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Smokers can be fit too!

According to the organisers of yesterday's London Marathon, 40,382 people took part.

I wonder how many were smokers? Theoretically, given that 19 per cent of the adult population in Britain smoke, there may have been as many as 7,672 smokers on the starting line.

I accept there may have been fewer but logic suggests that there must have been several hundred (at least) who were among those who successfully ran the 26.2 mile course.

The truth, as we know, is that a great many smokers are perfectly fit and healthy and are capable of the same physical deeds as any non-smoker.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, a friend of mine was recently part of a small team that set off from Barneo Ice Camp, a Russian-operated drift station on the frozen Arctic Ocean, to walk to the geographic North Pole.

They began their trek on April 4 and reached their destination six days later (see above), having walked 120km on ice, much of it in temperatures below minus 30 degrees Centigrade.

Expeditions like that rarely get any publicity nowadays. Like the climbing of Everest there are so many people doing it the feat has lost its allure.

In this instance however my friend's achievement was mentioned by the Irish Times which reported that:

The expedition camped, each participant pulled a pulk or sledge weighing 40kg, and lived on freeze-dried food, cooked with ice that took several hours to melt.

See Wicklow climbers celebrate arrival at North Pole with Scotch and cake.

But here's the point of this story. When my friend returned home he told me that not one but at least two of the team were smokers, including one of the guides.

The other was my friend's tent mate who thought nothing of smoking inside the tent.

In spite of this nobody died ("The pork scratchings and Kendal mint cake were much more dangerous," said my friend) and the entire team successfully achieved their mission to reach the North Pole on foot.

I mention this only because it bucks the current orthodoxy that implies that smoking and serious physical achievements are incompatible and anyone who smokes is bound to be a physical wreck, sooner or later.

The truth is far more complicated than that but we live in a world where few people are interested in nuance, least of all tobacco control, and everything has to be black or white, good or bad.

I bet there were hundreds of runners gasping for a fag after the London Marathon yesterday. Something however tells me that if they did light up they won't be featured in any reports of the race.

Instead they will be airbrushed from history – just like Churchill's signature cigar in this famous photograph.

See also: Smoking and climbing and Smokers' lungs can help at high altitude says climbing expert.

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Reader Comments (10)

Difficult one. I remember as a Junior Soldier back in 1967 (the propaganda had already begun) I was shocked when I saw our PTI smoking, he was as fit as a butcher's dog (are you still allowed to say that). In 1970 when my regimental band played at a football friendly we were at the after match reception, there was Bobby Moore and several other players enjoying a cigarette. I am sure there are many more things hidden in my memory palace, but I do recall, although unable to remember names, that before sponsorship was banned, several athletes who were smokers were sponsored by tobacco. Having said all this, it is quite possible for no one in a group of people to smoke. My wife and I play in a semi professional band about 35 strong. Besides an 82 year old who enjoys a pipe, we are the only smokers. I also play in an amateur symphony orchestra, 50 members, only one smokes, me. So yes, maybe a VERY small percentage of the London Marathon runners smoked (did they finish). Then again, the shocking truth is that none of them did. I feel like a devil's advocate here, and I sincerely hope that there were some smokers who ran, completed it with a satisfactory time, and enjoyed a smoke when they finished.

Monday, April 24, 2017 at 15:15 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

Posted this comment in a discussion on this subject of smoking and sportsmen/women a while ago. Relevant here too;
As the anti-smoker agenda has developed into a religion (healthism), more and more rubbish is spoken about it, information that challenges it goes missing and those who question it are sidelined, smeared and ridiculed. OTOH more and more people have been conditioned to support it and comply with its dogma. It seems that almost everyone thinks they are an expert in smoking ‘harm’ while ignorance of smoking benefits is frighteningly sparse. Many smoking sportsmen/women, at the top of their game, were smokers and have excelled in their chosen sport- a few examples;

Jimmy Greaves (arguably the greatest footballer ever)
Wayne Rooney
Zinedine Zidane

Eddie Merckx (simply the greatest rider of all time)
John Trevorrow (3 times Australian champion)

Tim Henman
David Ferrer

Steve Ovett (Is he still the 1500m and mile record holder?)

