“Women and Children First” By Robert Lynd

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Sep 18, 1948

Women and Children First

A fortnight ago I decided to give up smoking. This was not because of the price of cigarettes, or because they are difficult to obtain; but because the smoker’s throat that has been my companion off and on during most of my life cannot stand this modern tobacco.

I think I was born with a smoker’s throat. But it undoubtedly got worse after I became a smoker.

Various doctors have called it by various names, such as pharyngitis, fibrositis and gout, and have prescribed me enough pastilles and gargles to keep a hospital going; but I have always known that it was a smoker’s throat and that there was only one means of alleviating it—to give up smoking.

This I have done on several occasions, and I have never noticed any bad effects from my abstinence except that on one occasion I began to write poetry—at least, it looked like poetry, for it was in rhyme—whereupon I took hurriedly to smoking again.

When I decided to give it up once more the other day told myself that if would be for good this time. A friend had assured me that to give it up permanently is easy—that all you have to do is to take out an acid drop and put it in your mouth every time you feel a craving for tobacco.

I was in a rosily optimistic mood as I set out for some acid drops, and waited for their coming as if for a key that would open the gate into a new and higher life.

Imagine my consternation when news came back that no acid drops have been manufactured since the beginning of the war.

“How,” I asked myself, “can a man ever be expected to lead a better life if he is baulked like this at the very first step?”

I was in no mood to be turned back, however. I had had a vision of myself as a man of powerful and lofty character; and I realized that if I allowed myself to be diverted from my purpose by the want of an acid drop I should deserve to be held in universal contempt as a two-legged jellyfish with a sore throat.

Besides I had begun to flatter myself with a sense of being a public benefactor. Now that I had stopped smoking there would, it was obvious, be all the more cigarettes for other people. Tired women would no longer have to stand in queues for their daily 40.

Perhaps there would be no need for the five per cent cut by the manufacturers after all.

Recently an evening paper had outraged my most chivalrous feelings by suggesting that women should give up smoking so that there would be enough cigarettes for the men.

Remembering the old motto in the tramcars of my city—“The lifeboat rule is: Women and children first”—I said to myself that it would be much more fitting if men were to give up smoking so as to leave plenty of cigarettes for the women and children.

After all, men have been smoking since Queen Elizabeth’s day, and have had more than their fair share of the world’s tobacco, whereas, as smokers, women are comparative newcomers and should be allowed to make up for lost time.

As an old Victorian suffragist I now bequeath my not inconsiderable cigarette ration to the women of England, hoping there will be enough to go around.

I wonder how far, if placed end to end, all the cigarettes I have ever smoked would reach. Perhaps to Kamchatka. Perhaps to the moon.

Or, perhaps, not so far after all. I have just been counting them, and by my reckoning, they amount to only 750,000. In the words of Lord Clive, I am amazed at my moderation. I thought that at least I must have topped the million.

Still it is rather staggering to know that the cigarettes I have smoked during my life, if sold at the present price, would cost something like £6.082 10s. Or is my arithmetic wrong?

Certainly it is time I stopped, acid drops or no acid drops. But as a matter of fact I have stopped since Sunday.

I know realize how Picasso came to see the things he paints. He once must have given up smoking. But, apart from aching eyes and a sore throat, the patient is doing as well as can be expected. Further bulletins will be issued as occasion arises.


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