Behaviour change

The government is keen to understand who smokes, so that they can encourage behaviour change. That’s why it’s important that they know things like 33% of bar staff and delivery drivers smoke, compared to 14% of teachers.Guardian online

In the papers a  day or two ago there was news of a detailed survey by the O.N.S (Office of National Statistics) into smoking habits in the UK. It seems times have changed, if we didn’t already know it.

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They have for me. I used to be a heavy smoker (definition: 20+ cigarettes per day), but gave up, seemingly along with 30% of the population, about eight years ago.

When I started as a teenager, everyone I knew smoked, including my parents, my schoolmates, my chemistry teacher (in class), my PE teacher – everyone. You could still smoke on trains, or in the cinema. You could even smoke on the underground in London if you wanted (only in every other carriage, however).

Now I never see anyone smoking. Times change. We have a teachers’ lunch today, partly in celebration of Janet’s birthday (happy birthday Janet – sorry you’re at work). When I first worked at the school, over the summer in, I think, 1997, we had teachers’ lunches, and there was always plenty of wine. You’d have a couple of glasses with your nibbles, and then go and teach some more. And around the same time in Italy, where I was teaching the rest of the year, I would frequently be brought a gin and tonic up from the bar in my early-evening lesson. I’d sit and teach and drink my gin and smoke a cigarette if the students were smoking too (they usually were). No one seemed to find it strange (although now that I think of it perhaps I told the students it was lemonade).

It’s no bad thing that the teachers don’t drink and smoke in lessons any more – the worst you’ll see is the odd coffee sneaked upstairs in contravention of the house rules – and not only for the student: I don’t think I’d much enjoy teaching with a gin and a cigarette on the go any more. But any wholesale behavioural change reminds you that the skein of habit, which underwrites almost everything we do, is not only undergoing constant attrition, but is tied to larger patterns that have nothing to do with you. It is not just me who has quit smoking, after all; it is most of my generation.

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