Shane Warne
Freddy Flintoff

Tiger Woods
Jasper Parnevick
Darren Clarke

Many mountaineers considered smoking helped them cope with high altitude climbing.
“While those of my clients who’ve led a blameless, tobacco-free life frequently struggle with the altitude, long-term smokers tend to saunter up.”
(Henry Stedman, author of Kilimanjaro: the Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain).

I’m sure there are many more smoking, sporting heroes that could be identified and probably many more still, who no doubt keep it quite that they smoke, bearing in mind the demonization and ‘bad press’ that smoking now attracts.

“Athletic performance relies upon a certain spirit of independence, an individual autonomy to pursue a goal of high physical fitness. Telling people how to live their lives - smoking and diet and everything else - tends to compromise initiative, which is really the essence of sporting achievement.” (Dr M Fitzpatrick medical journalist)

Keeping fit is essential if you want to enjoy a good quality of life, but it if it becomes part of a fanatical pseudo religion and is practised to excess, the opposite can occur. James Fixx is one example; The ‘father’ of the jogging craze and veritable poster boy for healthism, he quit smoking and ran 10 miles almost every day for nearly 20 years until one day in 1984, while out jogging, he collapsed and died of heart failure at the age of 52. Fixx joined the ever growing death toll of those who blindly follow anti-smoker advice.

Given that smokers are more likely to survive a heart attack (referred to as the ‘smokers paradox’), we cannot know whether it was the result of excess exercise or quitting smoking (or indeed something else) that caused his demise.

More info. here (of course as with any article that highlights any smoking benefits, the anti-smoker cadre have to have their say);

Monday, April 24, 2017 at 16:10 | Unregistered CommenterKin Free

When the Olympic games was held in Athens, I remember reading a report in a newspaper by a journalist who had gone into the Olympic Village to interview some of the athletes, and he wrote how surprised he was to see a considerable number of the athletes sitting outside their accommodation smoking.

I can't even remember which paper it was in now. I'll have to do a search.

Well, I couldn't find it, but I did come up with this:

Monday, April 24, 2017 at 16:46 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

'..... everything has to be black or white, good or bad.' Makes me wonder, Simon, whether in a world like that, officialdom finds us, and therefore its role, easier to organise.

Monday, April 24, 2017 at 17:32 | Unregistered CommenterNorman Brand

Bradley Wiggins, 'nuff said

Monday, April 24, 2017 at 21:35 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

Of course the healthiest ignore the fact that a large number of soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen smoked during combat operations in both World War I and World War II (not to mention Korea, Vietnam and French Indochina). Now combat can one of the most intense physically demanding activities a human can experience yet smoking was seen as an asset not a liability.

Beyond that it wasn't until the 1970s that athletes that smoked were censored from public view. Baseball players, NHL hockey players, and NFL football players all had a cadre of known smokers. Now they even have to hide use of chewing tobacco.

The image of smokeless sportsman has been cultivated -- like most contemporary images of smoking -- by the tobacco control industry and public health industries through their use of relentless propaganda.

Monday, April 24, 2017 at 22:56 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Quote from the 2011 Tokyo Marathon race guide, which asks participants to "refrain from smoking while running."
Refrain from smoking while running!!

Here's a photo of a runner with a cigarette pre Chinese marathon:

Monday, April 24, 2017 at 23:00 | Unregistered CommenterWyatt

Monday, April 24, 2017 at 23:01 | Unregistered CommenterWyatt

Indeed, a lot of smokers are reasonably fit and a lot of sportsmen (and sports women) smoke. Today, professional sportsmen and women must keep their habit secretly or very discreetly, more so in English speaking countries. However, as you mention, it was different before the 1990's, when smoking was regarded as "unhealthy" but it was not associated with such a social stigma as in the last 20 years.

