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The manufacturer’s instructions

Headshot of Councillor Chris Kennedy
by Chris Kennedy | Opinion

27 November 2023

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4 cigarettes in a pile

Councillor Chris Kennedy writes about his experiences of smoking, and why he hopes the UK Government keep their promise to raise the minimum age of sale of tobacco.

The character I was going to be playing smoked. So, being the aspiring actor that I was, I took the “method acting” approach and started smoking in order to play the part better. After all, I was strong and would simply stop smoking once the play was over.

I was nineteen when I played that part. I was thirty-five when I put out the last cigarette I ever smoked. 

There were no health warnings on the packets in those days and you could smoke on the top floor of the bus, on the tube and even at the back of the aeroplane. So it couldn’t be that bad for you, could it?

The people I worked with who smoked told me which brand to choose and I recognised it from the logos on the toy racing cars I had played with as a child. So, it definitely couldn’t be that bad if their names were on toys. 

After the play was over, I forgot that I was going to stop. I forgot all the way through university too, but I didn’t need to smoke and I could stop whenever I wanted.

One summer when I had run out of money, I remember going round the ashtrays in the student common room late at night, collecting cigarette butts to put the tobacco from them into a rolling paper to make my last smoke before going to bed. Not that I needed to smoke, I could stop whenever I wanted. 

New Year’s Day 1992 I stopped. For about 16 hours. Probably, just a bad idea to try quitting on a hangover. It took me another ten years to finally stop.

I was proud and stupid, so I never asked for help. I read a book on how to stop smoking twice. I would stop for three days or three weeks, even three months on one occasion!

I even once tried stopping by reducing by one the number of cigarettes I smoked each day, but I kept borrowing cigarettes from the future and the maths got too complicated so that didn’t work either. 

It was the constant sore throat that got to me in the end. Smoking hurt, so maybe it wasn’t as harmless as I thought.

It was the fairly obvious messaging from my own body that finally made me smoke my last cigarette. I had to have a stent put in my heart five years ago. One of my main coronary arteries was three quarters blocked. Smoking would have contributed to that the consultant said. So, it was bad for me. Nowadays, every sore throat and every cough, every pain in my lungs makes me wonder if I did something worse to my body. 

You can’t smoke in nearly as many places now and advertising tobacco is banned in the UK, but you can still buy it.

My eldest child is still younger than I was when I started smoking and it’s still legal for him to be sold a product, which will reduce his health, his wealth, his life-expectancy and will more likely than not be the cause of his death. I don’t want him, or anybody else’s child, to be exposed to that.  

I hope the government keeps their promise and raises the minimum age of sale until it is no longer legal to be sold something that, when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions, will probably kill you. 

Chris’ story shows how difficult it can be to quit smoking. Most people who smoke want to quit and regret ever starting, but smoking is an addiction and people need support to stop. That’s why we welcome the recent increase in UK Government funding for stop smoking services and public health campaigns in England.  

Cancer Research UK’s Manifesto for Cancer Research and Care, to be published tomorrow, lays out that we want to see this funding continue for the duration of the next Parliament and until we reach smokefree across all socio-economic groups. 

We also support the proposed legislation by the Prime Minister to raise the age of sale of tobacco to prevent young people from ever starting smoking in the first place. If implemented, this could help prevent a potential lifetime of addiction, ill health, and disease.  

Want to see this proposed legislation become a reality? You can help by emailing your MP. MPs will be voting on this legislation, so every email sent helps to show your support and encourages them to vote in favour. It only takes a few minutes. Let’s make history, together.

Headshot of Councillor Chris Kennedy

Councillor Chris Kennedy

About the author

Councillor Chris Kennedy is Cabinet Member for Health, Adult Social Care, Voluntary Sector and Culture for the London Borough of Hackney