The Dominion Post

Addicts need bold measures

- Virginia Fallon

My first cigarette was delicious. Like so many New Zealand kids, I spent many a happy time puffing away on those Spaceman candy sticks with their glowing red tips and elegant white bodies. Almost every dairy sold them, and we couldn’t get enough.

The boys at school would let them dangle from their lower lips just like they’d seen blokes do with the real things, while us girls would hold ours between our fore and middle fingers, mimicking the teachers, mums and film stars we so admired.

My first real cigarette was a stolen one, and it was disgusting. I smoked for the next 25 years.

There are a lot of nasty things that were acceptable in the 80s – stubbies, spiral perms and jelly shoes are just a few – so it’s not surprising the decade was the cigarette’s last real heyday.

The children of the early 1980s never stood a chance. It was the age of the ashtray: supermarke­ts, banks and restaurant­s all provided receptacle­s to flick in, and even aeroplanes were inexplicab­ly divided into smoking and nonsmoking sections. I think I remember ashtrays at the cinema, though that might just be a secondhand-smoke-induced-fever dream.

Smoking was everywhere. Tobacco companies covered sports games and trophies in their names and brands, advertisem­ents featured good-looking smokers skiing, and my school’s staff room was immersed in grey smoke at lunchtime.

While we had the 1988 ‘‘kick it in the butt’’ campaign and 1986 smoke-free week, 27 per cent of the total population was still puffing away in 1989. Smokefree NZ says 11.6 per cent of adult New Zealanders still smoke daily.

That first real cigarette of mine was nicked from a dusty barn shelf and stashed in my pocket for later. I shared it behind the bus stop with a friend who later accompanie­d me to buy single smokes from the dairy across the railway lines. The same place we used to buy our lolly smokes from as littlies.

I took to smoking like I did to anything bad for me. I smoked through my teens; my pregnancie­s in my 20s; suffered through the nicotine-less long flights of my 30s; and chucked it all in about six years back.

The Government’s recently released raft of proposals may well be the kick we need to make the Smokefree 2025 goal. The Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan includes limiting the sale of tobacco to specific R18 shops or pharmacies, the reduction of nicotine in products, and a ban on cigarette filters. If that’s not drastic enough, a potential ‘‘smokefree generation policy’’ could outlaw cigarette sales to 18-year-olds from 2022, meaning anyone born after 2004 would be unable to buy tobacco.

Raising the smoking age from 2022 could be another option; the older we get, the less likely we’re going to take up the habit.

With smoking rates in their last dying gasp, you have to wonder why the Government doesn’t take the brave step of banning the things. They did it with certain types of firearm but now face the same dual pressures afflicting all people dealing with addicts.

You have to fight both the supplier, who wants to keep customers, and the user – unwilling to face a cold, brutal future without their crutch of choice.

The tragedy of smoking – and youth in general – is that as we run and laugh and wave our Spaceman lollies around like grownups, we never understand what being a grownup, and its maze of decisions and addictions, really means.

A few months ago, entirely cured after all these years of not smoking, I picked up a cigarette again.

It was delicious.

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