Evidently, you cannot smoke while exercising, and the effects of smoking in your fitness depends on how much you smoke and how you smoke. I have always been a fit smoker, even when I was in my 20's and smoked between 1 and 2 packs of strong non-filter Mexican cigarettes. However, I did notice a significant improvement in cardio vascular capacity and performance when I switched in my early 30's to smoking only cigars and pipes without inhaling the smoke. I am now in my early 60's and continue to exercise regularly and to smoke cigars/pipes.

A personal anecdote. I ran my first half marathon when I was a 24 years old undergraduate student in the late 1970's, when I was still a cigarette smoker. Although there was no widespread anti-smoking attitude back then, amateur runners in the university belonged to a special niche of health obsessed people which (even then) hated smoking. After I crossed the line the first thing I did was to celebrate by lighting up a delicious ciggie. I still remember (as it was yesterday) how my fellow runners reacted with such disgust and condemnation. Some even demanded that I stopped training with them. In those days this was regarded as an extreme attitude. Today it is the norm, specially among people who exercise regularly, who are very much likely true believers in the stereotype that all smokers are pitiful coach potatoes. Yet, there are many counter-examples.

The other side of the coin: it is ironic to see that a lot of anti-smoking health obsessed fanatics are unfit. Once I met socially an anti-smoker who was particularly annoying and kept reciting to me the known litany of horrible effects of smoking. I challenged him to run a 10 km race. He stopped pestering me immediately.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 5:33 | Unregistered CommenterRoberto

At age 11- 14, I used to hide behind the bike sheds at school and smoke during class cross country runs but take the race seriously in the annual competitive race. I came second two years running and then 1st in the third year. I have a trophy somewhere to prove it. Mission accomplished, I never did it again because I lost interest, although throughout my school years - both primary and secondary - I was in all the sports teams, swimming, running, hockey, netball, and athletics. I still bear a scar on my leg having been whacked hard with a hockey stick during a tackle.

I grew out of sports aged 14 or 15. I enjoyed it in summer but hated the cold weather of winter and hanging around pitches freezing half to death.

When my son was the age I was when I started smoking, 8, he came home in tears because his teacher told him I was going to die. I took part in the mum's race that year and came 4th (although I swear another mum cheated which led to a false start from me otherwise I would have been in the top two).

To see me so fit cheered my son up and when he told his teacher, she remarked that had I not smoked, I would have been a world class athlete. Maybe I would have been but I never wanted to be. When he told his friend of the same age that I had smoked since that age, his friend called him a liar and said it was simply not true that anyone could live as long as me if I smoked as a child.

My son is a non smoker in adulthood so I would also question the rubbish that kids smoke because their parents do. They smoke or not because their friends do or don't. Most kids would do anything not to be like their parents because whatever they do is always going to be too old fashioned for their kids to follow suit.

If kids smoke, it is because from a very young age, tobacco control shoves the issue right under their noses and involves them in smoking related activity all the time. That raises their interests more than parents who smoke. They do not necessarily process the message from school smoking workshops in the way the antismokers expect.

Incidentally, I can still run, although I'm no marathon runner, and cycle, and on holiday walk for many miles. I am as fit as any almost 60 year old can be, and fitter than many others of my age who do not smoke and never have, and I am very happy with my level of fitness.

Of course as a historic child smoker I should be dead by now if just a wisp in the open air of a playground can kill a toddler stone dead from 200 ft away, but I continue to smoke because I do not believe Tobacco Control gives two hoots whether I live or die, nor would they educate me properly on the risks of lifelong smokers like myself suddenly quitting, so I do as has always served me well.

I don't chain smoke. I smoke when I want to enjoy a cigarette. As we know when our job doesn't depend on scaremongering or abusing adults who smoke, dose makes poison.

Children of course should not smoke and they don't today in the way they did in my generation but I fear the interest today's generation gains in smoking is not from smokers but anti-smokers who raise their curiosity.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 13:22 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

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