I am one of those annoying people who can smoke 20 cigarettes in one evening and then not smoke anything for three months. Which means that I am a bummer of cigarettes. This is not nearly as bad as it sounds because if I’m well into some liquid refreshment of an alcoholic nature and decide that a cigarette is exactly what is needed to give me a full blown hangover then I am generous, as all drunks tend to be. I’ll scrounge a couple of ciggies and then I’ll buy 20 and give the packet to the donor. Throughout the evening I might smoke five more but the chances are that the original donor will make a five fold return on the original investment. So if you’re a smoker and you see me bumming ciggies then I am precisely the sort of person you need to meet.
I’ve never been a regular smoker and, despite the publicity shots of me with a cigar, I only light up one of Havana’s finest once every two weeks on average. I do enjoy a good cigar but it’s an expensive and time consuming pleasure so I usually light up on a Saturday while I am reading the FT Weekend. In winter I will light a pipe full of aromatic tobacco and puff away happily while reading a book but other than that I am a non smoker. I can quite happily sit through a meal at a restaurant without feeling the need to light up but I have friends who are not so fortunate. They get fidgety between courses and in the olden days that would have been fine. The smokers would have been down one end of the table and they would have lit up and puffed away without disturbing the non smokers. That was until some damn fool health minister decided that passive smoking was a greater health risk in SA than AIDS or driving and exiled smokers. So now your convivial dinner party gets broken up at regular intervals because the smokers want to go and puff. You’re halfway through a very long Tiger Woods shaggy dog story and the smokers all leave to get a nicotine fix before the main course arrives.
My favourite steakhouse is The Grillhouse in Rosebank Firs and I hosted a longish lunch there last September in a private room. When the plates had been cleared away we lit cigars and ordered more drink and the conversation sparkled. Now, under the new draconian laws, I would have to excuse myself and go and stand a safe distance from a building to enjoy a cigar. Bang goes the conviviality of the lunch and, since I will be away for at least 45 minutes smoking a cigar, bang go the orders for Irish coffees all round.
Now I realise that there will be many of you out there who are non smokers and believe that smokers should be treated like pariahs. But let me put it to you this way. I may not like very obese people but I don’t insist on them being banned from restaurants because the sight of them swallowing half a pig will spoil my meal. So surely we could come to some arrangement and allow smokers to enjoy their filthy pleasures without having to stand outside the door like errant schoolkids. Particularly as we are hosting the World Cup and many of our foreign visitors will want to smoke. And if you’ve ever told a drunken football fan to put his cigarette out you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.