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Why we're still dying for a fag


Despite all the warnings, all the taxes, all the harassment and all the hassle, Irish people are smoking more. It sounds amazing -- it is amazing -- in an age when, to enjoy a little puff, smokers must pay exorbitant taxes when buying the pack, usually stand outside in the wind and rain to smoke one, and then endure the censure of everyone else when they return inside.

And yet the stats don't lie: according to a new report, there has been an increase in the percentage of the population that smokes, up from 27pc in 2002 to 29pc in 2007. Even more remarkably, this has occurred during a period when Irish people are getting better at minding their health.

We now consume less alcohol (in contradiction to all those hysterical headlines and political pronouncements), we're much less likely to drink and drive, the majority of people are someway physically active, we visit the doctor regularly, and only 3pc of those surveyed described their health as 'poor'.

But the lure of the cancer stick remains strong, particularly among the young and socially disadvantaged (smokers comprise a staggering 56pc of 18 to 29-year-old women in certain social classes). So why have devotees of the good weed stood fast against all evidence and social pressure? Here's a ten-pack of possible reasons:

1. The pressures of modern life

Between traffic, work, bills, childcare, climate change, geopolitical instability and the imminent arrival on our TV screens of a host of rubbish summer programming, life is tough nowadays. There's no finer stress-buster than a long, calming drag on some fine-cut Virginia tobacco. And never mind those people who say the nicotine is only relieving the body's desire for nicotine; that may be true, but it also works wonders at calming you down after you've just spent 35 minutes looking for a parking space. And on a related tangent ...

2. Something to do in this lonely world

We're always hearing about how modern man is irredeemably estranged from his fellow man, how we are all drifting slowly along in our bubbles of isolation and existential ennui, without meaning or purpose. This is where smoking comes in.

It helps to fill those endless dead hours of alienation, giving them some form of structure and value, and enables you to better concentrate as you try to figure out something more worthwhile to do with your life. Besides, all the great philosophers smoked.

3. Sick of the nanny state

Nobody likes being told what to do; specifically, nobody likes being told what to do by anal-retentive, sour-faced, meddling busybodies. The more all those prudish lifestyle fascists lecture smokers on how foolish they are, the more smokers will think, 'To hell with you, I'm going to double my intake from henceforth, just to annoy you.'

4. A yearning for 1940s, film noir-style glamour

It's undeniable that post-modern culture is, on the whole, grubby, cheap and disposable. This is fine when you're buying an umbrella but not so good when you want something more. No surprise, then, that many of us cast envious eyes to those ineffably glamorous heroes and heroines of film noir, all of whom smoked like proverbial chimneys. Can you imagine Bogart chewing gum instead of drawing on a Lucky Strike?

5. Smirting

This compound word brings together two of life's more pleasant diversions: smoking and flirting. Since the accursed ban was brought in, a new socio-sexual phenomenon has sprung up -- people nip out for a fag and strike up a conversation with other outcasts from polite society, which often leads to romance. 'Is that a Zippo in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me ... ?'

6. The cachet of exclusivity

Smoking is now so socially unacceptable that it has replaced tattoos, bisexuality and a criminal record as the epitome of outlaw chic.

7. A poignant reminder of your own mortality

Medical science has ensured that people live longer and suffer less from disease. That's great, but sometimes you need to experience that brush with death, the better to appreciate life. With all those doom-laden warning on the packet, smoking a cigarette is like dancing the tango with mortality.

8. All the coolest people do it

Yes, it's a childish reason to do anything, and no, we wouldn't jump off a cliff just because everyone else is doing it. But you can't get around the fact that smoking is cool, it has always been cool, and it will always be cool. (Of course, we're thinking here more along the lines of Johnny Depp or Kate Moss or David Hockney, and not so much of those cadaverous 80-a-day hard-chaws coughing up three pints of blood every day.)

9. Contributing to society

The enormous sums of money paid in taxes by smokers are more-or-less keeping the economy afloat.

Please bear that in mind the next time you feel like castigating the drain on the health system caused by tobacco-related illnesses.

Newsflash: smokers are about the only sector of society that pays its own medical bills. The reason is €6 and more in tax on every pack, which we are assured goes directly to the health service. I figure that, for the average ten-a-day smoker, their 40-year total taxation of roughly €35,000 should more than cover hospital bills down the line.

10. It's one of the finest pleasures still legally available to humankind

Well, we'd hardly do it if it didn't feel good, would we?