Smoke Signals

I discovered the other day, as one does, a web site called http://www.cybergrot who are/were selling an old used box of Abdullah cigarettes. It was empty except strangely, for one remaining cigarette. Really quite a work of art. I find this interesting as when I was a student in London in the early 1960s I used to buy these oval section cigarettes as a kind of indulgence although I wasn’t really a smoker. Odd, as I could barely afford food let alone smokes.

In the modern western world, where even public spaces are being sterilised of smokers, it has all got out of hand. Ironically, the tobacco companies, who have done their best to get the whole population addicted to tobacco, are themselves responsible for destroying the market and virtual prohibition, as it was they who made it no longer an aesthetic and beneficial enjoyment for the populace but a chemical addiction from which BAT and Phillip Morris et alia made fortunes for their shareholders. By the addition of chemicals to preserve the tobacco and to help it burn better they created tasteless and poisonous sticks of nicotine. I’m not a smoker but I do think people have a right to smoke if they want to, but not from addiction. These older Turkish cigarettes were very powerful and I remember a few puffs and you would almost pass out from the effect or worse, turn green and throw up. It kept one from ever becoming addicted – an effective aversion therapy .

I’ve introduced this subject into my blog as I have many friends who are either Turkish or connected to Turkey for whom smoking is almost a religious sacrament. These are often connected to the sufi orders of that country and also of Bosnia, and I imagine all the rest of the post-Ottoman Balkans. It was the Ottomans who must have introduced smoking into the west as a socially acceptable habit and it prompts me to look into it as it was always accepted in Britain that Francis Drake, the sailor, introduced it from the Americas. There must be extensive histories on this subject. I’ve attended some of the meetings the local Jerrahi sufis hold in my neck of the woods here in Andalusia and their visiting Turkish and American teachers, to a man, usually chain smoke through their hours of shorbets (discourses). And often it’s from a packet of Marlboros, not exotic (illegal) organic Turkish tobacco which they do use on occasion. Personally I find it really choking and unpleasant if the smoking is indoors let alone the smell it leaves on your clothes. But I do believe that it does activate something in the brain of the smoker which is of some benefit. Others have told me the same. In a way it’s all got out of hand and the baby has been thrown out with the bath water. Most of the muslim scholars as well as the medical profession pronounce against tobacco and I’m with them because of what I say above, but it is not a black and white issue. It’s just that the art of smoking has been lost. Intelligent people should be able to make up their own minds on these things. Unfortunately the modern chemicalised cigarette and its relentless promotion (now increasing in the undeveloped world) has spoiled it for everyone.

About Ian Whiteman

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2 Responses to Smoke Signals

  1. Shadee says:

    This reminded me of an ARAMCO World article on American coffee branding, in which Arab themes were at the center. Those classic images can be seen here:

  2. In the 1960s, the age of gourmet cigarettes provided for connoiseurs, when in funds, I would smoke Abdulla cigarettes – in particular No11 Turkish, or No16 Eygptians, both oval and gold-tipped. They were of course supplied in lovely card boxes.
    I cannot agree with your statement about their strength. They were indeed highly – and delightfully – aromatic, but like Balkan Sobranies they were a mild, long-lasting smoke, and also incredubly cool.
    It was a black day indeed when others decided how I should live my life and what I should consume. There is as far as I know, only one smokeable cigarette still available in the UK: Senior Service. These I smoke with a Dunhill filter holder. I would have considered these pretty small beer in the 1960s, and as you say, nowadays the so-called “tobacconists” supply only ghastly nasty-tasting, poisonous filter-tipped rubbish.

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