Countdown to Zero


John was barely in long trousers in a time when celebrities of the day loved the fact that parents forced their boys to wear shorts. And while we are thinking about stupid things parents made children do in the 70s, why on earth would anyone send their child out of the house wearing a cap and carrying a satchel? Honestly, it’s not hard to see how this developed into a lifetime of struggle.

John stood in front of the cigarette machine hanging on the wall outside the closed shop. Many memories have been lost to him over the years, but buying that first pack of ten Embassy No.6 for twenty pence remains clear to this day. As does that evening, standing in the village bus shelter with the other Youth Club escapees, performing mouth inhales and wondering why people did this kind of thing for fun.

A decade on and he had progressed, as if there were a ranking system for smoking. Now the proud owner of a company car, a boot full of breakfast cereal samples and an expanding waistline, John smoked for England. A local shop readily exchanged cartons of Marlboros for cases of cereal to support his now forty-a-day habit.

John, Dave, Carol? I may as well be a boy named Sue. The appellation is as irrelevant as the background because every smoker began at some point and escalated. For most of that time we’ve convinced ourselves that we really enjoyed the habit, the smell and the wheezing. When we were young we were invincible. Sure, smoking causes diseases but we were destined to be one of those few people still happily smoking into their 90s. Our lungs were made out of stronger stuff than mere cells and tissue.

And we were all brilliant at quitting because (and told this line each time as though it was original) we’d done it loads of times. But you don’t quit a forty-fag habit just like you don’t stop a dependence on twenty; the numbers mean nothing, the addiction is everything. John was as successful at dropping the smokes as he was at convincing supermarkets they needed to stock more bran-based products. The world really doesn’t like bran for all it goes on about the need for us to be healthy.

Sue, Sophie, Bob or Kevin discovered vaping. They, you and me found a way out. If it is only as far as a substitute for smoking then at least it’s at least 95% safer according to the recent reports, but John was aiming to quit for good. Quitting for good for once and for all.

He remembers last Thursday as clearly as he remembered that day in 1976. Last week was the first time he purchased some 0mg juice. It forms part of the vaping journey that saw him initially using 24mg liquids before cutting to 18, then 12, then 6. Then 3mg. Some might like to knock the efficacy of vaping as a means to stopping smoking and curbing a nicotine addiction. Some might like to talk to Gary, Clare, Helen, Josie, Jim and Gary. They might like to talk to Dave because, although they may consider it only anecdotal, there are quite a lot of Daves doing it.