Confessions logo

A Grubby Little Pastime

Looking back on my time as a smoker

By Joe YoungPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
Top Story - June 2024
. . . disgusting dish of dumps (My own image)

When the then chancellor Gordon Brown raised the price of ten cigarettes to £1.30 in his 1998 budget statement, young Joseph drew a line in the sand and said no more. Being an old hand at quitting, I expected this latest attempt to fail like all the others, as cravings would pick at my resolve like vultures pick at carrion until I caved in and grabbed the Zippo.

But I got through that first day, aided by a robust hangover and a packet of Jolly Ranchers hard candy. I kept it up, and smoke-free days turned into weeks, months and then years. Here we are, a quarter of a century later, and I’m still freed from the weed, as they say. Acknowledgment of my efforts came during a medical check-up a few years ago, when, after sounding my chest, the doctor’s proclamation was clear as a bell.

If Rishi Sunak succeeds with his plan to introduce a bill that would see UK residents born after 2009 banned from buying cigarettes, a whole generation of smoke-free children will grow up, and my doctor’s campanology analogy will be the stock response to a going over with the stethoscope.

A born-again-breather

Aside from the substantial health and financial benefits of quitting smoking, when reflecting on my former habit through the eyes and lungs of a born-again-breather, I realised what a grubby little pastime smoking is. What seemed perfectly normal at the time now raises the question, what was I thinking?

Both of my parents smoked, and my brothers and I were children at a time when passive smoking wasn’t a recognised thing. We would sit as a family watching television in a sealed room, during which time our skin absorbed more smoke than a kipper, and our lungs received a daily dose of second-hand nicotine. When my mother took my younger brother to the doctor’s with what she suspected was croup, she was surprised to learn that he was displaying the early signs of a smoker’s cough. My older brother’s first words are reputed to have been would someone open a fucking window, and we had a cat that barked.

On top of growing up in an environment where smoking was the norm, my childhood came during the age of tobacco ads on TV, and sweet versions of tobacco products filled the glass display counter at the corner shop. There were chocolate cigars for toffs, candy cigarettes or licorice pipes for the urchins, and even coconut-flavoured sweet tobacco. With such temptation around me, you may find it surprising that I didn’t succumb to the inevitable until I was fifteen.

Smoke rings

My motivation for taking up smoking was neither the need for a physical stimulant nor a desire to appear sophisticated. When I saw girls watching agog as my school friend Michael blew smoke rings at the youth club, I wanted a piece of that action. During the following eighteen years, I puffed away on about twenty cigarettes a day until that venture came to the abrupt halt described above.

Late autumn saw an annual event in our living room as spectacular as a lunar eclipse or a solstice sunrise at Stonehenge. In the run-up to Christmas, my parents gave the walls a fresh lick of paint, and during that process, we gathered as a family to witness the taking down of the clock.

The clock was a circular affair that hung above the television on a wall in an alcove. Over the previous year, smoke exhaled by family members watching TV had slowly, imperceptibly darkened the cream-coloured woodchip wallpaper by several shades, while the paper behind the clock had been protected and remained almost pristine.

Every year, there were gasps of astonishment when my mother removed the clock to reveal a mural of a brilliant full moon glowing in a deep sepia sky. Our parents advised us not to stare at the spectacle for too long, and one year, the glowing disc was so bright it was only safe to view it through dark glasses.

Candlewick counterpane

As children, my brothers and I went to our gran’s for tea every Sunday. After eating, we climbed the stairs to wake Grandad from his post-Sunday-lunch nap. That he smoked in bed was obvious, as the yellow Candlewick counterpane was spotted with black burn marks caused when he fell asleep with a lit cigarette. Smoking in bed was common back then, and a lack of restrictions saw people lighting up in cinemas, restaurants, offices, and even on TV chat shows.

One of the worst aspects of the smoking habit is that disgusting dish of dumps, the ashtray. Posh Hyacinth Bucket types would clean up after each cigarette, while less houseproud folk wouldn’t empty the darn thing until the dog-ends had piled up like Ferrero Rocher at the ambassador’s party.

And it is within the depths of that vile vessel that I came to the lowest ebb of my smoking career, an act so shameful I can barely bring myself to divulge it. On several occasions, desperation for nicotine drove me to break up dog-ends to retrieve the tobacco therein and roll new cigarettes. Even at the time, I felt disgusted that I was scrabbling in dirty ashtrays to get my fix. Yet, such is nicotine’s powerful grip, gasping friends asked me to roll them cigarettes too. The resulting smoke tasted lousy, but it achieved the objective of nullifying our cravings. I was getting a reputation as the doyen of the dog end, and it was a title I had to ditch.

I don’t have much time for politicians of any stripe, but I tip my hat to Gordon Brown, whose price hike on tobacco products that day provided the impetus for me to kick that costly, unhealthy, and downright disgusting habit for good and all.

Teenage years

About the Creator

Joe Young

Blogger and freelance writer from the north-east coast of England

Enjoyed the story?
Support the Creator.

Subscribe for free to receive all their stories in your feed. You could also pledge your support or give them a one-off tip, letting them know you appreciate their work.

Subscribe For Free

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments (7)

  • Dr. Jason Benskin2 months ago

    Congrats on top story

  • Esala Gunathilake2 months ago

    Congrats on your top story.

  • Anu Mehjabin2 months ago

    Breaking free from smoking's grasp is no small feat. Your journey inspires others to embrace healthier habits. Thank you for sharing your triumph over adversity. And congrats on your top story🎉

  • D. J. Reddall2 months ago

    Congratulations for a richly merited TS; having given up the drink, I must now conquer nicotine, and become a complete bore. Your excellent story provided an additional push in that direction, for which I am grateful.

  • Rachel Deeming2 months ago

    Excellent, Joe. I chuckled my way through this. Loved all the popular references too. I too have scrabbled around in the dogends although I never achieved doyen status. As an asthmatic too, you have to wonder where the sense was in taking up a habit that would kill me more quickly than the average smoker but I blame it on my Welsh lineage and the need to see, like a dragon, smoke coming out of my nostrils.

  • Christy Munson2 months ago


  • shanmuga priya2 months ago

    Congratulations 🎉....

Joe YoungWritten by Joe Young

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.