Today marks the first day of a brave new era for England as it goes smoke-free in public places. How does this affect me? Well, it doesn't in particular. Not anymore. I gave up smoking a few years ago after more than two decades of daily rolling and hacking. But at one time this would have been a grim day for me, leaving me with the awareness that my civil liberties had been eroded yet further and that I desperately needed a cigarette.
Many writers reach for tobacco as a means of inspiration, to kickstart the creative process. Alcohol too, often in larger quantities than is good for our livers, but so far they haven't got round to banning that. Soon though, I have no doubt. Because the government knows best. They are not interested in the civil liberties of smokers, only those of pub, club and restaurant-going non-smokers.
And the outcome of this ban? That hardened smokers will now stay home in order to indulge their 20-a-day habits, stocking up on the single malt and filling their children's lungs with smoke.
I'm exaggerating, but the dangers of passive smoking have also been exaggerated. Human beings have been living in smoke-filled environments ever since the first cave-dwellers rubbed two sticks together and invented the cooked dinner. Now we are no longer entitled to light up in public for fear of damaging passers-by, but must take the smoke home and inflict it on our children instead.
I am a non-smoker. I am also an ex-chain-smoker. That means that barely a day goes by when I don't want to have a cigarette.
I watch people smoking in the street, in bars and restaurants, and feel a powerful desire to join them, to drag that dizzying grey crap into my lungs again and lean back with my eyes closed, secure in the knowledge that I'm killing myself legally.
In that sense at least the ban will be useful, helping me to feel clean and self-righteous in public, no longer tempted by the sight of others enjoying what I have denied myself. But my memory still works fine. And memory is a dangerous thing for the ex-smoker.
I remember days when I smoked almost non-stop, lighting one cigarette from another, writing with my hands shaking and my heart racing, falling into bed exhausted and happy and stinking of smoke.
I remember moments when there was nothing between me and the void but the single burning filament of a roll-up. A white flag, raised and lowered in silence.
I remember chilled nights with friends, sitting round a table or on the floor, drinking tea and sharing a few joints between us. The gift of the high, its other-worldly acceptance.
I remember the first cigarette of the day, that astonishing all-body relief of the nicotine. The abrupt brightening of everything, nerves and bloodstream clicking into gear, super-charged, even grateful.
I remember the dreadful fear of running out, the palm-sweats, the uneven temper. Scrabbling in long-cold ashtrays for butt ends to be ripped apart and cannabalised, smoking their bitter entrails with the pinched face of the addict.
I remember the endless attempts to give up, year after year. The fads and the patches. The pretend cigarettes and the gum. Then the tobacco again, like an old friend, an ex-lover. The cruellest of old flames.
I remember the frustration, waking up and needing to smoke above all else, throwing a full ashtray across the room, desperate to be free.
I remember the day I finally gave up. Twenty years stopped cold in their tracks. How my resolve weakened a few days later and I smoked a furtive cigarette in the garage. Stubbing it out again quickly, disgusted and nauseous.
I remember the night I realised that I was clean. Going to a restaurant and watching a friend light up after our meal, yet being unmoved by the sight. Not desirous of a cigarette, not sick with envy and restlessness.
Finally, I remember the moment it dawned on me that I would never be entirely free. Being offered a cigarette at a party and suddenly, desperately, physically needing to say yes, yet still managing to say no. Accepting a glass of wine instead and remembering when I was a smoker, the sheer ecstasy of nicotine and wine mingling, the death instinct and the perverse belief that I would live forever, the heady pleasure of the post-coital cigarette, the post-argument cigarette, the pre-interview cigarette, the writer's cigarette, the poetry reading cigarette, the after-dinner cigarette, the cannabis cigarette, the shared cigarette, the last cigarette.
Smoking is both a glorious pleasure and a deadly insult to our bodies. Today's ban on smoking in public places will change the smoking habits of millions of people, and perhaps many smokers will stop altogether, as I did.
But there's no getting round the fact that those who genuinely wish to smoke will continue to do so, whatever the social circumstances, just as those who genuinely wish to die will continue to kill themselves, undeterred.