality of the food –also prepared by obligingly smoking kitchen staff. You might think I am exaggerating but I still have sweaty nightmares about this one time I found an extinguished cigarette in my pizza! (The restaurant has thankfully closed since then).
I didn’t grow up hating cigarettes because I come from a particularly health-conscious family –my dad smoked until the day I came along. Neither was I abused by a smoking hot nun during my infancy. Mine is a simple, honest and deep-rooted dislike. I abhor the smell of burning tobacco and I find ashes disgusting. People who smoke have bad breath and their hair and clothes stink like the entrails of a fire-breathing dragon. But, above all, cigarette smoke blocks my nose and makes me sneeze. Reason enough?
Lighting up my childhood
My otherwise happy childhood has been tarnished by various episodes of imposed asphyxiation (aka passive smoking). I still remember vividly the dread I experienced every Wednesday evening, when, after my private lessons, the parents of one of my class mates would give me a ride home.
Invariably, both the mother and father would be present for this 20-minute trip and, unfailingly, both would light one up the moment the doors of their FIAT were secured. Given that schooling is an autumn/winter activity, all the car windows would, of course, be duly kept shut to ensure no wisp of smoke escaped. I remember inhaling deeply and puffing up my cheeks before getting into the car and keeping my breath for a long as possible. This would normally leave me with around 18 minutes 30 seconds of asphyxiation to endure. Over that winter I had developed a technique of slowing down my breathing to an absolute minimum and inhaling the shortest breaths possible.
The unintended consequences of this stratagem were, of course, complete silence and slothfulness. Even on the occasion when I saw a car approaching from a side street and colliding with ours. To my 9-year-old mind, death by impact was preferable to slow asphyxia by recycled nicotine. By the end of the scholastic year my friend’s mother had found some excuse or other to stop giving lifts to the mute, sluggish child that gave her the creeps and stared death in the face. It was a win-win situation.
On the several occasions that one of my chain-smoking relatives would visit our household –and I come from a big family– my mother would prepare a bowl of water (or two) and hide them somewhere in the living room. This strange ritual emanated from the dubious theory –probably imparted by one of the daily radio programmes on the only station we had access to at the time– that water would ‘absorb’ the smoke. I am not sure about how much smoke that water absorbed, but I am pretty sure that the fired-up cells of a young child absorbed much, much more. The rest settled in or around my hair –which thankfully I did not have to endure much longer.
Thankfully, when it comes to cigarettes, things in European countries have evolved –with the exception of Greece. The Greeks carry out their silent resistance to EU legislation by persisting in their inalienable right to give each other lung cancer. Otherwise, in most other countries, you would not expect to be bothered by cigarette smoke in nightclubs or restaurants. And definitely not at the office or in a cinema.
At the work place, suicide by nicotine is largely limited to appropriate boxes where participants huddle together like smoked sardines. Those of a more sportive disposition go outside for ‘a cigarette break’ -which is why before each exit or entry to the building I practice the technique I learnt after my childhood private lessons. Things have improved so much that now even people who used to smoke –or indeed still do- confide that they don’t like smoking at the table. Neither do they appreciate others smoking at the table.
However, I am still not a happy person cigarette-wise. And it is not because of my cranky and obnoxious nature. Or at least not only because of it. Life has cursed me with a nose that cannot smell its way out of a piss-hole but can detect cigarette smoke from approximately 2 light years away. The moment someone lights one up within that circumference, my nose starts running and I start a sneezing marathon which often leaves me lying for dead. And to add to the pleasure of the experience, I smell cigarette every time I blow my nose.
In a society which has designated all outside public places as de facto smoking areas, I have been reduced to a life of solitary confinement. During the rare days of sunshine and balminess on the continent I am usually the one person eating inside a restaurant, since the terrace and the garden are one noxious cloud of gaseous tobacco. In some cases, where restaurants transfer their full table and chair complement outside on the assumption that no sane person would dream of eating inside, I have had to consume a few meals in the kitchen.
The same goes for drinking, of course. I am often the sad bastard drinking alone in the heat, watching the crowd engage in communal exchange of each other’s pestilential exhalation. I admit that my only wretched pleasure in these moments is the knowledge that they are hurtling towards the day when they would be extinguished by lung cancer. And that I am safe inside fighting death by heatstroke.
Living behind the smoke screen
The worst of the worst, however, the one action that really brings out every OCD tick in my body and makes me smoulder to a point that I start wishing for a samurai sword and a pair of nunchakus, is smoking on the street. I made the choice of living within walking distance of my work place to avoid traffic and all its unpleasantness. Yet, I constantly find myself walking behind people puffing their lung’s waste into my face.
Every morning, while crossing the park in the hope of briefly enjoying the beneficial by-products of photosynthesis, there is always someone a few metres ahead of me subverting my plan. And he or she are always consistently too far ahead to be easily overtaken but close enough for my nose to pick up the infernal odour and launch the running/sneezing sequence. I normally hasten the pace to try to overtake (and possibly take-out) the culprit, but in the process I breath faster, so it doesn’t help much. And, anyway, once I do overtake there is always somebody else further on, happily sucking on his fag, oblivious to the sneezing bastard collapsing in the bushes.
These moments, as I crawl across the lawn, are one of the rare instances when I envy our US cousins. The citizens of the land of the free have had the balls to raise the issue of prohibiting smoking even in while walking on the street.
That is until I remember that they elected Donald Trump, and only god knows what he smokes!
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