From the first to the last puff

Once upon a time, I was a smoker, smoking a good (never more than 5-6 a day) number of cigarettes between 1974 and 1987. I had absolutely no qualms when I stopped, knowing fully well that stopping was the right thing to do. Never have I wanted to smoke since then, even when offered choice cigars at parties or when I saw exquisite lighters & pipes. My advice to those who have a habit – just kick it!!

My first puff was not from a cigarette, but a rolled up piece of paper. Wanting to emulate the macho smoker, the small kid that was me rolled up a piece of paper and lit it. As expected, the acrid smoke brought tears to the eyes and burned the throat. Then it was a longish kutti (thrown away stub) that was tried out by bro and me. Finally after a few months and after saving a few paise, it was a proper ‘Cool’ mentholated cigarette at the shop opposite Motilal School (close to Victoria College Palakkad). The benevolent owner of the shop wanted to make the quick buck from the students and would let us try out fags (cigarettes were called thus) in the back room.

Next experiments were with acrid ‘beedis’ that were much cheaper but tasted horrid. Eventually we got caught and caned, after which we were warned of dire consequences should the act be repeated. Thus we started trying ‘meetha paan’ till we got caught chewing it on the school corridor (subject of another blog).Growing up, our interests moved on to other matters till holiday time when Sreekumar, bro & me would buy a couple of Scissors from Kazhakootam - Chandavila and smoke it. All that was for the fun of it, the mystery & doing what we were not supposed to do.

At college I had a free run, trying Scissors, Wills, Gold flake, GF kings, Charminar, Charminar Gold, Charms, foreign smokes like 555, Rothman’s etc. My friend Soman was a funny guy, he got the idea of attaching a cheaper Charminar to a 555 filter and smoke it after the 555 was done with…There were Kerala Dinesh & Ganesh beedis as well on poorer days…Marco Polo the cigar which smelt heavenly, local cheroots or Churuts on an odd occasion.

I used to collect Newsweek advertisements of the Malboro man on horseback while at college. That was the man I wanted to look like, coupled with western novels from L’armor, this was the macho image that appealed. Little did we know at that time, the Malboro man’s real story

For a while there was the Capstan brand which I tried, once I tried an ‘India kings’ premium cigarette, but I always recalled Eacharan our farming supervisor smoking the ‘Passing show’ that had a filter like band at the bottom, and then there was Panama. And there were strange brands like Abdullah #7 that I have never seen.

Once I started working, it was Wills Navy cut (made for each other) mainly till I got to Bombay and we discovered the Four square brand. There I stopped smoking for a while, smoking only an occasional brown ‘Chancellor’ cigarillo or a Rothman’s after lunch. It was around 1982, that Rothmans started local manufacturing from Calcutta, I believe.
In Saudi I moved from Salem Mentholated to Dunhill to State express 555 to Benson & Hedges, then Cartier and finally Silk cut. I was a light smoker though, not more than 5 a day even in those years. I never tried the Malboro brands that used toasted tobacco. Later, I tried rolling fags using cigarette paper, that was cool, but the fags looked like joints, which were very dangerous things to have in Saudi, so stopped it quickly. Brands I would have liked to try – Camels & Gauloise…made famous in books and of course a Cuban cigar!!

Then it was pipe smoking triggered by the Sherlock Holmes books. That was cool. I purchased a pipe, the pipe cleaner etc, but it was all too difficult to keep the pipe going. Secondly I thought I looked ridiculous and too silly holding pipes, so I smoked it only at home with a sniggering better half. Fortunately there were no smoke alarms in those houses, or they’d have gone off…

Lighters – Ah! There was a time I’d have done anything to get a Ronson gas lighter that had the flint flicked when you pressed the side. I found one eventually while at Saudi. For awhile it was the love of those exquisite gas lighters like Zippo & Ronson that kept my habit going.. History of Ronson.

