To a confirmed non-smoker like myself, one of life’s mysteries is how anybody can insert a burning ember in their mouth, drag back its fetid smoke and then say, “God, I enjoyed that”. The Tobacco industry in the west at least has been under attack this past quarter century by health groups, community action and government regulation restricting advertising and gradually compacting the areas where smoking is allowed.
Even with all these restrictions, the Tobacco companies still appear to make a “squillion” dollars profit annually and of course Governments gain massive revenue from all the taxes on the industry. As Arthur Daley would say. “a nice little earner”
In Thailand it appears that the Government is slowly turning on the Tobacco industry with health warnings and anti-litter crackdowns in the cities. Of course the Thai Government like its counterparts around the world speaks with forked tongue and still laps up the tax revenue. As for Thai people in general, I have always found them to be fairly easy going about smoking – there appears to be more non-smokers than dedicated puffers.
The main exception is that very few Thai women smoke. I have always been told that Thais associate female smoking with Bar Girls and prostitutes.
Although packets of “tailor made” cigarettes including international brands such as Marlboro can be purchased anywhere in the Kingdom, hand rolled cigarettes are still commonplace in rural Thailand. The reason for this is tradition and the fact that local tobacco costs a fraction of what you would pay for a packet of cigarettes. The other reason to is taste.
Most hardened rural smokers would argue that the locally grown product is cleaner and has more of a kick. Back in 1985 on my third trip back to Thailand I bought my Father-in-Law a carton of Marlboro cigarettes at duty free. When he lit one up, he said nothing but the expression on his face sort of said “what sort of girls smoke this insipid crap”. A couple of days later we invited the village Monks to the house so that they could bless our daughter Natalie’s second birthday. On a plate in front of each of the invited Monks a packet of Marlboro cigarettes had been mysteriously placed.
Buying tobacco in rural Thailand is drop dead easy. Walk into many morning village markets and you will find somebody selling tobacco. Not like your fancy Tobacconist in the city but basically laid out in mounds or bags with the different colours indicating taste and blends. Of course what immediately grabs your attention is the quantity and the give-away prices. For a western smoker paying through the nose for a few ounces of ready rubbed or a packet of “Gaspers” the sight of all this village tobacco largesse would bring tears to their eyes.
On top of the tobacco mountain at the market usually resides a packet of cigarette papers and a box of matches. Smokers will roll a free sample to see what blend they want to buy. Smokers tend to buy the product not in piddly ounces but in small sacks – at those prices why wouldn’t you.
The rolling of a cigarette is in itself an art form. As a young kid I was always fascinated by one of my uncles who would methodically rub a small portion of tobacco in his palms and could still laugh and have an animated conversation with a cigarette paper hanging out of the corner of his mouth and the paper would flatter as he talked. Due to the high cost of tobacco, the smokes that he rolled were matchstick thin.
In contrast the rural Thai smoker rolling a smoke will reach into his tin or sack and pull out a large quantity of weed. This is then laid out on a small piece of butchers paper and then loosely rolled, sealed with one tongue swipe and then plonked in the mouth. The smoker then lights up the cigar sized smoke. Due to it normally being loose rolled together with the quantity of tobacco, half the cigarette goes up in flames and sparks together with a cloud of smoke. Once the smoke is finished the process starts again.
I opened this Blog with a firm statement of my attitude to smoking. The rest of the Blog could be seen to be favourable to smoking, but I have always had the possibly selfish attitude that its not my lungs that are being ruined.