Smoking - Chris Snuggs (1958 to 1964)

I always thought even from pre-WHS days that smoking was one of the most stupid things you do to your body. Publicity and information about the practice were not what they became later, when firstly advertising smoking and then more recently smoking in public places were eventually banned, but even so you did not need to be a rocket scientist to understand how idiotic it was to smoke. Most of us born in or just after the WWII years had open fires of some sort at home, and you could see what the smoke did to the bricks over time.T hough one had never seen the inside of a pair of human lungs, one was obviously aware of how delicate the tissue was.

And then one knew smokers: often quite unwell, coughing, smelly; many professing a desire even in the 50s to want to give up - but they obviously couldn't, which taught even a young kid that it was addictive. Later, I read somewhere that nicotine is more addictive than heroin ...

AND of course most of us played rugby, and it was blindingly obvious even then that smoking was bad for fitness.

And what was the POINT? Some kind of "high"? I was never tempted to find out, any more than I was later to experiment with drugs of any kind. Holier-than-thou? If you like, but it is the TRUTH; not sure if the truth CAN be holier-than-thou: the Truth just IS, though each of us in some areas has his own version of the Truth. I have noticed in recent years that if one's own version of the Truth differs too much from the received one (as we used to say before the expression 'Politically Correct' appeared) then one is liable to be excoriated and even banned from particular groups. (All read "1984", have we?)

As it happens , I think that my opinion was by and large shared by most of my peers - albeit not so strongly perhaps. I don't remember any of them smoking, but on the other hand one knew of older boys who smoked, sneaking off to various places to light up, though they naturally didn't broadcast the fact much. I suppose it was a bit like homosexuality in those days: something one kept to oneself and the like-minded .....

As for WHS, several questions come to mind:

  • What were the penalties for being found smoking or in the possession of fags: an automatic caning; a letter to parents; detention; lines or even expulsion?
  • Were we even formally TOLD that smoking was banned, and if so when and how?
  • Indeed, WERE there any formal rules ever written down anywhere? I don't remember seeing any.
  • There were obviously things we were and weren't allowed to do, but if they were not written down, HOW did we find out about them? Was it ALL done verbally and informally? Or mostly by old-fashioned COMMONSENSE?

Dennis Alexander: Chris I agree with your comments though I did smoke at school and until the definitive scientific paper proving it killed you was published in 1968 when I stopped. When Leslie Johnson was acting headmaster (1961-62?) he put in place three stages for boys smoking:

  1. a warning
  2. a caning and letter to parents
  3. expulsion

Me, Brian Cooper and Jim Frost were all caught smoking (we weren't so much caught as Jim Frost confessed) and were all caned by Derek Thornbery despite my protests that we should only be warned! Strangely, the penalty for drinking was immediate expulsion even for those over 18. In 1964 the 2nd year sixth form was taken to the theatre by Patrick Hutton and just about everyone had a drink at the interval. Amazingly, Jim Frost and I only had coffee because I was very uneasy about the situation. On the coach Hutton asked everyone who had had a drink to tell him. Jim Frost and I spent some hours when we got back discussing who would be Head Boy etc when everyone in the sixth form was expelled. However, all those who drank just got a warning - never was any justice at WHS!

Chris Snuggs: Gold-dust "from-the-horse's-mouth" historical evidence! I had no idea (or had forgotten) that Johnston had that regime in place. Your account reminds me again of how annoying arbitrariness is in punishments. Johnston had a regime in place but Doc T did not adhere to it, so was it purely LJ's method? If so, why did teachers have (and why were they allowed to have) their OWN response to these misdemeanors? Surely there should have been a clear and recognized school-wide punishment system in place? Punishments should be (have been) consistent from one teacher to another.

Chris Snuggs: I can't KNOW what teachers at WHS thought about smoking and drinking, but I can assume certain things based on evidence, commonsense, logic and having been a teacher myself since I graduated in 1971. I assume that they were extremely concerned about boys' safety because:

  • that would be professional, moral and right
  • they were in loco parentis, an expression that trips off the tongue quite easily but is actually taken extremely seriously by most teachers
  • at a basic level they would not like to find themselves having to explain a boy's injury, death or exposure to harmful substances in front of an angry parent - or indeed governor

And in particular for the Head I assume that apart from the above-mentioned considerations the worst nightmare would be a national press headline: "Heavily-subsidized state school rife with drink and fags"

As for drugs, I am realizing that lots went on at WHS that I didn't know about but I do believe that the use of drugs apart from cigarettes and alcohol was pretty much non-existent in my time - the situation thereafter being an unknown, however.