At that time, my elder son started getting sick (lung infections) frequently & the doctor suggested that it could be due to allergies such as cigarette smoke. I stopped smoking right then, on a fine bright summer day in 1987, and never looked back…

Meetings in Turkey were the toughest, everybody smoked out there and the rooms were full of smoke that you peered through. Sometimes it was the local brands and of course the brand camel, which smelt terrible…

I hear Malboro has come to India. So also brands like red & white, Cavenders, Tipper & white etc…Scissors I guess still rules in Kerala where the word ‘cigarette’ is synonymous with ‘scissors’ the brand. That is brand recognition for you!!!

While on the subject, it is always interesting to bring up the fabled legend that the best Cuban cigars are rolled on the inside of a virgin Cuban girls thighs – Today visitors are told jokingly by factories that they don’t do it anymore since there are no virgins around. In reality, Cigars & virgin thighs - South African cigar expert Theo Rudman addresses this hoary old legend in his on-line magazine. “It is a lovely idea,” he writes, “but alas is a legend that has persisted since the mid-forties, when a visiting journalist saw tobacco leaves being sorted and graded by women who placed the respective piles on their laps.” The visitor apparently took some imaginative journalistic license when he later wrote that Havanas were rolled on the thighs of virgins. Certainly, this story hasn’t hurt the mystique-laden marketing of Habanos. “Yes, they would stretch the leaves on their uncovered skin, but to roll a cigar on one’s leg - you cannot do that,” Borhani says with a snicker. “I challenge anyone - man or woman - to put bunched tobacco on their thigh and roll a successful cigar.”

With declining markets in the West, and 50 per cent of India's population under the age of 25, the major tobacco companies are increasingly targeting India as their new growth market. 250 million Indians use tobacco, and the market's already worth a massive $5 billion. India’s cigarette market of 105 billion sticks a year is relatively small compared to China; 82% of India’s tobacco is consumed in the form of beedis. However, the market is still attractive to multinationals, given its size (200 million smokers) and growth potential. The Big Three in India are ITC (65% of the market), Vizir Sultan Tobacco and Godfrey Philips. Philip Morris already owns 36% of Godfrey Philips, while BAT has 33% of ITC.

So there it was, a little story on smoking – Once again, anybody who is still smoking – Kick the habit, It is not worth it..
Other related references
Blog that covers a number of nostalgic ads..
John Grisham’s book – Runaway jury is a superb thriller involving the Tobacco industry.
A review on the Malboro man.
Soon Indian warnings on cigarette packs will be gory
Cig pack pics - various sites ack with thanks


narendra shenoy said…
I used to smoke too. Not too many. 6-8 a day. Gave up about 4 years ago, just like that. Before that I tried everything to give up smoking - tried tapering it off. didnt work. Tried nicotine patches. Didn't work. Homeopathic medicine - nope.

Going cold turkey's the only way.

Great post! Brought back memories.
Indrani said…
I too tried smoking once... it was horrible experience, made me wonder how men take puffs after puffs.
Jo said…
Good post Maddy. I tried smoking when I was in college (for that 'macho' thing) but never found any fun in it and quit soon after. :-)
Smoking was so very macho - which is why I think guys took to it in a big way - and the ads like the Marlboro Man, only helped the image ...

It is the worst thing one can be addicted to, along with alcohol and drugs. In India there is a drive against smoking in public places - in fact it is an offence to smoke in hospitals, roads and various other public spaces. I appreciate Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss,our Minister of Health for fighting for bringing this about.

Good job you dropped the habit.

Good writing - non-judgemental.
Nice post.
I never smoked, but still liked the post.

kallu said…
:-)))) Maddy to read your history . Boys seem so much more adventurous in trying out the forbidden.
Terrific you just cut the habit. Needs a lot of willpower? do you feel healthier now?
Ajith said…

Nice post, but looked more like a promotion for cigarettes even though u have advised readers to kick the habit. Dr Ramadoss might issue a warning to u!
Maddy said…
Thanks Narendra, Indrani, Joe, Raji, Nikhil & Kallu and Ajith..

