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Smoking: We're wacky about our fix of the baccy

I WAS standing by my father’s hospital bed, while he told me that they were probably going to amputate his leg.

I dragged out a pack of Carroll’s with shaking hands, and lit up.

A young doctor spoke from behind me. “I’ve never seen a non-smoker in this ward,” he said. I took another deep, calming drag.

“That woman over there is getting her arm amputated,” he said softly.

“That man’s lost both legs and an arm.” I didn’t quit, not then; 70pc of smokers may say they want to quit — but they don’t really.

We’ve all heard the awful figures: smoking causes 30pc of all cancers and is the most important preventable cause of death. It’s particularly bad for women — you’re less likely to have a baby, your menopause will be earlier, you’re more prone to period pains, vaginal infections and bleeding that put a strain on your ovaries, and if you take the pill or HRT and smoke, you’ve a much worse risk of a heart attack or a stroke. IVF is far less likely to work if you smoke. But still we smoke. If scientists came out with research that said hopping on yourright foot would lessen the chance of cancer, you can bet the streets would be full of hoppin’ fools.

People who wouldn’t touch a GM tomato with an ungloved hand smoke their way to cancer. Mothers who police their children’s diet like Olympic trainers blow smoke into the little ones’ faces.

PSYCHOLOGY

No one seems to have studied the psychology of why we don’t quit, when we know all this. Norma Cronin of the Irish Cancer Society says flatly: “Nicotine is very addictive.”

But giving up cigarettes is nothing like quitting, say, a serious alcohol habit. You’ll crave the hit, but you won’t have wracking pain or hallucinations.

Norma says 80pc of Irish smokers start before they’re 18; 29pc of adults smoke (compared with 21pc in England); 35pc of people between 18 and 29 smoke; a quarter of 15 to 17-year-olds smoke regularly.

The Irish Cancer Society campaign, teensarestupid.ie, aims to make kids stop and think.

But child smoking is a conspiracy of coenablers. An Office of Tobacco Control operation found that nearly a third of shops — 32pc — happily sold cigarettes to minors.

That’s poison. Yes, son, here you are. Mind how you go, now.

Most smokers don’t think of it as poison, though smokers are more than twice as likely to get cardiovascular disease and 10 times as likely to get peripheral arterial disease, like my father.

But it’s normalised — with movies full of sexy smoky scenes, and gorgeous packaging for the nasty stuff.

In a Glasgow study of 762 pregnant smokers, just 36 gave up. That study found that one-third of pregnant women were smokers.

Money works, a little: 14pc of a group of General Electric workers offered $750 in graduated stages to stop smoking had quit a year later.

And me? Haven’t smoked for years. And if the Irish Cancer Society is right, I’ve saved around €2,000 a year, as well as extending my lifespan by many happy years. Smokin’ good news.


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