I became even more strongly anti-smoking some years after leaving WHS when two relatives I was very close to died of cancer which we assumed was closely-related to their smoking - which of course they were responsible for but which someone or some organization had encouraged them to do.

I find a difference between smoking and alcohol-consumption: both are harmful to the body, but ANY degree of smoking is harmful (and can easily lead to addiction AND IMMENSE DAMAGE) whereas moderate alcohol consumption is far less so. In either case (and in the case of anything else - you can die from drinking too much water) excessive use is dangerous, and once hooked on a drug it is hard to get off it. I have difficulty understanding how any decent person could work for a tobacco company knowing the harm it does, though the extent of that harm has become fully clear in recent years. My parents both smoked, and started during the war. My Dad told me that cigarettes were much easier to get than fresh fruit for a start.

Graham Forster: When I see how people struggle to give it up I am eternally grateful that I hated the smell of smoking when at school so I never started.

Allister Hutchings - Corners 64-67: I think it was 1965, but I’m happy to stand being corrected; I had a little accident, and was carted off to hospital by ambulance from the sick bay to (presumably) Ipswich General Hospital, where I stayed for about 8 days.
I think that because of my age, I was put into the men’s ward, a large room of about 14 beds. When visiting time came round, a swarm of wives would pour in, laden with beers and smokes for their partners. I don’t remember the names of any of my fellow inmates, but I remember their kindness, on learning my parents were overseas protecting the Empire, (hence no visitors) being showered with cakes and then cigarettes. It seems remarkable looking back on it ... lying in a hospital bed drinking beer smoking a fag. Happy days indeed .....

I finally managed to quit the habit just past my thirtieth birthday - slow learner!

I recall Peter Alexander and I getting sprung for smoking by Roger Barker one evening, at Corners, and being told to present ourselves to GHB after assembly the following morning - at which, NO GHB! - he’d had a medical episode. When I next saw Doggy, he just looked at me, shook his head, then grinned, and kept walking

October The smoking ban in cars carrying children comes into force on October 1.
May Two of the world’s biggest tobacco companies - British American Tobacco and Philip Morris - launch a legal challenge against the Government’s plans for plain packaging.
March MPs vote to support plain packaging, which will come into force in 2016.
February MPs vote to ban smoking in cars with children.
January Members of the House of Lords vote to bring in new laws to prohibit smoking in cars with children.
October The sale of tobacco from vending machines is banned in England.
June The Court of Appeal rejects an attempt to overturn a proposed ban on cigarette vending machines.
December The Government commits to consulting on plain packaging of tobacco.
January A health bill says tobacco should be removed from shop displays.
July England’s smoking ban comes into force.
April A ban on smoking in enclosed public places begins across Wales, followed by Northern Ireland.
December The Government announces England will get a smoking ban from July 1, 2007.
March Scotland introduces a ban on smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants.
October Northern Ireland agrees a smoking ban in workplaces and public spaces from 2007.
March A British Medical Journal study claims passive smoking kills 11,000 a year.
November A Public Health White Paper for England outlines a smoking ban in workplaces.
March Ireland introduces a complete ban in workplaces.
The British Medical Association calls for a ban on smoking in public places because of the threat to non-smokers.
A new EU directive requires larger, more prominent health warnings on tobacco packaging.
The Government’s scientific advisers say passive smoking is a cause of lung cancer and heart disease.
The first nicotine skin patch becomes available on prescription.
New guidelines are agreed to ban tobacco advertising in cinemas. New health warnings are also published.
Smoking is banned on London Underground trains.
Professors Sir Richard Doll and Richard Peto publish the results of 20-year study of smokers. They say one in three dies from smoking.
Imperial Tobacco agrees to drop its brand names and logos from racing cars in UK races.
Health warnings are to be carried on all cigarette packets sold in the UK.
The Government bans cigarette advertising on TV.
A Royal College of Physicians report says smoking is a cause of lung cancer and bronchitis, and probably contributes to heart disease.
The British Medical Research Council announces “a direct causal connection” between smoking and lung cancer.