I stopped smoking 21 years ago... In jest, I definitely do not feel healthier compared to what I was 21 years ago... but actually Kallu, on the other hand, i do remember that when i stopped, i could smell and taste things better..and I had better stamina playing tennis..It did not take great effort nor did i want to go back ( that would not be right - there are times when i have thought about a smoke - like when i was completely bored and alone)

This was a nostalgia trip and thus all the pics of some brands never to be seen again..
Ashvin said…
Pandit Motilal Memorial Government Model Boy's High School..... Maddy, you are my super senior :-)

and I too smoked a pipe for a few years just to show off (probably because my father used to smoke one....) the whole thing became very laborious so was glad to give it up....
Anonymous said…
The best Havanas are rolled by portly matrons in Tiruchirappalli. They might, for all you know, be virgins!
gauri said…
A lot of people I know just decided while smoking that that would be the last cigarette - and never looked back.

I tried a puff once from my BIL's cigarette, just to see what the noise was about. Didn't go into a coughing fit or anything, but hated everything about it - it was like eating a Diwali cracker.

Why do people smoke?! I mean, health & lung cancer etc. apart, what's the good part?

Very interesting post. Had never heard of Scissors - I'm sure it's now a standing joke/slang for smoking in Kerala?

Bhavika said…
Thats a nice chronicle of your experience with tobacco...sum of the brands i havent even heard

The reason for contacting you is to get your opinion about tobacco in India. The use of tobacco in India has been quite rampant, its going to kill over 1 million people by 2010 in India as you might be aware. So we have a chance to do something about it since the World Conference on Tobacco or Health is going to take place in Mumbai next month.

India Matters gives you the platform to speak your mind on this issue, whether it is for it or against, we want to know what the youth thinks about tobacco usage, policies, the ban, gutkha, children getting addicted to tobacco etc. I am doing this on behalf of Salaam Bombay, the NGO that fights for tobacco addiction in children.

Your opinion will be put forward to the policy makers during the event by Salaam Bombay, since they are the organisers of this event. It will be published on India Matters, Opinions with a link to your site or blog. You can have a look at some of the opinions posted as well.

Hoping to hear from you on this.
Anonymous said…
With declining markets in the West, and 50 per cent of India's population under the age of 25, the major tobacco companies are increasingly targeting India as their new growth market.

What you said [above] is the most chilling fact of them all. Fortunately I have never tried it in my life [even though I was the one who had to run to the local murukkan kada to buy Wills for my Dad!]and consider myself lucky. I lost my brother-in-law [a doctor]last year at the age of 35 of a massive heart attack and the only risk factor he had was heavy cigarette smoking.
So my piece of advice to all the young Indians reading this blog is-Dont even try,dont let your valuable life go up in flames [or fumes]!

Happy Kitten said…
This is the second attempt to post a comment... the ISP out here was having problems..

Your email confirms that smoking of actors on screen and specific advertisements lures people to the bad habit and the worst one they say.. but I admire those who have given it up.. i m sure it was not an easy feat since I am living with a smoker who has tried it himself..

Read that Pres Obama himself is facing tough times due to his pledge to give up smoking.. but then I dont hear any of those cig companies facing financial problems... well.. due to tension it must be the cig's which continues to enjoy good sales.. I really wish, out of frustration Obama does somthing drastic as banning cig companies! He can start it and the rest of the world can join as usual.. but then does Obama has it in him to stop it?

whatever.. I wish the worst for these companies :)
Jazz said…
Hi, I came across your post as I was googling to find out about available brands to smoke...At 23 I have not started smoking but considering beginning it....I liked your article, It seems honest....
Maddy said…
Jazz - DO NOT if you are not smoking already, it is just not worth it. Google around and you will see the amount of poisons in cigarettes . Had that awareness been there decades ago, it would not have become a fad..