Puff Piece

By Jonathan Yardley,
whose e-mail address is yardleyj@washpost.com
Tuesday, April 4, 2006


A Step-by-Step Guide to Smoking Twenty Cigarettes a Day -- And Loads More in the Evening

By George Cockerill and David Owen

Canongate. 148 pp. Paperback, $10

At long last, after endless decades of pious piffle from the world's vast army of goody-two-shoes, come two bold gentlemen from Britain to set the record straight. The one-man industry named Allen Carr -- author of "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking," "The Little Book of Quitting," "Allen Carr's How to Stop Your Child Smoking" and uncountable other "Easy Way" tomes to get you off booze, fearful flying and Lord knows what else -- has met his match.

Thanks to George Cockerill and David Owen, it is now permissible -- no, desirable, even mandatory -- to smack your lips around that coffin nail, light it up with your handy Bic and chant a few choruses of the Merle Travis classic, "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)." Having shaken the lovely habit fully a quarter-century ago, I aim to rush right out, wrap my fingers around a carton or two, haul the smoking jacket out of mothballs and light up. In no time at all my old friends will return: nicotine-stained index and middle fingers, holes in my sweaters and trousers, ashes on the living-room rug, a hearty hack-hack-hack at bedtime (after that ethereal day's end smoke) and another at dawn. My inspiration will be Owen's heart-rending account of his own introduction to the joys of tobacco:

"I lit my first cigarette straight away and I knew it right there -- I was going to be a smoker for the rest of my life. The smoke coursed through my lungs and I immediately went into a coughing fit that ended in my throwing up the previous night's vegan buffet. A great and wonderful weight had been placed on my shoulders and I wanted to tell the whole world: 'I AM A SMOKER!' "

If you think for a moment that this is easy to do, think again. Starting smoking is serious business, and procrastination is always tempting. As the authors point out, one timid nonsmoker after another has been heard to blurt out the classic excuses: "I'll start tomorrow," or "I'll start after Lent," or "I'll start when there's been a death in the family." It is the authors' promise, though, that if you follow their various prescriptions, "just three weeks after you have started reading this book, you will be smoking, and maybe even enjoying, your first cigarette!" You will become fully acquainted with "the procedure and paraphernalia of smoking," and you will discover the joys of turning your entire bank account over to R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris.

Isn't that the very definition of "liberation"? Free to smoke, to go broke, to gasp and wheeze and choke and croak? Call those the smoker's Six Freedoms, 1 1/2 times as many as Franklin Roosevelt's -- and this greatest of 20th-century presidents, please bear in mind, was a world champion smoker whose jauntily tilted filter gave hope to the entire nation in its hours of despair. Obviously, what was wrong with all those who followed him in the White House, especially the wimpy past three, is that they did not smoke or, if they did, kept quiet about it; though Bill Clinton did have a way with a cigar.

So take heart from the example of FDR and the inspirational prose of Cockerill and Owen, not to mention the testaments of others who have followed their path to the nirvana of addiction. Take 20-year-old Dean, for example: "It was after my exams that I first felt like giving up. It's the times when you're least stressed that it's so tempting to throw in the towel. So I try to make sure that I'm in stressful situations or find something worrying to think about and that usually gets me reaching for another smoke."

Or 24-year-old Megan:

"The hardest times are when I go to places like gyms or health spas. Being surrounded by temptation is really hard sometimes. Especially when you see how much other people are enjoying themselves and how healthy they look. But I stuck with it and tried to steer clear of those environments while I was forming the addiction. Now I'm so hooked that I don't really spend much time in places like that before nipping out for a smoke."

Make no mistake about it, though, Megan is right: Staying a smoker can be hard . So, how handy it is that the authors provide useful tips for keeping the habit on those occasions when the temptation to quit can become extreme: a weekend as a guest in a no-smoking household, for example, or long-distance flights aboard no-smoking airplanes. For the latter, they prescribe in rich detail a new variation on the Mile High Club, with results that can be described only as gratifying.

On and on they go, enriching your life all along the way. They devote two whole pages to the various ways -- 18 in all! -- by which you can offer a cigarette to a fellow initiate, and they have catchy names for them, including "Pick a Card," "Nick 'O' Time," "Shotgun Fun" and "The Last Supper." They steer you through that most desperate crisis -- "it's 2 a.m. and I have run out of matches and can't find a lighter" -- when you can't get the stove or the gas grill to light. One suggestion: "Rip the front off the gas boiler and smash the little window in the middle with your fist. Here you will find your friend -- the pilot light."

Then, of course, there is the touchy business of getting sick. You have to accept one essential fact -- "I am going to catch more colds than my non-smoking friends and acquaintances. They are going to last longer and involve mucus" -- and more: "You must also prepare yourself for the sad reality that many people will delight in telling you that the reason you have so many colds is because you smoke. For the most part, and especially if the person telling you is a doctor, nurse or pharmacist, it is best to remember that they are right, nod your humble agreement and make a mental note to spend more time with musicians or comedians in the future."

As for the Big C:

"All we will say here is that it is now widely believed that mobile phones, microwaves, asbestos loft insulation, X-ray machines, farmed salmon and department-store elevators can give you cancer. That cigarettes sit comfortably in that list is hardly breaking news."

If you've gotten this far, you're ready to start chanting some of the slogans from the Kick Start PowerPhrase mantra: "I only REALLY need one lung," and " I DO enjoy the taste," and "Who needs another 6 minutes anyway?" Then it is on to "The Smoker's Pledge," all 12 steps of it, among them: "I know only that I will smoke today, that I will smoke tomorrow and do humbly place my destiny into the hands of addiction," and, "I promise not to bring smoking into disrepute by being seen in public smoking and crying at the same time," and, "I will not attempt to teach my dog to smoke."

How sage! How inspiring! How humane! In gratitude to Cockerill and Owen, saints masquerading as mere mortals, let us chant four choruses of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," crank up the old Victrola, listen to the immortal theme song of Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, "Smoke Rings," and then, as final tribute, follow the advice of the old ad: "Blow some . . . [breathy pause] . . . my way."

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