Lucy and Richard Briers
Over a year ago – on February 17th 2013 – my wonderful father died from emphysema, a lung disease which had diminished him from a sprightly 74 year old, who was still working, to a 79 year old who couldn’t walk the length of his garden without frequently stopping to catch his breath.
My father began smoking at the age of 14. The year was 1948, a time when smoking was advertised as good for you.
An American advert from 1949 ends with the byline “More Doctors Smoke Camel Than Any Other Cigarette”.
By the age of 20 Dad was training to be an actor at RADA in London. The lifestyle of young drama students made smoking almost obligatory, and having already smoked for six years, Dad was well and truly hooked.
By the time my sister and I came along in the 1960’s smoking was firmly lodged in everyone’s minds as glamorous and ‘cool’. Many of our family photographs from this time have Dad smoking either a pipe, a cigarette or a roll-up. I never thought anything of it, and because I adored my Dad, wanted to emulate him.
By 14 I was secretly smoking Sobranie, seduced 100 per cent by their stunning packaging. I would smoke on and off for the next 20 years, before kicking the habit for good six years ago.
“Like a friend’s reassuring steady hand”
Of course by the 1980’s people were becoming aware of the terrible health consequences smoking could lead to, but Dad resolutely stuck to the habit.
As with every dedicated smoker, he saw his daily roll-ups as a comfort, like a friend’s reassuring steady hand on one’s shoulder. He was by now a well known and much respected actor, which meant that with every performance or TV recording more was expected of him.
There was nothing better to calm his nerves than a strong cup of tea and a ciggie.
In 2001, at the age of 67, Dad went for a routine health check and was told that if he didn’t stop smoking he would be in a wheelchair in 5 years. He stopped that day, despite the fact he was doing a play so his nerves were on high alert.
He had been smoking for 53 years. With such a speedy reaction to this frightening news we all, perhaps naively, thought smoking hadn’t got him. 7 years later he was diagnosed with emphysema.
Providing joy to so many people
My mother told me a few months after Dad’s death that he had often been distraught at what he felt was a self-inflicted illness.
For me this was such an awful way for my father to approach the end of his life, especially a life which had provided so much joy to so many people.
It is hard for me to admit, but I have felt angry with my Dad since his death, because in a way he was right; it was self-inflicted. If he hadn’t started smoking, or if he had given up in his twenties, thirties or even forties, I’m certain we would still be enjoying his glorious company today and for many years to come.
However, it is not as simple as that.
Reducing the appeal of tobacco
The tobacco industry needs to recruit the next generation into becoming smokers. Let’s face it, when you’re selling something that potentially kills, you always need new blood. It worked for my father in the 1940’s, me in the 1980’s and it still works for hundreds of children between the ages of 11 to 15 each day.
Evidence shows that the standardised packaging campaign would reduce the appeal of glamorous cigarette packaging. If it produced even a 10 per cent decrease in new smokers that would mean thousands of young people each year would avoid the health consequences and possible deaths brought on by smoking.
My father was Richard Briers. He had given his name to this campaign only weeks before he died. In taking up his baton I hope some good will come from his death.
In early April, the Government said they were moving forward with regulations for standardised packs, so it now looks like the UK is a step closer to putting an end to colourful and attractive tobacco packaging.
Their independent review agreed this should happen. I agree and I think my father would have also agreed.
Please do all you can to give your support.
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post Lifestyle blog
Photograph of Richard Briers and his daughter Lucy reproduced by kind permission of the photographer Michele Martinoli.