tocacco plant Native American Tobaccoo flower, leaves, and buds

tocacco Tobacco is an annual or bi-annual growing 1-3 meters tall with large sticky leaves that contain nicotine. Native to the Americas, tobacco has a long history of use as a shamanic inebriant and stimulant. It is extremely popular and well-known for its addictive potential.

tocacco nicotina Nicotiana tabacum

tocacco Nicotiana rustica leaves. Nicotiana rustica leaves have a nicotine content as high as 9%, whereas Nicotiana tabacum (common tobacco) leaves contain about 1 to 3%

tocacco cigar A cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sumatra, Philippines, and the Eastern United States.

tocacco Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the fresh leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as an organic pesticide, and in the form of nicotine tartrate it is used in some medicines. In consumption it may be in the form of cigarettes smoking, snuffing, chewing, dipping tobacco, or snus.

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War on smokers: the backlash

This week, the Department of Health put out a 70-page document titled A Smokefree Future, full of plans to make cigarettes the preserve of a very hard-bitten minority. On the front, a twentysomething father looks lovingly at his young son. Inside, scores of other parents are doing the same – all apparently enjoying the health and happiness that comes from a life without cigarettes.

Having banned smoking in all enclosed public spaces in 2000, thereby securing a 25% drop in recorded numbers of smokers, the government’s new aim is to cut the proportion of us who smoke by another half – so that by 2020, only one in 10 Britons will still have the habit.

The proposed means to such an ambitious end include a new “doorway ban” on those droves of sad smokers who cluster in the entrances of workplaces, the expanded issuing of nicotine patches, the selling of cigarettes in plain packaging, the removal of tobacco products from display in shops, the banning of vending machines – and, just in case any top-flight athletes are hoping for a few pre-race gaspers – “a tobacco-free London 2012 Olympics”.

In Scotland, things are a little further along: late last month, the Edinburgh parliament passed new legislation for much the same measures. So it is that the UK is moving yet further into the post-cigarette age: something that, for those of us who are old enough to remember a smoke-fugged country where the habit was all but encouraged, may prompt either a shiver of nostalgia, a sharp feeling of relief, or an ambivalent mixture of both.

If you are in your mid-40s or over, you will probably recall cigarette adverts on TV, mass smoking on public transport (the London Underground was a particular joy), the pleasures of motoring trips with perma-smoking adults, celebration boxes of fags that were obligatory for any family Christmas (we had JPS ones in our house, packaged in a huge black tube), and much more besides. Chatshow hosts and guests puffed freely, footballers had a crafty cig at half-time, and even high-profile athletes were partial. If you doubt this, you should google a hurdler named Shirley Strong, Olympic silver medallist and unabashed smoker, and marvel at what a weird place the world once was.

But no more. Smoking may still be on the rise in developing countries, by around 3.5% a year, but in most of the industrialised world, it’s all falling numbers, anti-smoking zeal, and grim government statistics. You probably know the relevant figures: according to the official numbers, smoking causes 80,000 deaths in England each year, and costs the NHS an annual £2.7bn – and on a worldwide scale, cigarettes kill more people than illegal drugs, road accidents, diabetes and alcohol abuse put together. In the last century, smoking is estimated to have taken the lives of around 100 million people.

Still, in this country, around 10 million of us still do it. Behind that figure lurks no end of sociological intrigue. In our prisons, 70% of inmates smoke. Age-wise, smoking peaks in the 25-34 age group at 26%, and falls to its lowest among the over-60s. Among men of Bangladeshi origin, more than 40% are tobacco-users; but women from the same background hardly bother at all, registering a figure of 2%.

Yorkshire has the greatest regional concentration of smokers, at 25% of the population; London and the east of England bring up the rear at 19% each. As for pregnant women, 14% continue to smoke, and that figure is based on people filling in their own forms, so it’s safe to assume it’s actually higher.

