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Smoking: pathetic addiction or lifestyle choice?

The cover of the current edition of The Oldie features Lionel Blair.

The well-known dancer, choreographer and broadcaster turned 90 in December and last month he was awarded the title Oldie of the Year.

Many years ago I had a chance encounter with Blair (Lionel not Tony) when we shared a table while waiting for a train at Kings Cross.

Clutching a cup of coffee, he caught my eye and asked, very politely, if he could smoke. “Of course,” I said.

A number of things went through my head but I didn't want to invade his privacy so I kept quiet, finished my drink and eventually stood up to leave.

Before I hurried away however I thrust my business card into his hand. It read: 'Simon Clark, director, Forest, voice and friend of the smoker'.

The following day I contacted his agent, explained what had happened, and asked if we might interview him for the Forest magazine Free Choice. (I had the headline already: 'Blair's Britain'.)

“Sorry,” I was told. “Lionel feels guilty about smoking. He doesn't like to talk about it.”

That was 19 years ago. In 2017, discussing his health, he told the Daily Mail, “I know that I shouldn’t [smoke]” so he clearly hadn’t given up.

However, apart from being treated (successfully) for prostate cancer a decade ago, he’s remained in good health. The key to his longevity, he told the Mail, was a balanced diet.

“I eat very little red meat and I’m strict about having my five a day.”

He keeps fit by using a power plate and walking daily.

A keen tap dancer, his only niggle is that he has a weak back but admits he is fortunate not to have had a knee or hip replacement.

“My doctor has said that my spine is a bit weak because of all the dancing that I have done. But I love dancing still.”

Smoking, then, may be Lionel’s 'big vice' but it hasn't stopped him staying fit and living to a grand old age.

Sadly he's not the only smoker who feels guilty about his habit.

I first met journalist Tom Utley at a soiree sponsored by Forest and organised by Auberon Waugh at the Academy Club in Soho.

That was in 2001. Since then Tom has attended a number of Forest events and written several must read articles on the subject of the smoking ban and the supposed threat of passive smoking, which he rightly describes as 'a lie'.

See, for example, ‘I resolve not to be a shameful smoker' (2004) and 'Why my smoking habit proves you can't believe a word the b******s tell you' (2007).

On Friday, in the Daily Mail, he took aim at the proposal by Democrat politician Dr Richard Creagan to eventually prohibit the sale of tobacco in Hawaii to anyone under the age of 100.

However, as with most of Tom’s articles about smoking, it came with a caveat, the sort of self-loathing I can only put down to decades of relentless anti-smoking propaganda:

Before I end, I must make clear that if I had my time again, I would never have smoked that first cigarette five decades ago, which set me on the path to the pathetic addiction I’ve suffered ever since.

It’s a disgusting habit and there’s not a shadow of doubt that it’s very bad for us indeed (and I don’t just mean for our wallets). Though there will be no diseases in heaven’s imaginary pub, smoking causes plenty here on Earth.

So I strongly advise non-smokers to resist any temptation to take it up. But as for those of us who are hooked already, I just pray our legislators won’t pick up any ideas from Dr Creagan in Hawaii. All I can say is that if they do raise the legal smoking age to 100 any time soon, I’ll be first in the queue for fake ID.

In contrast, in the Mirror today, we got a rather different take on smoking that didn’t involve phrases like ‘disgusting habit’ or ‘pathetic addiction’:

Life coach Paul McKenna has told how close pal Simon Cowell has given up on hypnotism as a way to quit smoking – so he helps him unwind by playing Twister instead.

X Factor boss Simon, 59, has tried hypnotherapy more than once but admitted he failed hands-down.

And Paul, who has sold millions of self-help books, says he knows the music mogul too well to even try persuading him to kick the habit – because he does not really want to quit.

Paul, 55, said: “Simon will do what he wants to do and I haven’t given him any hypnotherapy to stop.

“My take on smoking is, if someone wants to smoke then it’s a lifestyle choice – the last thing I want to do is to lecture people on these things.

“Simon hasn’t asked for my help to quit, I think he’s quite happy as he is.”


As it happens, I bumped into McKenna once, several years ago, while we were waiting to be interviewed on Radio 2.

We weren’t on together because he was there to promote a new book about something else but we nevertheless had a short chat outside the studio.

Knowing he helped people stop smoking I expected a negative reaction when I told him what I did for a living but his response was consistent with what he told the Mirror.

In fact, he was extremely personable and I liked him immediately. His latest comments make me like him even more.

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Reader Comments (2)

I have no respect for the self hating smoker. I read Utley's piece about his dream pub and his prejudicial belief that only other men of his age would share that dream. Thanks, sexist.

I have smoked as long, if not longer than Utley. Hand on heart, if I had my time again, I would still enjoy every cigarette but I would have fought harder against the rise of smokerphobia that bullies smokers into hating themselves.

Smoking is not a pathetic addiction. Any smoker who wants to quit can do so easily. Millions if not billions have in the past. We all control our smoking every single day due to the harrassment we suffer. Pathetic addicts would be hiding underground, incapable of working, stealing every day to fund their habit. This does not happen to smokers. This is not how we live.

Heroin addiction is a very serious and clinical addiction which will make one beat up children or the old if desperate to fund the next fix. To compare it with smoking is dangerous and minimises the real danger of heroin use. Comparing smoking to a heroin addiction is the most misleading and dangerous message shoved into the faces of our children by publc health, who frankly, should know better. Government should stop this irresponsible message at once before it does further damage.

Kids seeing their smoker parents quit easily may make them accept and try heroin from the black market, thinking it is as easy to quit too only to find that heroin addiction is slavery that leads to death or prison.

It only takes one hit to become addicted to heroin but how many people have tried one cigarette and hated it never to have another? I know people who buy 10 cigs a year to smoke at one off events like gigs and festivals. That doesn't sound like addiction either.

The likes of Utley push the addiction myth and make it obvious they are self hating because in the vacuous and shallow world they move in, it is trendy to think that way.

Monday, February 11, 2019 at 11:19 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Yep !
I thought Utleys comments about addiction pathetic too. If he feels so he should have the balls to pack up. Don't label us as pathetic addicts though because we certainly are not !

Monday, February 11, 2019 at 16:01 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

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