There are fewer smokers about these days, but many people have their phone in their hand instead. We’ve traded one rectangle for another.by Cathy Rentzenbrink / October 15, 2018 / Leave a comment
Last night I dreamt I smoked a cigarette again. I inhaled deeply and then blew beautiful smoke rings into the air. I’ve missed this, I thought.
It has been 13 years since I smoked a cigarette in real life but I do it once or twice a week in dreams and it is always so good. Like many smokers, I can chart my life in brands. I had my first fag down an alleyway because I thought it would confuse the bullies if I asked for one, and it did. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I learned that I could survive school and the problem of being too clever for my own good by joining the bad boys behind the conifers for a share of a Benson & Hedges they’d stolen out of their Mum’s gold packet.
Soon I carried a 10-pack of Regal King Size secreted in my schoolbag and was once caught smoking in the boys’ toilets. “For an intelligent girl you do some very stupid things,” said my kind headmistress in a weary voice.
At Sixth Form in Scunthorpe there was a smoking common room which felt very grown up. I tried to get into roll-ups there but never quite mastered it. When I went to university and made some posh friends I upgraded to Marlboro Lights. During my year in France I bought Gauloises Blondes Legeres from the tabac and when I lived in New York I shifted to Lucky Strike Lights.
America was a smoking heaven. I loved the soft packets and the white tips that showed off lipstick marks in a way I found achingly glamorous and I once chain smoked from Chicago to New Orleans feeling like a character in a novel.
I never liked menthol—they were for the sort of people who wanted lime in their lager—and thought Silk Cut was the equivalent of being a shandy drinker. During lean times when I ran out of money at the end of the month there was no doubt that I would buy fags rather than food.
Fags for phones
It’s another life and I feel the dangerous pull of nostalgia. Time to remember that I had to stop because of my recurring throat infections, that both my fingers and the phlegm I coughed up were a horrid yellowy brown colour, and that I often burnt my fingers and singed my hair when smoking while pissed.
Smoking was the first and last thing I did every day and freeing myself was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I do now feel liberated and have nothing but pity for those people you see having a breakfast fag on their way to the bus stop.
There are fewer smokers about these days, but many people have their phone in their hand instead. We’ve traded one rectangle for another. I pat myself for my phone like I used to pat for my fags and, sometimes, when I’m using my phone to speak to someone, I will start looking around for it because I want to check my email in the same way that I used to reach for a cigarette and then realise I was already smoking one. And this is even after I got myself off social media, which multiplies the compulsions.
Fags for phones: this addiction trade-off means we are less likely to get lung cancer or to die, like my grandfather, of a heart attack in our early fifties.
We are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, be anxious, experience low self-esteem and suffer all the other as yet unknown problems associated with being emotionally and physically in thrall to checking to see what is happening right now, whether anyone is talking about us, or to have a glimpse at the awfulness of the world before cheering ourselves up with a dancing hamster or by posting a photo of our new shoes.
We’re at an interesting time with phone addiction, which is so much more complex and tangled than smoking, but I wonder if the tech companies—who act as the nicotine in this scenario—will follow the same path of denial trodden by Big Tobacco. I’m always fascinated by reports that the movers and shakers in that world don’t let their own kids play with their products. They’ve seen the research the rest of us haven’t, no doubt.
Smoking used to be ubiquitous and now feels like an old-fashioned addiction. Quitting is hard, but what makes it doable is the knowledge and clarity around how bad for us it is. We don’t have any of that yet with technology. So, goodnight, smoking. I don’t want you when I’m awake but I’ll see you in my dreams. I’ll be the one on the corner with a white-tipped cigarette, mercifully free of a phone.