OPINION - Yes it's bad for you, but it does look great — Rishi Sunak's smoking ban is awful

 (handout channel 4)
(handout channel 4)

A rather grand lady told me once how her generation before the war used to make smoking particularly seductive: you inhaled and then gracefully exhaled down the length of your arm before finishing blowing upwards. It sounds tricky, but with the right vamp in the right ambience I think it could work.

The likelihood is that the Commons will vote to phase out smoking tomorrow, which would mean that anyone aged 14 or younger will never be able legally to buy a cigarette. That’s fine then for my 17-year old daughter, who nicks the family Davidoffs to smoke with her friends. It turns out that the allure of cigarettes for her lot is not dissimilar to that for an older generation: they’re cool.

Compare and contrast with their notional equivalents. Vapes are never cool; they have the smack of desperation about them; they signal an addict, like methadone for a heroin user. But cigarettes have the appeal of insouciance. The two cigarettes in one ashtray at the end of The Big Sleep are suggestive as nothing else would be. Or that line from These Foolish Things — “a cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces” — conjures up that evanescent thing, glamour. At the other end of the scale there was my grandfather, a muscular sailor, who smoked roll-ups from boyhood. For soldiers on a frontline, cigarettes are a necessity. David Hockney, who smokes as he works, recalls defiantly that he follows Picasso and Monet on this one.

I write as a failed smoker. Heaven knows I tried, but even not inhaling makes me cough. But I shall be sorry if the ban goes through. It is of course a pernicious and unhealthy habit, but it will remove from life an element of calculated, risk-taking pleasure. It’s an essentially Puritan impulse to ban it. And who would you prefer to channel: Winston Churchill or Rishi Sunak? Which would you prefer to smell in the air: cigar smoke, or bubblegum vapes?

Banning cigarette sales — I foresee a lively contraband market given the ban isn’t global — may make us healthier but, in diminishing our fund of risky pleasures (mine is drink), it makes for a drearier, less sociable, culture. Puritan Rishi will just make life that bit less fun.

Melanie McDonagh is an Evening Standard columnist