By far the most clear-cut differences surround how smoking rates reflect the lifestyles of the UK’s social classes. Among young illicit smokers, take-up rates across income and wealth divides are reasonably similar, but once adulthood kicks in, the better-off tend to quit, while those lower down the social scale are much more likely to carry on. The fifth of the population with the highest incomes register a smoking rate of 15%, whereas in the lowest income group, the figure is nearly twice that – and though smoking rates over the last decade have come down among the population as a whole, those classed as “manual workers” have only managed a paltry drop of two percentage points, from 31% to 29%.

And now, as smokers shiver outside pubs, clubs and factories, the government is coming for them – though this time, using rhetoric more cautious and cuddly than the stereotype of some great anti-smoking clampdown might suggest.

When I catch health secretary Andy Burnham on his way to yesterday’s cabinet meeting, he is full of talk about “going with the grain of human behaviour”, avoiding the invasion of people’s private space, and assuring smokers that if they want to carry on blitzing their lungs and arteries and pouring money into the pockets of both the tobacco companies and the Treasury, it’s their choice – though help is available, and more accessible than ever. The essential point, he claims, is to go for policy that’s “heavily targeted on the new flow of smokers coming in, rather than restricting the liberties of smokers who are already there. If they look at where I was focusing my efforts yesterday, I hope they’ll see that.”

“At times,” he tells me, “we’ve allowed ourselves to have this ‘nanny state’ tag thrown at us, by not being clear about the limits of where it’s right to go. We’ve got to be more cautious and precise in our language.” He is, he tells me, instinctively opposed to outlawing smoking in cars (even with children on board). But, like a good New Labourite, neither is he opposed to “having a debate”.

When I ask him about the so-called “doorway ban”, by contrast he sounds altogether more certain. “A doorway is part of a building, essentially,” he says. “So where people are coming through, and there’s lots of smoke around the entrance, and it gets wafted into the building – well, that’s not an ideal situation, and it’s not consistent with the ban.”

As ministers and politicians continue their ongoing anti-smoking drive, a battle akin to the later stages of the cold war grinds on, with a besieged British tobacco industry in the role of the Soviet Union, facing off against the strident anti-tobacco lobby. Every time the government moves on smokers, the industry issues the usual protests about freedom of choice and human beings’ inalienable rights to basic pleasures, often joined by a small handful of militant smokers who see the government’s attempts to wipe out their habit as the stuff of outrageous authoritarianism.

Over Christmas, David Hockney used his guest editorship of Radio 4′s Today programme to inveigh yet again against the evils perpetrated by anti-smokers – and when he calls me from his home in Bridlington, he needs no encouragement to do so yet again. A somewhat chaotic 10-minute diatribe includes – rather rumly – the recent death of the Labour MP David Taylor, who played a key role in pushing the smoking ban through parliament. “I noticed that on Boxing Day, he went for a walk, and dropped dead aged 63,” he says. “If I’d have dropped dead, they’d have said it was my lifestyle. Nobody mentioned his meanness of heart.”

Somewhat predictably, he disagrees with Burnham’s insistence that, with these new measures, the government is not trying to restrict smokers’ freedom. “It has gone much, much too far,” he says. “I’m really outraged now.” He traces his ire to “this fucking little mean-spirited country: I see Martin Amis says it’s third-rate, but it’s 10th-rate now.” He ends with: “There’s an awful lot of smokers who live to ripe old ages. Now, why is that? Why? Obviously, genes trump everything. Some people shouldn’t smoke, but some people are perfectly happy smoking. Picasso, Monet, Matisse – they all smoked, and they all lived to ripe old ages, with very generous lives. Didn’t they? Yes, they did.”

Beyond voices like his, there is a whole tangle of blogs, websites, and pressure groups (including the pub lobby, who chiefly blame the smoking ban for Britain’s current epidemic of closures), and, of course, the massed power of the tobacco industry.

Christopher Ogden is the 56-year-old chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association: a former army major who says he was drawn to speaking up for the tobacco industry by a lifelong belief in “freedom of choice and freedom of speech and fair play”. Needless to say, he is a smoker himself.

“Enough is enough,” he tells me. “The government have introduced such a huge range of tobacco control measures that it’s almost as if they’re running out of ideas. We’ve had the ban on advertising and promotion, the raising of the age of sale from 16 to 18, the smoking ban, the graphic pictorial health warnings. Now we’ve got vending and display bans. What more do they want to do?”

