Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

From a 19th Century Cottage to a Smoke-Free Future

This photo captures a peaceful, almost dreamlike scene. The eye follows the hedgerow towards a small wooded area that partly conceals Airy Home Cottage, built in the late 1800s. Interestingly, the 1911 census reveals just one resident there: Edward Roberts, a single 26-year-old who worked as an “Engine Driver Oil” at the local ironstone mine.

Meanwhile, this week, our esteemed Prime Minister launched his latest initiative to create a smoke-free generation. He took the first step by passing legislation through the House of Commons that would eventually ban cigarette sales.

Imagine someone turning 15 today. If the new law passes, they’ll never legally buy cigarettes. This could mean cigarettes, once ubiquitous, become practically invisible within a few decades. That’s a major cultural shift! Laws are just one tool a democratic society can use to make such a big change happen.

Look, I’ll put aside my doubts about anything this government proposes for a second. A ban on smoking isn’t a bad idea in itself — I’ve never smoked. But it does make me wonder. How will they enforce it in twenty years time? Imagine a 35-year-old being asked to provide proof of age to buy cigarettes! And is a ban not likely to drive sales underground?

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, smoke-filled clothes were just part of going to the pub. No one questioned it. Movie stars and celebrities all seemed to smoke, and it even looked cool in ads. Smoking was simply the norm. But listening to clips of the debate reminded me that the stories we tell, the music we listen to, the ideas we share, and the images we hold of ourselves all have a powerful influence on how we live our lives. These things are just as important as legal structures.

In the 1580s, tobacco arrived in England alongside potatoes. Smoking quickly became a craze, fueled in part by the image of adventurous pipe-smoking characters. Perhaps even more enticing, the Church spoke out against smoking, deeming it sinful. King James I himself weighed in, calling tobacco “loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs,” and comparing its fumes to the “horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless” – essentially likening it to the fires of hell. So, in a strange twist, the disapproval of the Church and the King only added to the allure of smoking1https://www.oxfordreference.com/display/10.1093/acref/9780191826719.001.0001/q-oro-ed4-00005840.

People with lung cancer or those grieving the loss of a smoker know the struggle all too well. But smoking’s story goes deeper than policy debates and public health warnings. It’s a story about a deeply human conflict. We all strive to live well, but our actions don’t always reflect those good intentions. Smoking is a prime example – a battle between desire, regret, stubbornness, and the physical dependence of addiction. It might be smoking for some, but it could be any unhealthy habit for others. The constant push and pull between wanting something and knowing it’s harmful is a defining aspect of our humanity. Smoking is a symbol of this inner fight.







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