How to give up giving up smoking

Last updated at 09:53 10 January 2005

Only ten days into the new year and already they're falling like snowflakes. The gutters are clogged with them.

Fag-ends, that is. The residue of all those broken resolutions to give up smoking.

You're going to give up when? As soon as you've finished that packet of 20. Forget it. Pull the other one. Save your breath for blowing out Swan Vestas.

As I remind my readers once every five years or so, and as the time has already come to remind them again - there is only one way to give up smoking. And that is not to give up smoking.

Or to put it another way - to give up giving up smoking.

From the blank stares I am getting, I perceive that the recipe is due for a re-run.

This is what you do. In the first place, you catch flu. Or if that can't be arranged at short notice, at the least a heavy cold.

Now one of the few upsides about a bout of flu, or a heavy cold if you prefer it, is that it puts you off smoking until you are able to breathe again. But it does not diminish the craving. So you lie there coughing and snorting and sipping Lucozade and longing for a fag.

Which brings us to Step Two of the not giving up smoking programme. You choose a suitable date for resuming the habit. I recall when I gave up giving up smoking some 30-odd years ago, I selected my birthday, February 6.

But you can choose any old date you want. February 8, Russian writer Alexander Pushkin killed in a duel. February 10, Harold Macmillan born. February 13, Henry VIII's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, beheaded. February 18, Pilgrim's Progress published.

Or if you want your granny's birthday, your wedding anniversary, or the day the cat had kittens, be my guest.

Now we come to the crux of the thing. Having selected your red letter day - let's say it's February 14, to mark the St Valentine's Day Massacre - you put off taking up smoking again until, perhaps, February 22, George Washington's birthday. It's only just over a week, after all, so what difference does it make?

The difference it makes is that it is beginning to dawn on you by now that you lack the willpower to start smoking again. You seriously mean to - say February 28, invention of the Dunlop tyre - but before you know it, it's Michelangelo's birthday, March 6. And still you can't be bothered to light up.

You see what happened, don't you? For most of your adult life you've been trying to give up smoking - but you've lacked the willpower to do it. Now the cheroot is under the other foot. You lack the willpower to start up again.

I am so weak-willed that I have not been able to force myself to resume smoking since I was in my late 30s.

But I have never given up trying. How about All Fool's Day? And this time I really mean it.

Time off

Sooner or later Foreign Secretary Jack Straw - or preferably Prime Minister Tony Blair, who gives us his twopenn'orth today - is going to have to step around to the Foreign Office and box a few ears.

Every day there is a new story about the inefficiency, indolence and ineptitude of our FO team in Thailand.

Yesterday there were complaints that the Blair government ignored warnings faxed to it that it was losing the chance to identify British victims after the tsunami disaster.

The sweet FO's response was to concede that there were "lessons to be learned": "We did receive the fax and it made valid points and it's something for us to look at in the future..."

Ah, the future - how far it is. Far enough away for heads that should be rolling not to roll. Far enough for reputations to be saved, honours to be earned - and "lessons to be learned".

Until next time.

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