Bled is an 80-year-old Pākehā man living in the far North with his partner. They met during the Covid 19 lockdown. He stays active with tennis, fishing and fruit-picking at a local orchard.


I started puffing on butts when I was 4 and a half with my older brother who was almost 6. His friend, who was probably a year older than him, was a smoker. We grew up in a small place in Canada. My parents both smoked and they emptied their ashtrays in the fireplace. My brother and I used to dig in the fireplace after the parents had a party to see who could get the biggest butts. When I started school, I used to take butts in my shirt pocket and sneak down to the toilet and have a puff.  That was me in 1946, ha ha.

I got heaps of spankings. My mother used to say, “You've been smoking again”, and I'd be, “No, no mum, not me”, whack, whack, whack across the bum. I asked my mother, a couple of years before she died, “Mum, how did you know that I was smoking?” She said, “Well, because the only thing you could smoke was a butt and the only matches that we had in those days were great big wooden things and when you lit your butt it burnt your eyelashes.”

So, I’ve been smoking since 1945, at first just whenever we could get a butt. When I was 18, I started working on the tugboats. That’s when I became a regular smoker. You bought a tin of tobacco and took it with you and that lasted a month. Certain captains hated tobacco. They would never allow you to smoke anywhere near them, nor in the wheelhouse. You had to go to the stern of the boat to smoke, so I probably only smoked 4 or 5 a day. Since 1960, I’ve been smoking 20 a day, starting with my first cup of coffee in the morning. 


I met my future wife during lockdown.  You weren't supposed to be going fishing, but I went. Anyways, down at the ramp where I launch my boat there was this woman standing there taking pictures. Don’t ask me why, I'll never know, I said, “Do you wanna come for a fish?” She said, “Yeah.” So, we went fishing, caught 13 snapper and of course being out there for a couple of hours, we got to know each other. We’ve been together pretty well ever since. We have a great life together. She loves fishing, she plays tennis with me, we bicycle ride, take the dogs for a walk on the beach. And, she’s a lot younger than I am! 

Quit attempts?

I quit once. I got to a stage where I felt I was full. My body was just full. I took some pills. I forget the name of them now. I had to buy them on prescription and it cost. The pamphlet said you pick a date that you're going to quit and you work towards that while regularly smoking. Then on that day you start taking the pill. A week later you throw away your cigarettes, but you continue taking the pills. It worked for a year and a half.

Then I just felt like a cigarette again. So, I tried one. It was a bit of a jolt at first but I enjoyed it. I felt right at home so yeah, I've been smoking ever since – that was in 1992. 

I had a call a couple of years ago from Quitline. They rang me a few times to give me support. And I thought, “Oh Jesus. I don’t need this.” I've never had a desire to quit again because I enjoy my smokes, especially after coffee, or dinner, or drinking.   

Tried vaping?

No, what for? I'm not dissatisfied with my smoking.

I saw a lady from ASH on TV. Oh, it was a laugh. She said that these vape things, they're really great, they're really helping people quit smoking. And so, she’s all for them. Then she said she supports the government, which now comes out and say there will be no advertising for the vapes. Nobody under 18 will be allowed to buy them. But it’s the people under 18 that they need to stop smoking and unless they advertise the vapes, who’s gonna buy them? If you stop advertising, then there will be bugger-all sales and you're gonna kill the goose that was laying your golden egg.

My partner used to smoke, but she uses the e-cigarettes now.

Smokefree 2025?

No. Forget it. It won't happen. 

Taxing tobacco

They raised the price so much that I grow my own tobacco. I'm surprised that more people don’t grow their own, because for $260 you can produce your own tobacco and grind it up to a suitable size and you basically don’t have to buy any cigarettes anymore. The first year, I got seven kilograms of finished usable tobacco. But, when I get my pension once a fortnight, I save enough so that weekly, when I go to play tennis, I can buy a packet of tailor-mades. Tailor-mades are always sweeter.

A small percentage of people might be put off smoking by the tax increases. But, for some, the high tax means they're spending a higher percentage of their family money on taxes, instead of on food.

I get into a real argument with people about smoking. They say 5000 people a year die because of smoking. Well that’s not quite true. They die from heart conditions – some of them are brought on by smoking, some are just brought on by the wrong foods hardening their arteries.  They say it costs our healthcare system a lot of money - $246 million a year for these 5000 people that die. Well it doesn't. The taxes that we pay come to two billion dollars a year.

It doesn't equate. People that smoke die on an average 10 years sooner than other people. People in their late 60s and 70s and 80s go to the doctor way more often than young people.  They also need operations on their knees. They need eye operations. They have heart attacks. They need all sorts of operations costing the economy hundreds of millions of dollars. So, smokers save the healthcare system millions of dollars simply because they die sooner. The government should be saying everybody smoke up because it’s good for the economy. 

Ban on smoking in cars with minors present.

I dunno. I smoked in my car. All of my kids are quite healthy.

It’s a totally useless law. Who’s gonna enforce it? Are you going to have a neighbour say ‘oh, I saw that guy smoking while he had children in his car.’? Who’s gonna admit, ‘oh yeah, I was smoking with my kids in the car.’? It’s none of their bloody business.

We smoke in my own home. Jesus! Of course I can smoke in there and I don’t stop other people from smoking either, except weed.


I tried it 40 years ago, but it did nothing for me, so I just gave it up. My youngest son was a real heavy user and he told me that because of his weed stuff, his memory was going. It affected his memory terribly and when he was a bit high, he used to run over some of his fishing rods, you know forgetting they were there, etcetera.  So, I don’t. Quite frankly I don’t think it’s a good thing, but then again I'm not a weed smoker.

