‘See that woman sitting over there’, I whispered. My five year old granddaughter looked across to where I was pointing and nodded. ‘She smells.’ D’s eyes widened. Being a well brought up girl, she might have been wondering about my lapse in manners, or perhaps she was working out how I knew that this stranger smelled.
We three were sitting on the roof garden of a youth hostel. The woman I referred to was stretched out on a lounge chair several yards away from us. She and we were admiring the fantastic sea view. She was inhaling equal amounts of sea air and carcinogens; we were doing the same. Even at that distance some of the smoke had drifted across to us. My chest contracted as it always does when in contact with second hand smoke.
‘Her hair smells of smoke,’ I explained. Her skin and her clothes smell of smoke and her breath stinks. And if she keeps it up,’ I added, ‘she will die.’ I felt a pang of remorse about being so graphic and wondered if I’d gone too far. Was it too early to give that sort of lecture? Would she absorb any of it? All those thoughts ran round in my mind. But I steeled myself in my resolve. D is related to former smokers: her grandmother, her uncle and her father. It’s never too early to get a head start in the brainwashing department.
I had pleaded with D’s father to give up the cigs. He would stop, he said, if I stopped. ‘It’s harder for me,’ I replied. ‘I’ve been smoking for decades.’ But he wasn’t moved and wouldn’t be budged so I stopped smoking. Easier said than done. As that advertisement goes, ‘it didn’t happen overnight’. It took me two years to rid myself of those chemicals invading my system and thirty years to turn me into an overnight success, but I finally had a goal to keep me at it.
Although I’d whispered, my voice must have carried. The woman turned around and smiled and nodded at us. I looked at my girl. She was relieved that we hadn’t hurt that stranger’s feelings. D really is a kind and well brought up girl. Taking advantage of the situation I explained that this lady probably wanted to stop, wished she could stop smoking. Perhaps she had tried and failed.
‘Never smoke because your cool friends are doing it’, I said when she started high school, ‘it’s cooler not to. Be the influence on your friends, not the other way round.’ It was the same worn out tune, but even as I wondered whether it was having any effect, I kept at it.
D is sixteen now and thankfully neither she nor her friends smoke or take drugs. I’m not being complaisant, it’s too early for that. But for now at least I cautiously give myself some of the credit. But I think that it should also go to her choice of friends and the influence of anti-smoking campaigns. Quit says that smoking rates of high school students have dropped by more than half since 1999. Being aware of the damage that smoking does isn’t enough, it needs active resistance as well as education. It needs a whole village to rally around.
I sometimes think that if I’d had it to do again, I would add drugs to the brainwashing mix. Ice is referred to as the drug of our time. What is meant by that is that it is that it’s the drug of our children’s time. Parents are wringing their hands and look to politicians to find a solution, but they are wringing their hands too. It’s in the too hard basket and not coming out any time soon.
Cigarettes kill but because it takes years for the effect to become obvious, smokers can fool themselves into believing that it won’t happen to them. They trot out the elderly neighbour who has a pack a day habit and has had since he was fifteen. Ice affects you immediately and kills quicker. No one is fooled about Ice, not even young people.
D and I have two way chats these days. I keep the lines of communication open and trust that if she has had the strength to resist cool when it comes to smoking, she will apply the same reasoning to drugs.