Smoking kills – and now that Trump is president, I don't care

I smoke in honour of the orange president, even as tobacco companies try to make me quit.

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The large majority of the readers of this magazine will probably not have noticed, because they do not smoke, but tobacco and cigarette packets now have a new design: none, basically, except for being coloured brown and having a deliberately alarming picture on the front. My packet of Cutters Choice is now a uniform brown and has a picture of lung surgery on the front.

My first thought is, of course, “I can get a column out of this.” My second thought is: “Lung surgery looks strangely like something interesting you’d eat at one of those smart restaurants which serve offal-based menus,” which is probably why my third thought is: “That’s a very deep, rich, unapologetic brown, and if you made gravy that colour it would probably be delicious.”

In other words, the details and the message vanished, to be replaced by entirely irrelevant speculation, except for one further thought, which was a vague plan to go into the business of making nifty leather pouches to sell to hipsters to put their baccy in. I remember being impressed by Goscinny’s Lucky Luke cartoon books. In this early side project from the writer of Asterix, Lucky Luke was a cowboy do-gooder, a gunslinger fast enough to outdraw his own shadow and capable of rolling a cigarette under any circumstances, and he kept his tobacco in a drawstring pouch. I wonder how many children who read his exploits ended up smoking rollies.

Next thought: what happened to cigarette cases? Look at any film up until the 1960s. Every time someone offered a cigarette, it came from a smart silver case. I inherited a very nice one indeed, solid silver, which opened with a sliding motion; however, it was so slim that you could only fit oval cigarettes in it, and it was hard enough to find these in the 1980s but is more or less impossible now. I wonder what’s happened to it, and what made them all disappear, seemingly at once. (I have a theory on the demise of the cigarette case, which is about consumerism, but it’s half baked and maybe here is not the place to finish cooking it.)

After a couple of days, though, the message began to sink in. I am a little wheezy this morning, though that may be because I haven’t been taking my asthma medication and also because the central heating no longer comes on in the morning, and one wakes – if one wakes alone, which for me is now always – after a solid 12 hours of there being no heating on in the Hovel, which this winter has made for some uncomfortable mornings.

But the idea of giving up smoking has retreated into the background. I promised A—— some years ago that I’d give up by my 52nd birthday, ie, in 2015, but that was conditional on our still going out together, and we’re not.

But mainly it’s because of the orange president. For some reason, I no longer feel as though I want to stick around to see what the future holds. One of the chief ingredients of old age, as they say, is sadness, but I’m not sure how much sadness, as opposed to fear or disgust, there will be in a world in which he has been in power for a couple of years. I always wanted to see how my children turn out but they seem to have turned out fine already, and besides, I don’t want to see them suffer in a world that’s clearly going down the toilet, fast.

Because, trust me, this is just the beginning. I’ve been reading Les Misérables, and it really is starting to look as though it won’t be too long before five years’ hard labour will be a mandatory minimum sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. Also, I’ve been reading about the book itself, and it appears that “the poor” would be a more or less accurate translation of the title. It’ll take us a while to get to that state, but it is likely, from what I have picked up about historical cycles, that things are going to get an awful lot worse before they get any better.

I roll myself another cigarette in defiance, curling my lip at the stark warning beneath the flap of the tobacco pouch.

And then I suddenly realise something. In my own obduracy – my pig-headed refusal to act in my own best interests; my tendency to scorn advice based on sound science and, indeed, to dig my heels in ever further the more stridently and urgently the advice is given – I now see where so many votes for Brexit, and for Trump, came from. From people who don’t like to be told what to do, and will do the opposite of what they’re told for as long as they can. God help me, and God help us all. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 02 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, American carnage