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Barrie Hudson column: Light up the cringe factor
THERE was worrying news from Cancer Research UK the other day.
According to the charity, 58 Wiltshire children aged 11 to 15 start smoking each month.
This is a bad thing. Nobody’s health ever benefits from the habit – or at least , nobody’s apart from those vehement anti-smokers who get a cardio workout from waving their arms around every time someone lights up.
Attempts to deter young people from smoking are a bit hit and miss because they think they’re immortal. In fact, thinking they’re immortal is as much a part of the job description as zits, pretending not to like visiting gran’s house and storming upstairs in a huff after yelling: “I hate you!”
You can’t tell them the Reaper will be after them because they won’t start believing in the Reaper until middle age. That’s when he’ll turn up like an unwelcome salesman in their social circle, or else introduce himself personally with a friendly warning tweak of the giblets as they run for a bus.
Having photos of hideous symptoms on fag packets doesn’t work either, because the young people either ignore them completely or collect them as they would stamps or football cards, saying things like: “Swap you a manky organ in a jar for a weird pink thing with its own central nervous system.”
Hiding the cigarettes behind sliding doors in the shops is another thing that doesn’t work, what with young people not being complete and utter idiots. Still, it gives politicians the opportunity to pretend they’re doing something useful while keeping the tobacco firms happy and the duty rolling in.
No, I think we need to be a bit more creative and appeal to the strongest emotion known to adolescents: embarrassment.
Let’s recruit an elite, secret group of 40-and-50-something smokers to behave in the most embarrassing way possible around young people.
The men would be dressed head-to-toe in beige and have combovers, while the women would be issued with garments about nine sizes too small and intended for wearers about 35 years younger.
It would be the duty of these people to turn up at any place where young people gather, from family wedding receptions to open air concerts, and do the most embarrassing things imaginable.
They’d dance enthusiastically and very badly to tracks from the latest top 20, for example, perhaps singing the lyrics at top volume and getting them all wrong. Better yet, they could produce glo-sticks and whistles and wave their arms in the air, pausing for regular smoke breaks.
They’d be sure to pepper their conversation with words such as ‘uncool’, ‘trendy’ and others not heard in any self-respecting young person’s vocabulary for years.
At family functions the smokers would pretend to be long-lost aunts and uncles, and if the embarrassing dancing didn’t work they’d resort to other tactics guaranteed to revolt anybody under the age of 18, such as slow-dancing with each other, passionately kissing, holding hands and generally being affectionate.
With parents’ permission, they might ask older teens: “So, when are you going to get married and give your mum and dad some grandchildren?” During lulls in the music, the volunteers would make sure they each had a cigarette on the go while conversing loudly about things like medicated lavatory paper, constipation remedies and which devices best prevented unfortunate ‘accidents’ during sneezing fits.
Let’s fix it so that nobody aged under 18 can even see a cigarette without being reminded of utter mortification.
Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.
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