Giving up smoking
Changing culture, public health campaigns and the smoking ban
Many people were increasingly aware of the ‘negative’ image smoking could portray. Many felt increasingly guilty when smoking, and others also made them feel guilty. Khan thought that the media portray smoking as a ‘chav’ thing and something done by people with ‘nothing better to do’. Some people were irritated by the health advice they received and thought it was counter-productive for doctors to blame so many ills on smoking.
Angela thinks that things have gone from one extreme to another: first being able to smoke everywhere, then making it very difficult to smoke.
And are you finding that now?
So a lot of your friends still smoke outside?
Hm. And you’re sort of just stood like, so you’ll drink more than them [laugh]. So then I’m going to have another problem. But I remember when I still smoked and my daughter like, she’s never smoked, but she said one of the things that she noticed where you can smell, instead of stale cigs, fags masking everything, and you go into a pub you can smell the stale beer and things, and she said she didn’t know which is nice… you know, which is worse. So… I don’t, I’ve never noticed that, you know, because one just stops smoking, so… [Laughs].
But yes, you can, you can’t really smoke anywhere. At our work, we used to have what we called a bus shelter what you smoked in, but they’ve had to take some windows out, because you can only have so many. So you were there smoking, freezing and the winds coming in from where you would have been protected before and it was like… I don’t know. You can’t smoke anywhere, whereas before you could smoke everywhere. They’ve gone from one extreme to other and it’s not really stopping anybody from smoking is it? [Laughs].
And how did you feel about all those changes when you were a smoker?
Well I didn’t like them, but to be honest, because doctors and everybody blames everything on smoking, it’s just another thing that you have, you just get on with it, because it’s all to do with smoking. So, they’re going to blame smoking for everything so just get on with it and continue smoking.
So it’s more like a sort of inconvenience?
Yes, yes, it’s just like another thing that they’re trying to do to stop you from smoking.
In the 1950s, 60s and 70s it was common for people to be able to smoke in places like offices and in cinemas, and some people remembered that when people complained about smoking indoors they were thought of as ‘wet blankets’.
In the early 1980s Sue could smoke in numerous places, including her place of work.
So we often would go out for lunch there’s a little pub over the road, so we’d go out for lunch and there were three or four people there who smoked and so we’d smoke at lunch time, breaks, meetings, and then sort of when I went, oh if I went out in the evening, smoke in the pub or wherever. And there was a time when you could smoke in cinemas as well so… [Laughs] so you could just smoke everywhere.
Miles got his first job in a solicitor’s office in the mid 80s and remembers smoking there.
It’s strange nowadays because you never, ever see smoking in the office at all, whereas in those days, it was common place, and certainly my boss he smoked quite heavily. I always remember him having, you know, sort of yellow ceiling where he smoked. So it was one of those different culture, obviously than it is now. And I would for the record I totally agree with what the government done a few years ago, by banning smoking in public places.
Gareth remembers smoking in meetings when he had been a social worker, and thought it was a ‘different world’ now.
Sometimes smoking goes with the profession. You know, there’s always an element, and if there are more smokers then non smokers the non smokers don’t stand a chance [laughs]. Thinking back to those staff meetings because I remember bringing it up at a staff meeting. I said, maybe, I don’t think we should be smoking. I thought as a manager of the group of staff I thought I’m going to have to do something here, because it’s not … particularly if the residents were involved if they came into the meeting. Mind you one of the residents was a smoker. I think that’s probably what made the difference, you know. And he would sit in our staff meetings. Yes, that’s right I’ve forgotten about that.
People remembered smoking in environments where smoking was the “norm” even comparatively recently and marvelled at how different the culture is now.
15 years ago at university, Tom associated going out drinking with having a cigarette. At uni in France smoking was normal.
So, yeah, they kind of got wrapped up together I suppose, and then from the beginning of university right through to probably my mid-twenties, I was a really regular smoker. Probably at its peak maybe between 20 and 30 a day and maybe more if I was going out in the evening and if I had a drink in my hand or what have you. So yeah, university was when it really kind of became a regular thing. It’s just kind of like, everybody else was doing it, but it wasn’t, at that point, it wasn’t, I was too old to, for it to be a peer pressure thing. I think I just really enjoyed it.
I really enjoyed smoking dope, and I really enjoyed smoking cigarettes, and I didn’t really particularly enjoy drinking alcohol at that point.
So yes, so that was right throughout uni that was a constant thing, and one of the years I was at uni I was in France for a year, where smoking is more or less compulsory, and cigarettes are extremely cheap. Yeah, so that was, and again that was quite a, quite a full on year in a lot of ways. I smoked too much, drank too much, didn’t go to lectures enough. It was fun, in a lot of ways.
10 years ago at university, Andy spent much time with his friends in bars smoking and surrounded by smokers.
