Smoking has always been part of my life. I’ve never known a time when at least one person close to me wasn’t puffing away.
Indeed, some of my earliest memories involve cigarettes.
I recall being in a bunk bed, aged maybe eight or nine, in a B&B at Rhyl.
I could hear my younger brother snoring away in the bottom bunk.
After a day flitting between the beach and our hired chalet, we’d just walked home along the front and shared a cone of chips.
It was the end of a top day for a lad from Sneyd Green.
In the darkness, before I drifted off to sleep, I would watch the tiny pin pricks of red light – emanating from my dad’s fags – flare as he inhaled and then fade away.
When the tiny light died I knew it was time to go to sleep.
Mum tells me she used to smoke too but stopped when she fell pregnant with me.
Just like that. No help. No patches. No counselling. She just quit.
My brother Matthew started smoking when he was at school.
As an asthmatic whose smoker grandad died after being diagnosed with cancer I was, of course, appalled.
I immediately seized the moral high ground – constantly warning him of the dangers and nagging him to within an inch of his life to stop the filthy habit.
Not that it made a scrap of difference. He’s still smoking now.
You see, I’ve learned the hard way that emotional blackmail against smokers simply doesn’t work.
They either want to stop or, more often than not, they don’t.
Take my friend Martin, for example.
He’s tried to give up smoking more times than I’ve tried dieting – which is a lot.
You can always tell when he’s trying to give up because, by his own admission, he’s a miserable, short-tempered git who also just happens to eat for Scotland.
Martin’s actually quit half a dozen times – sometimes for several months.
Then, inexplicably, he’ll ‘fall off the wagon’ – as he puts it – because he will be out for a drink or it’s a special occasion or because he’s stressed about work.
Or because it is a day of the week ending in the letter ‘y’.
I used to nag him too. Now I just shrug my shoulders and wish him all the best for his next attempt.
Another thing I’ve learned is that smokers, nowadays, know damn well what the dangers are.
They know how expensive it is and how much money they could be saving.
They also know it makes their fingers turn brown and it makes them smell.
The trouble is that whatever they get from smoking outweighs the well-documented disadvantages and thus they simply can’t break the habit.
It is their right, after all – as my former Sentinel columnist colleague Peter Bossley would argue.
Then again, Pete was very right-on in his views and balked against any infringement of civil liberties – from either the ‘Nanny State’ or M Tideswell Esquire.
For many people, he used to say, smoking was one of life’s few pleasures.
They should get out more, I would reply.
The fact that 500 people a year from Stoke-on-Trent die of smoking-related illnesses wouldn’t have swayed Peter.
The shameful statistic that around 54,000 adults – about one in three over-18s in the Potteries – are smokers wouldn’t have mattered either.
That’s because, to some people, having the right to smoke is more important than any consequences.
Not to me, it isn’t.
As someone who has never even had a drag, I’d have done a cartwheel, if I could have, when the ban on smoking in public places became law.
What’s more, I really hope the current campaign to encourage people in the city to give up is a roaring success.
On Saturday my dad was 64. He’s a fortnight away from retirement and, hopefully, plenty of golf and time with his grandchildren.
More importantly, after smoking for almost half a century, he’s just quit – with a bit of willpower and the help of some NHS tablets.
I don’t care why he’s given up. I’m just glad that he has.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s one down and two to go.