No Smoking Day
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Stephen Fry on stopping smoking

There is nothing new under the sun, as the old saying goes, and so when I stumbled upon Stephen Fry's blog over the weekend talking about his own battle with nicotine, I found myself reading the wisdom of Allen Carr - but of course, coming from the pen of Stephen Fry, I have seldom seen it expressed quite so well:).

It's a fairly long piece which also talks about his battle with other addictions, so I won't reproduce it in full here, but the following paragraphs sum it up pretty perfectly for me:

Sweets opened up a pathway, they established one thing and one thing hugely. I must get pleasure. I must reward myself. That's the beast to which sugar gave birth. These days we express the urge in the language of endocrines and neurotransmitters. We talk now of endorphins, of serotonin, noradrenalin, tryptophan and dopamine. Sweets began it. They carved through the brain and left their imprint. Pleasure, reward. Rush, crash. High low. Mania. Depression. The cycle has to be fed. Self-medication, we bipolar people call it.

At fifteen I find a new substance to feed the ravenous beast within. Tobacco. A cigarette is the perfect kind of perfect pleasure, Wilde said. It is exquisite and leaves one unsatisfied. I thought at first that this was just Oscar talking all pretty and silly. But of course he got it right. A cigarette is the perfect instrument of addiction. Perfect. It has no function, no point, no quality other than to make itself needful to the smoker. It doesn't taste pleasant, it doesn't modify mood (except inasmuch as it quells the need for itself) it doesn't offer texture, elation, hallucination, bouquet, nourishment, calorific value, anything. And ultimately, as Wilde pointed out, it never satisfies: it is always necessary to have another.

Imagine that one day someone hit himself lightly on the head with a parsnip. Instead of stopping (for this is a foolish thing to do) he carried on doing it. When he eventually did stop he went about his business but discovered, much to his surprise, that he had a sudden unconquerable urge to hit himself lightly on the head with a parsnip all over again. So he did. And the more he did it, the more he needed to do it. The act of doing it gave him a tiny surge of joy, a little rush of pleasure that had to be elicited, never mind what a twazzock he looked, parsnipping himself on the head all day.

Smoking is no less stupid than that. In fact it is a whole bicycle-shed more stupid, because it's smelly, unsociable, carcinogenic etc etc etc. But the principle is the same: smoking has absolutely no point other than to stop the misery of not smoking. Smokers claim that it aids concentration, soothes the nerves and so on, but we know really that it only does those things because it's tobacco addiction that messes with concentration and jangles the nerves in the first place. Tapping your head lightly with a parsnip would aid concentration too if not doing it made you all jumpy and desperate.

All this is obvious. But when there's a beast inside you that wants, needs, insists upon feeding, a beast that knows how to press the little button in the brain that releases all those wonderful, surging delicious endorphins, when that beast is there, then new ways must be found to let him find and press the button. Sugar is okay, self-abuse is jolly of course, but can't really be done in the street without exciting comment. Forward, tobacco.

So, I'm fifteen. I have bad teeth and I smoke. Every half an hour or so I can guarantee the small release of bliss that the cigarette delivers. That it achieves this by delivering a small release of agony that only another cigarette can alleviate is neither here nor there to me. I credit the cigarette with healing powers and am proud to be a smoker. It sits well with the unorthodox, maverick rebelliousness I fool myself is my style. It's cooler, more radical and soulfully alienated than a Cadbury's Curly-Wurly and a foam shrimp. Photographs of Jean Paul Sartre reveal that he has a cigarette dangling from his mouth, not a sherbet fountain. It is revealing that amongst my favourite sweets were candy cigarettes, chocolate cigarettes, cigars and pipes and that strange shredded coconut wrapped in a wax paper and presented as a simulacrum of rolling tobacco.

If you want to read the whole thing then look here:

1 Reply

Brilliant post, I so adore him, he's brilliant.



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