But it was yes, I’m just trying to think if I actually ever gave, tried to give while I was at university. Because I’m sure I must have done, because there must have been the times when I said, I don’t think I can afford this at all. But if it did, I failed miserably while I was at university, because it was a, I don’t know, because you’re surrounded by lots of other people smoking and I was weak willed [laughs]. And I think truly to be perfectly honest I didn’t have the desire to give up. I think that was probably the crucial element of it.
Anti-smoking ads on TV and on bill boards have been around for many years. Messages such as ‘Smoking Kills’ on cigarette packets have been EU law since 1991, yet to many people they seemed to be less memorable than the cigarette ads (which were completely banned in 2002). Often people couldn’t quite place how they had come to know that smoking harmed their health; some remembered a lesson at school or a poster they had once seen. Many who grew up to smoke later in life had been firmly against smoking as children. Laura’s Mum and Dad said she could be embarrassing as a young child as she would ‘waft her arms around’ and ‘made a scene’ if anybody was smoking nearby.
For ages Haseen didn’t realise just how bad smoking was for people and always thought he wouldn’t be the one to get ill.
Yes, I mean there were warnings on cigarettes packets you, the statutory message, smoking can cause injury you know, cancer and all that stuff. It, I mean, I did get, I did realise the significance of smoking to that also. And in articles and paper, you know, sometimes medical journals and so on, you come across, you read [coughs] about that and you find out so many people died of lung cancer. So many people dying of heart disease and so on. Yes, it did, but on a, I never a journal and said like okay let me read about smoke, deaths caused by smoking or any of that. But on a casual basis you see it in the newspaper, you read it and so on. It didn’t actually make a big difference I don’t think, you know. It is always like, how do you say, like it’s not going to happen to me, it’s going to happen to somebody else. That kind of, but so many die, so many people but not me, so you know, that kind of way of thinking. So yes.
Tom developed a ‘dark smoker’s humour’ and made jokes about the warnings on cigarette packets.
So when they started putting the more specific things on, I remember kind of like, “Oh no, you’ve got the ones that lower your sperm count. You want to take them back and get the unborn children ones.” I don’t know if that means it was successful or not. I guess it, I guess it means we were all sort of, maybe more aware of things that we didn’t know before.
But yeah, I guess I sort of, I always knew that it was something that would, that would be bad for me, and I guess the sort of, you don’t need to really know much beyond ‘these will give you cancer.’
Angela thought that ‘all the campaigning in the world’ wouldn’t stop someone who wanted to smoke.
Yes, that’s the one.
You know all this. But you still like to smoke. I know you don’t like to smoke, like, and most people agree with me, you’ve got a packet of 20 and you’ve smoke all them, there’s not all of them 20 that you enjoy all day. But there is four or five that you do. And so all the campaigning in the world, and all the stopping smoking, and all the ‘don’t do this’, and ‘you’re not doing it here’. You’re still going to smoke, because you enjoy it. And most people it’s when they’ve had enough their selves like me. I mean lots of people that you know, doctors or surgeons will say if you don’t stop smoking, you don’t live to when people stop then, but mainly you smoke because you want to and you like it, and it doesn’t matter what you say [laughs] or what you do, or how much money you put on them fags, that’s going to stop you from smoking.
Smoking bans were controversial at the time and several people remembered thinking that the ban was an example of the ‘nanny state’. Yet many of those who were still smoking at the time of the ban understood the reasons, and looking back, nearly all thought it had been a good idea. Many also recognised that the ban was one of the changes that had helped them to give up.
Andy was still smoking when the ban came, but realised that it might help him give up smoking in the future.
The thing is the smoking ban came on a fairly interesting time for me, because I still smoked when they were first talking about it. I mean, all the debates you’d have with your friends in the pub about should they be banning smoking, human rights, blah, blah, blah. Even as a smoker, I said, “To be honest with you, we haven’t got a leg to stand on here. You know, I mean, you find, you find a pub, that’s, you find a dingy little room where all the smokers can go and drink and work and things like that. Kind of fair enough. But in a normal pub which people who don’t smoke want to go and enjoy the evening. There is no excuse. So there’s no argument, genuine argument you can give as to why we should have a right to smoke in here, because, you know, it’s damaging to other people’s health. It’s unpleasant for people who don’t, who, don’t smoke.” And I think we didn’t really have a lot to stand on as smokers at that point to say they shouldn’t bring this ban in. And for me as well as I actually thought to myself, I hope they do bring it in because it will help me give up. And I almost kind of flagged that up in the future as may be a day to give up when the smoking ban comes in I’ll knock it on the head because it will be a yes, it will make life an awful lot easier.I think it was a problem because I was defining all of my smoking being around drinking. Which it really, which it really wasn’t. But I knew it would just make life a little bit easier if you couldn’t smoke in pubs. If nobody was smoking in pubs. And what I didn’t, I didn’t take into account, I think around the time the ban came in I decided to start giving up, but it was also, I think, I’m think I’m right in saying it was around the same time we had the really nice hot summer and so we all sat outside in pub gardens and, and everyone was smoking outside. So I just carried on smoking.
