Saturday, 21 April 2012

Where there's Smoke

06:37:00 Posted by Ashley Lister , , , , , , 4 comments

by Ashley Lister 

I smoked for too many years. I had my first cigarette when I turned 16 back in ’81. I smoked JPS to begin with. I smoked Marlboro for a while. I dabbled with cigars and cigarillos. I became loyal to a variety of brands such as Peter Stuyvesant and Superkings and Moore. I had a thing for smoking extra long cigarettes. I hope to God there is no one reading this who studied Freud.
I smoked rollies toward the end of my tenure as one of the noxious masses.
I was taught how to roll cigarettes by an expert. I was taught how to make sure the skin was even and symmetrical. I was taught to make sure the contents were tamped safely inside the tube. And I was taught to always use a cardboard filter.
For those of you who are wondering how this pertains to this week’s theme of book burning, trust me – I’m getting there.
The cardboard filter (sometimes called a roach) in a hand-rolled cigarette is a curiosity in smoking paraphernalia. Approximately 1cm in height by 2 – 3cm in length, the cardboard filter is rolled into a tube and slipped into the cold end of a cigarette. Its purpose (to my mind) is to hold the shape of the cigarette and save 1cm’s worth of otherwise wasted tobacco.
I would use strips torn from business cards, appointment notes or any piece of card I could find. Have you ever bought an A4 notepad? You know the stiff sheet of cardboard on the back page? I’ve gone through several of those during my time as a smoker, cutting them into 1cm by 2cm strips and inserting them into the cold end of the hand-rolled cigarette. I’d use Rizla packets. I’d use postcards. I’d use Christmas cards and birthday cards.
If card wasn’t available I’d use paper. I’d take pages from notes I was making and shred them into 1cm by 5cm strips. With paper being thinner than card, obviously a greater length was needed to maintain the same level of sturdiness for the end of a hand-rolled cigarette. I’d use junk mail. I’d use Post-It Notes. I’d use mail from the tax office. I’d use the letters that came with rejection slips from publishers.
And today, even though it’s been more than seventeen months since I last smoked, I still keep finding semi-shredded Post-It Notes and half-used business cards in my office draws and lurking between the pages of books as makeshift page-savers.
I always believed I would use any piece of card or paper that I could lay my hands on. Smoking is a pernicious habit and the crippling and costly addiction to carcinogens is not as glamorous as it sounds. The desire to inhale tobacco is pervasive and, in my pursuit of lungfuls of yummy nicotine-flavoured nom-noms, I found myself destroying several pieces of card that could have been invested with sentimental value. Birthday cards, Valentine’s Day cards, marriage certificate. The list goes on.
But my book collection remained and remains untouched.
From an ex-smoker’s perspective I can now see that my personal library could have been perceived as a substantial collection of cardboard filters, all waiting to be cut, curled and cultivated. Yet there is not one strip of card or paper missing from any of the titles on my shelves. Not even the Dan Brown or the Stephanie Meyer titles. I like to think this is because the idea of destroying a book by flames is so unthinkable to my delicate sensibilities.
The alternative is to acknowledge that, during a time when I was stupid enough to be inhaling tobacco on an hourly basis, I wasn’t bright enough to remember that books are made from card and paper.
I hope we can all agree that my books were saved from the flames of my smoking days because of my high standards rather than my low intelligence. Any comments expressing a contrary opinion will be deleted.


Louise Barklam said...

Firstly, well done for giving up smoking, I know first hand how hard it can be.

Secondly, despite the fact you were poisoning your body, your inner gremlin was guiding you away from said books with a roar of "Don't you DARE!" should the thought have crossed your mind for a fleeting second to use one. Don't worry, we all have our inner gremlin's(?), some people just don't listen to them.

Great post Ahley, I wouldn't have fogiven you if you had. ;-)


Ashley R Lister said...


I'm so pleased to have the habit behind me now. I know it would have been unforgivable (except for maybe some of the Stephanie Meyer titles).


Willis Shafthauer said...

At college, some sort of youth worker was handing out cards, I think for some sort of drug awareness talk.

"They're laminated," he said. "I'd like to see you make a roach out of that!"

"Sounds like a challenge my friend," replied.

And he managed it! You just need to cut it with scissors instead of ripping it...

Ashley R Lister said...


Why do these people challenge smokers? Don't they realise that smokers are far more innovative than regular mortals?