The only chemical that was around when I was a teenager was heroin. The heroin didn’t really affect other people, whereas your weed, other people smell it. If people are driving, especially if they’ve got other people with them, like a bus driver, or a truck driver, I don’t think it’s a good idea to allow them to smoke weed. It does affect your brain. I don’t care what anybody says. I would be in favour of them decriminalising it, but I don’t think I'd be in favour of them legalising it.



2 months later…

Well, they changed the cigarette brand on me, which really pisses me off. They dropped my brand and brought out another – and they’re two entirely different cigarettes. So, I’m having to switch to another brand, as soon as they run out of my one. The packing of the cigarettes – how tight it’s rolled – makes a huge difference to a smoker. The looser it is, the stronger it is. There’s no difference in cost at this stage.


Two of my friends have quit smoking. They’ve changed to those puffer things. It’s not vaping. It’s called an Alt, a waffle puffer is what they call it [editorial note: this is a vape].


Before I retired, I was a security guard. My voice went about 1999. I went to a specialist and they could find nothing wrong. They said they could send me to another specialist other than the ear, eye, nose and throat one and I said, “Well that just cost me 250 bloody dollars, thank you very much, so no, I’m happy.” I can still speak. It’s probably deteriorated a bit over the past couple of years. I still find it difficult at times. I have to push from my stomach to speak. But, I’m not suffering. There’s no pain involved.



4 months later…

I’m still smoking about 20 cigarettes a day. My first smoke for the day is with my coffee. It usually takes about 5 minutes, I suppose, to boil the jug and sit down.

About once a week I’ll buy tailor-mades and the rest of the time, I’m on my own stuff. I buy a packet when I go to tennis, and they’ll last me a couple of days.

I usually buy from the tobacconist in town and if he’s not open, I go to the dairy.

They changed the brand –bastard. I used to smoke one called Choice, but they changed the name and it is not the same. So, I switched to a couple of others until I found one that was pretty much the same. It’s the tightness in rolling it, that’s the difference – they’re milder. The looser they are the stronger they are.

Homegrown tobacco

I’ve been growing my own tobacco about 5 years now. It was about the time they first brought out the increase in tobacco cost and I well stuff you guys – I’ll grow my own. So, I did. People ask me, “Have you tried soaking it in rum or some other flavour?” I say, “What the hell for? You don’t buy rum flavoured tobacco, so why grow it to change it?”

I chop it up with a Magic Bullet because when it comes out of my shredder it’s too long. It could be up to a foot long. Once it’s dry to my satisfaction, I put it in the Nutribullet for a split second – bzz bzz – and it cuts it up enough to be able to handle it okay. I roll by hand. Two handed, I’m afraid. At my age, my fingers aren’t that nimble. Then I can pack it right. If you pack it too loose then you get harshness in your throat.

I use a filter – the standard size, not the small or the super big-sized one. I smoke about the same number of my own cigarettes a day as the tailor-mades. Sometimes less because you can leave a homemade smoke and it will go out, whereas a tailor-made has got some accelerant that makes it keep burning.

A pack a day is my average. It’s been like that for probably 40 years. It’s the taste I like. 

Health professional support to stop smoking?

They gave up on me years ago. I’ve been to about 5 or 6 different doctors over the years and they all start off saying the same thing. I said, “Listen pal, I’ve been smoking for 60 - 70 years now and I’m in good physical condition. I can swim underwater probably further than you can. Why the fuck should I give it up? I enjoy it.”

I had a little blood in my ear a few years ago. About 3 or 4 years ago. I can’t remember now. Anyways, because of my throat and the way I talk, plus the blood thing, my doctor sent me to an ear, eye, nose and throat specialist. They sent me for a blood test. They sent me for an x-ray. The specialist checked my voice box with a camera and said, “There’s nothing wrong with your voice box, but if you want to change your speech we can add a little rat poison and you’ll be back to normal.I said, “No thank you.” I said, “By the way, while you’re on the computer, how was my chest x-ray?” He said, “Just a minute”. Has a look. “Oh, normal,” he said. So, then they shoved a camera up my penis and they shoved a finger up my ass and they did an ultrasound of my stomach and I’m normal. No diseases, so yeah, I’m fine.

Intent to quit?


6 months later...

We’re out in the boat catching fish. We’ve been here 15 minutes and we’ve got 2 so far.

Everything’s the same with me. Sex is the same, fishing’s the same, smoking’s the same, drinking’s the same. I’m afraid I’m a boring old person ha ha.

I still grow my own and buy cigarettes – usually on a Tuesday when I go to tennis. I’m still smoking 20 a day. 

Intent to stop smoking

Nope, but if I seriously think about it, I’ll let you know. I don’t think I’ll stop after smoking for 76 years.

Quit attempts

A number of years ago – and I actually quit for 2 years. I just decided I wanted to have a smoke, so I started again. I tried that chewing stuff before I tried the other one, and it was awful. It didn’t help one bit. 

Health professional support to stop smoking

Well, they always tell me that I shouldn’t be smoking – put it that way. They never stop, the bastards. 

Tried vaping?

Nope. My partner does. She’s been on a vape for almost a year, I guess. 

Smokefree 2025

Have you heard about the new vaping legislation?

It doesn’t affect me at all, so I don’t even think about it. There’s lots of people vaping. God, even some of them have 2, you know. My grandson didn’t smoke – he probably does pot, but he started vaping because his friends were vaping. Whether that’s a good thing, I don’t know. But I’m just guessing – if you're putting a liquid into your lungs, I don’t know whether it can be good or it can be bad. When I smoke, I just put dried crap in my lungs. It’s not wet. So, I don’t know. No idea. 

Low nicotine cigarettes?

I tried those once. They didn’t taste right so I gave that up.

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