The first smoke I ever had was a Gallaher Blues untipped . My father smoked them back in the 1950’s and 1960’s when smoking was really good for you and film stars and pop stars chuffed away with great gusto and abandon. They were advertised everywhere and every schoolboy worth his salt had to learn how to drag deeply at his fag in the toilets at school .The toilets were outside so there was no real problem with authority figures policing the habit. There was always a blue cloud hovering over the stalls. You had to learn too how to “snig” your treasured fags several times for further enjoyment later on. You made them last as long as possible. That first illicit cigarette had been surreptitiously purloined from my father’s ashtray. He would leave a series of long butts there. Some of them would be inches long. Gallaher Blues were a “real” cigarette. No prissy filters there. Just full-throated tarry pleasure.Resplendent with the flavour of the Deep South of Old Virginie. Real working men like my father smoked them. Of course any eleven year -old boy would want a little of that action.
I lit up the contraband in my bedroom and was immediately surprised at the amount of smoke the lit cigarette produced in my little room . The fact that it was a “second -timer” added to the potency and depth of the issuing clouds. The smoke immediately hit the back of my throat and I felt the colour draining out of my face . I scrambled to open the window and dispose of the evidence but there was no hiding the dirty deed from my mother’s nose. She knew the house wasn’t on fire . She knew that smell too and my father wasn’t at home. “Your father will talk to you later “, was all she said , but she didn’t need to say another word . I would never smoke another cigarette…ever again…. in my life if it made you feel as sick as this. I kept that promise for at least another two or three years from whence I merrily chuffed away until my mid-thirties.
I’ve just heard on the TV news that the Gallaher factory is about to close forever. That’ll be about 900 wage packets going out of the local economy and all the associated repercussions. I’ve been in that position before in my life and I thought that it was the end of the world too. Life goes on though .The factory will close and will probably be turned into small work units or somesuch. Ian Paisley the local politician for the area made some noises about the effects it would have on his constituents but he was as helpless as everyone else . People in Nornneverland are more interested in fighting each other about trivialities to think of how vulnerable they are to a world economy which only values the cheapest labour it can find. Those cigarettes will be made elsewhere in the world , possibly in some place like Poland or Romania where a lot of our recent immigrant arrivals have fled from originally.Cigarettes no longer have the film-star glamour that was once attached to them and they will gradually become a thing from a long -ago time in Ireland and the UK. They’ll be as rare as snuff in another generation.
.They are still popular throughout the world but at times like this I’m glad I managed to quit them some thirty years ago. It’s not as if we don’t know now that they are more dangerous than heroin. The people working , manufacturing them, to pay their mortgage, buy their groceries or pay their school bills don’t want to hear that. Mr Paisley, for all his sanctimony and outrage , doesn’t want to hear it either. As long as it’s good for the local economy none of us want to hear that. It’s the truth though.