In the longer term Keith thought that the ban might help him give up smoking.
Roger always supported the smoking ban even though he was still a smoker when it came.
However, others regretted the ban and thought that smokers should be given nicer places to smoke and should still have the right to smoke. Oddly Sue’s smoking became more ‘ritualistic’ as she had to plan when to smoke, and so thought more about cigarettes. Cassie just ended up smoking much more at home.
Looking back, Blodwen felt that the smoking ban was good but she had disliked it at the time. [TEXT ONLY]
Would you have said that the time. What did you think about that kind of legislation?
I didn’t like it at the time. I didn’t like it at the time. Because it was almost sort of like forcing you isn’t it? But yes. In hindsight obviously it’s a good thing. So I suppose it’s a bit, just a bit of everything. It’s only now that I’m actually thinking about it, with talking about it. You know, the gradual thing. It’s only now that I’m actually thinking about it, with talking about it. You know, the gradual thing that, that yes, with a little assistance from yes, legislation. That’s one isn’t it? Something being, you know, not being able to smoke in the building. Not being able to smoke inside the pub. And I remember God, no, I’m not going outside for a fag, it’s too blooming cold out there.
You know, so its stuff like I suppose that makes, makes a difference, and then, you know, realising, well yes, I’ve got, I’ve got so many left now, I haven’t smoked as much. But it was the illness thing that actually was the crunch. That was, you know, that’s what did it for me, and because I was ready to I suppose. I was ready to yes.
Neil didn’t like how the smoking ban was implemented and thought that businesses and smokers should still have a choice.
I don’t think the smoking ban was right in the way it was implemented. I think it should have been up to the landlord if it’s a pub, or if it’s a café the owner of the café. I think it should have been up to them to decide whether they were going non smoking or smoking. Or like in the old days pubs used to have a smoking room and if you wanted to smoke you went into the smoking room. So, it wasn’t a choice. It was just you will not do it. And I don’t like anyone talking to me like that. Especially the government. And it took away people’s choice. And I don’t think that is right at all. Has it affected me? Well no, not really, because I decided I was stopping. If there are smokers around it gets to me for a bit like, but after that it just don’t matter really. So, no if they want to smoke it’s fine by me. Even though I don’t like it, but I know what they’re doing to themselves. One day they’ll stop or they’ll die.
Now that he has stopped smoking Raf thinks that the ban is a good thing, but when it first came in he used to smoke between jobs as a taxi driver.
Yes, yes I can.
Tell me what you can remember about that and how you felt about it and…?
When it actually started at the time, I was working as a taxi driver and it became law that you can’t actually smoke in your car because it’s a public place in a sense, and but it never actually stopped me. I’d have the window fully down and I’d light a cigarette up in between jobs and I’d smoke it, and working on weekends, in picking customers and dropping them in town and vice versa, you’d see people standing outside clubs smoking and complaining, ever since this ban’s come in we can’t smoke inside, whereas normally they’d be enjoying a drink and a cigarette inside a club, but ever since this basically happened. It has affected I’d say every smoker in the sense that they’re limited to where they can and where they can’t smoke.
And what do you think about that?
I think it’s good now that, now that obviously that I have obviously stopped, but at the time, right up to when I hadn’t stopped, I thought it was just a waste of time, bringing that ban in and stopping people from smoking where they’re more comfortable, and but now obviously I see it all different. If not completely different, a lot more different than what I actually did prior to that.
Tam was in two minds about the smoking ban, but while she was pregnant she enjoyed being able to go to the pub to meet friends without being exposed to smoke.
I know you said the first time when the ban came in you sort of smoked that night on principle but…?
Yes, because it was the last time you could smoke in a pub, so in principle I was. I mean I am in two minds about it, but yes, in a way, it’s sort of we’re going with a nanny state, you know, if people want to smoke let them, but it has been nicer to be able to go down the pub when pregnant and since then and it not smell bad.
Because I don’t know, yes, I haven’t really gone not out that much, but I don’t really go anywhere where there is smoking now to know if I really miss it or not. Because it’s been gone for so long.
Since these interviews there has been further legislation in the UK against smoking:
- Age at which tobacco products could be purchased increased from 16 to 18 years old
- Picture warnings of the harm of smoking introduced on cigarette packets.
- Sale of tobacco from vending machines banned.
- Tobacco displays banned in large stores.
- Ban on smoking in cars carrying children.
- Standardised packaging rolled out across UK.
Last reviewed August 2018.
Last updated August 2018.