Why was smoking in school such a crime?

Schoolkids continue to smoke despite efforts to discourage them (stock image)

Our esteemed city council masters at Military Road are currently beavering away trying to work out how to stop all those horrible pollutants from cars entering our lungs.

Half a mile away at Canterbury Bus Station, meanwhile, there are hundreds of schoolkids actively drawing in poisonous and lethal fumes from cigarettes who seem to care not a jot what the bloody things will do to their lungs.

I walked past the bus station today and spied at least half a dozen lads and lasses in a variety of the city’s secondary school uniforms merrily puffing away against the advice of health professionals, parents and teachers.

It wasn’t much different in my day – except fags were cheaper and the shops cared less about making proper checks when selling to teenagers.

I can still remember my first purchase, walking into a city centre newsagent’s with my jacket zipped up over my school uniform and asking in a high voice: “Ten B&H please, guv’nor.” I was duly handed the packet and parted with 72p of my dinner money.

A lot of the lads at my school, the Langton Boys, came into Canterbury by bus and did their fag purchasing at the Candy Box sweet shop next to the old bus station opposite the former McDonald’s.

If it was cold, we would repair to the bus station Morelli’s where the ashtrays provided were those aluminum discs with raised edges.

Here, of course, we were free from the displeased eyes of our parents – and our teachers.

Some of my friends’ parents didn’t care that they smoked and let them do it in their rooms. But when it came to school…well, that was another matter.

Smoking on school premises was just about the worst crime you could commit at the Boys’ Langton in the late 80s and early 90s.

Teachers would ignore the odd cloakroom ruck, an angry punch or a tie pea-nutted so tightly it had to be cut off with scissors. Smoking, on the other hand, was another level.

Staff organised special patrols around the playing fields looking for miscreants hiding in bushes. One, whom we nicknamed Vader because his high hair and mullet made him look like Darth Vader out of that film, even appeared to take a perverse delight in busting smokers.

Another clumsily adopted the tone of an over-officious policeman. Once upon coming across us in the old bike sheds, he droned: “Gentlemen, you are arrested. Please hand over all your smoking materials forthwith…No, I refuse to accept that 10 of you came out here to smoke half a cigarette with one box of matches…”

My mate, who had never been busted before, carried on smoking without realising that the presence of Teach was a cue to stub his fag out and feign contrition.

We, of course, were forced to sit through those public information films on the dangers of smoking, visiting speakers and even the odd balding teacher delivering a self-righteous assembly time sermon on the evils of tobacco.

But for about 20% of us it didn’t make a difference. We smoked and that was all there was to it.

I gave up years ago, and as more and more is officially done to discourage people of all ages from smoking I would have thought it would be virtually non-existent among the young people of today.

Walking around the streets of Canterbury today, I cannot say that this is the case. Youngsters seem to be smoking as much as we did way back in the day…


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