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There's no ifs or butts... it's time to pack in smoking


Dirty habit: smoking

Dirty habit: smoking

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Dirty habit: smoking

If aliens were secretly looking down on the Earth, there are many things that would surely puzzle them about the behaviour of human beings: commuting; quinoa; stilettos; Miley Cyrus.

But surely the most bizarre and illogical thing of all that we do is smoking tobacco. If you've never seen it, look up the 1970s Bob Newhart sketch in which a 16th century British government official talks to an excitable Walter Raleigh:

"You can shred the leaves ... put it in a little piece of paper ... Okay, Walt. And then what do you do with it? Ha, ha, ha ... You set fire to it? Walt... " I still find smoking every bit as baffling.

Today – Tuesday, October 1 – we start Stoptober, an initiative to encourage people to quit smoking cigarettes.

Helpfully, the coolest man on the planet (that would be Barack Obama) has just been overheard telling a UN official that he hasn't smoked for years. "That's because I'm scared of my wife," the president confided.

Rumour has it that Michelle Obama extracted a promise from her husband that, if he insisted on risking assassination by running for president, then he had to balance out his chances of an early death by giving up smoking cigarettes.

Now that's logical, it's brave and it's kind. (And there's a leader who would not be ashamed to call himself a feminist).

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As a committed non-smoker myself, I must confess that I cannot understand what makes some people smoke. It smells horrible and tastes filthy, it makes you feel sick (at first), gives you wrinkles and costs, or so I'm told, £8 for 20 cigarettes. (I double-checked that – and it's true).

Also, if you happen to smoke, the chances are that you will die of it – and die horribly, to boot. Research indicates that smoking cigarettes will reduce your life-expectancy by an average of 14 years. Fourteen years! Michelle Obama may very well be guilty of nagging her husband, but what's that compared to wilfully making yourself sicker and sicker and then leaving your children fatherless and the woman you love to spend her old age all on her own? Well?

Research released only last week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that married people (14% of the population) are about half as likely to smoke as single people (27% of the population) and considerably less likely than co-habitees (33% of the population).

I should hope so, too. When you commit to spend the rest of your life with someone, you should endeavour to make that life as long and as healthy as you possibly can.

The research also showed that smoking rates are highest among the unemployed and people in lower-paid jobs.

I've heard the argument that the poor people should be allowed their simple pleasures, but, really, that is just so much patronising and offensive claptrap.

Tobacco is the opium of the people and the only people getting real pleasure from it are the ones charging £8-a-packet for a slow and nasty death.

The idea that smoking is relaxing is also ridiculous. Have you ever sat next to a smoker on a long-haul flight? Obviously not.

I get it: tobacco is one of the hardest drugs to quit. Not impossible, but very, very hard.

On the other hand, compared to losing a partner to an early and lingering death, it really can't be that bad.

Please, smokers, pack it in this October. And never, ever start smoking again.

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