The one chance of a reprieve, he suggests, lies in slightly more sceptical noises coming from the Tories: he would presumably be cheered by an off-the-record Tory spokesperson telling me that many of the Burnham plans are “pretty unenforceable” and “not evidence-based”, though there again, the same source is at pains to tell me that his party “supports any action that will reduce smoking”.

Speaking to advocates for the tobacco industry is always a grimly amusing business, as you listen to people somehow acknowledging that smoking is not exactly good for you, while trying to wriggle free of specifics. When I ask Ogden about smoking’s links to lung cancer, he says: “It’s not in my gift to say. I wouldn’t want to attribute it to any particular illness. I’d just say the consensus is that there are health risks associated with it.”

My mention of heart disease is similarly dodged. Even the connections between parental smoking and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (or cot death) get short shrift. “I don’t have a position on that. I’m not privy enough to the science to give a comment.”

But aren’t the numbers of British smokers in inevitable decline? “Who knows?” he says. “I mean, fashions change, don’t they? Society changes. Could smoking come back? I can’t predict the future, but it’s certainly a possibility, yes. Why not?”

How many a day does he smoke? “About a packet.” And does he have moments of concern about his health? “Not at all.” So does he think he’ll smoke till he dies? “Oh, no. I shall probably give up at some point, as I have in the past. I’ve been through phases of my life where I haven’t smoked for five years at a stretch. And I’ve decided to go back to it.”

Why give up? Why not just carry on puffing away on his industry’s output until he croaks? “Well, we’re all going to go one day.”

Over at Ash – Action On Smoking and Health – Ogden’s opposite number is Deborah Arnott. She was fond of the occasional cigarette until 2003, when she decided to leave a job in TV production and devote her working life to the anti-smoking struggle. “I smoked Silk Cut,” she says, “which probably shows my age.”

Though she’s in favour of going further than the government (she supports a complete ban on smoking in cars, whether they contain children or not), she says the new strategy deserves plenty of applause, chiefly because moves against smoking must be regularly renewed and extended, as proved by evidence from abroad. To pause is to run the risk of the numbers once again increasing: in Ireland, she tells me, the government successfully brought in smoke-free legislation, but “they didn’t do anything else, and smoking started to creep back up again”. Much the same thing apparently happened in Finland, where a similar failure to keep up the anti-smoking momentum meant that cigarette use stayed at much the same level and, among women, went up.

“There’s a theory about this,” she says, “which is that there’s always an upward pressure on smoking. That’s because it’s still something that’s attractive to young people, because it’s still cool. If you talk to 8-, 9- or 10- year-olds, they’ll be very anti-smoking. Puberty is when it happens: you’re independent, you want to be cool, and you’re not sure what do with your hands when you’re talking to people of the opposite sex.”

But how do you fight that? You can’t ban pictures of Kate Moss smoking at awards ceremonies. “No, you can’t. And that’s difficult. But over generations, that will change. You need it to stop being seen as cool. And it’s beginning to go that way. My children went to a comprehensive in central London – and actually, what amazed me was that they used to come home at night, and they didn’t smell of smoke. It is becoming less cool.”

Back in Westminster, Burnham suggests that in the early-to-mid 1980s, he was ahead of the generational curve. His experience of smoking, he assures me, is very limited indeed – because even as an impressionable youth, he found the supposed attractions of cigarettes baffling. “I had a couple under the slide in a park when I was 14, and that was it,” he says. “I couldn’t cope with it. I genuinely have never seen any upside from it. I think it’s a unique activity in that sense.”

Does he foresee a time when, in Britain at least, nobody smokes at all?

What he says next would surely chill your Hockneys and Ogdens to the marrow. “Honestly? I can imagine a day when people say, ‘Why did it happen?’ The costs, the health effects, what it does to your appearance, the smell . . . I can imagine people saying, ‘Why did we ever do that?’”

And when might that happen? “Decades, I suppose. But I can imagine it coming.”
By John Harris
The Guardian, Wednesday 3 February 2010

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