A while back, The Independent reported Oxford professor of medical statistics and epidemiology Sir Richard Peto as stating at a cancer conference in Birmingham that one billion people will die from smoking-related diseases this century unless drastic steps are taken. The highest death toll will be in the developing countries.

When I was at college I took great pride in my smoking. Not for me the bog standard student’s fag du jour, a Player’s Number 6. I favoured in any given week Sullivan Powell full strength, Balkan Sobranie, yellow packet Gauloises, untipped classics Player’s Gold Flake, rollies formed out of Auld Kendal in liquorice paper, and, until the 1967 Arab/Israeli War, a very classy flat Egyptian cigarette under the imprimatur of Simon Artz. And when I finally ran out obscure cigarette brands I smoked a pipe, flourishing for a while a beautifully carved Meerschaum that I’d bought in Cyprus, stuffed with the lung-scouring Coniston Black Plug.

In later years I smoked cigars – mainly Villigers, but, when I could get them, Swisher’s Sweets or Fleur de Savanne. From time to time, when flush or simply reckless, I’d lay in a small stock of Hoyo De Monterrey double coronas, which could be purchased loose from that most fragrant of tobacconists, Smith and Son in the Charing Cross Road.

And then a surgeon, investigating a night-time breathing problem, found a small papaloma inside my throat. He recommended that I have it removed at the earliest opportunity. For two months I was convinced that I had cancer and by the time an ENT specialist removed it, analysed it as benign and pronounced it to have absolutely nothing to do with years of exotic pulmonary abuse, I had given up smoking completely.

Now the practice seems alien and perverse to me. I don’t feel any of that priggish righteousness that so infects the professional non-smoker. And although I find the smell of standard brand cigarettes abhorrent, I don’t cross busy streets to strike them from the mouths of those still afflicted. But the notion of setting fire to a small cylinder of dead leaves and then inhaling the smoke produced strikes me as every bit as crazy and inexplicable as it did to Bob Newhart’s Elizabethan taking the ‘phone call from Sir Walter Raleigh in the Americas.

God knows, life is perilous enough from the moment one steps from one’s front door. I’ll take my chances from day to day and happily except myself from that doomed one billion


Tobacco, divine, rare, super excellent tobacco, which goes far beyond all the panaceas, potable gold, and philosophers’ stones, a sovereign remedy to all diseases…but as it is commonly abused by most men, which take it as tinkers do ale, ’tis a plague, a mischief, a violent purger of goods, lands, health; hellish, devilish and damned tobacco, the ruin and overthrow of body and soul.
Robert Burton, (1577-1640), English clergyman author of ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’.

Tobacco drieth the brain, dimmeth the sight, vitiateth the smell, hurteth the stomach, destroyeth the concoction, disturbeth the humors and spirits, corrupteth the breath, induceth a trembling of the limbs, exsiccateth the windpipe, lungs, and liver, annoyeth the milt, scorcheth the heart, and causeth the blood to be adjusted.
Tobias Venner, (1577-1660)’ Via Recta ad Vitam Longam’

I have seen many a man turn his gold into smoke, but you are the first who has turned smoke into gold.
Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), speaking to Sir Walter Raleigh who brought the tobacco plant to England from America

I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time.
Mark Twain (1835-1910

Yeah, babe, you just watch. When I die they’ll all blame the fried egg sandwiches and the fags … and it’ll have been all the fucking wholemeal toast and fresh vegetables’
Kathy Burke, English actress

Remember, if you smoke after sex you’re doing it too fast.
Woody Allen

About Dick Jones

I'm a post-retirement Drama teacher, currently working part-time. I have a grown-up son and daughter, three grandchildren and three young children from my second marriage. I write - principally poetry but prose too, both fitfully published. My poetry collection Ancient Lights is published by Phoenicia Publishing ( and my translation of Blaise Cendrars' 'Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France' (illustrated by my friend, the artist, writer and long-time blogger Natalie d'Arbeloff) is published by Old Stile Press ( I play bass guitar & bouzouki in the song-based acoustic/electric trio Moorby Jones, playing entirely original material. spotify:artist:07MDD5MK9MnRGSEZwbsas9 I have a dormant blog with posts going back to 2004 at Dick Jones' Patteran Pages - - and I'm a radio ham. My callsign is G0EUV
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  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    When asked by a medical professional if I’ve ever smoked I always say I haven’t but that’s not strictly true. Like most kids I tried smoking but here’s the thing: I never inhaled. I never inhaled. I never thought to inhale. No one said you were supposed to inhale. I guess they thought it was obvious but it wasn’t to me. I swilled the smoke around my mouth and blew it out and though my mouth, never through my nose. I was in my twenties before I learned—or before it dawned on me—that people were actually breathing in the smoke. I’m not normally slow but it made—and it still makes—no sense to me. I swallowed alcohol but then drinking liquids was something I was familiar with. It was spitting wine out that made no sense to me. And still doesn’t.

  2. Dick Jones says:

    I got into smoking as an exercise in style at boarding school so the essential element of inhalation was evident from the start. The favoured mode of drawing smoke in was to place the cigarette centre lips, gripping it the while between middle finger and thumb. A noisy in-drawing of the breath then ensured full pollution of buccal cavity, throat and lungs. When capacity was reached, the cigarette was tugged from between the puckered lips as if against resistance and after an appropriately heroic retention of inhaled smoke, the residue was allowed to drift out of the corner of the now relaxed mouth or through the nostrils. Gold medallists managed both in equal measure.

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