Illustration by Le Lievre
The new year is almost here, which means the pressure's on to give up smoking, for good, again.
I'm nearly there already, down to two or three a day (other than those rare, blissful occasions that find me in my cups), so surely the front page of a new calendar, the chance of a clean slate, fresh horizons and all of that, can give my paltry willpower the boost it sorely needs.
And if the start of a new year isn't enough to make me forswear the filthy weed, there's always this new packaging. These days an encounter with a pack of cigarettes is a traumatic ordeal. Photographs of critically ill babies and luridly gangrenous feet abound, on front and back, beneath blaring, capitalised messages that inform us we will most assuredly die if we continue to smoke this stuff.
And then there is tragic Bryan, a flaxen-haired, surfie-looking dude in the inset ''10 weeks earlier'' shot but a skeletal wreck, ravaged by lung cancer, in the image that dominates the foreground, the caption for which reads: ''Bryan died aged 34.''
Coming face to face with Bryan, before and after, is enough to put the most nicotine-crazed of smokers off their ciggies, which may explain the recent re-emergence of the cigarette case as fashion accessory.
The avowed intention of the federal government in introducing the new packaging laws, which have been in effect for one month, is to target the young and scare them out of taking up the habit. This is a far cry from the years that followed Sir Walter Raleigh's introduction of tobacco to England, when apothecaries flogged the stuff and children as young as three were administered regular pipefuls to ward off bronchial affliction. It's certainly a good thing that we've moved on from there, in the same way that we don't go in for bear-baiting or witch-burning so much any more (a list of outlawed pastimes to which I would gladly see added paintballing and karaoke). But, taking a look at the clusters of wizened-looking teens who gather outside my local railway station after school to furtively puff, splutter and expectorate, I'm not sure how true the campaign's aim has been.
Have the health authorities forgotten the twisted brutality and tar-black humour of adolescent badinage? And everyone knows kids these days are ghouls, or why the interminable pop-cult vampire thing, for pity's sake? These new boxes, with their range of horror-show images emblazoned indiscriminately across all brands, might become collectable.
Trades of, say, three ''gangrene'' for one rare ''bloodied urinal'' could be rife throughout the parks, playgrounds and junk-food outlets of our land. Desperate, obsessive-compulsive set-completists will find themselves smoking faster - the more dedicated as many as three cigarettes at one time.
And then there is the design. With its ''drab dark-brown'' background (the colour was originally described as ''olive'', until the Australian Olive Association got antsy) and the plain fonts of the various health warnings and messages of doom that frame the main photos, the box is a triumph of minimalism. In certain light, my pack looks almost black. A bit sexy, even. Though not so much the close-up of the pustular mouth.
I get chatting to a group of fellow self-loathing (wannabe ex-)smokers outside my local bar and one of them says he finds the act of buying smokes ''more macho'' since the new packaging came in. Others mutter darkly about Bryan's 10-week deterioration being too awful to be true and how they've heard the government is covering up the fact his death wasn't, in fact, even smoking-related, anyway. One or two complain they just don't taste the same any more. This then is the coterie of conspiracy-theorising, intransigent whingers to which I'll be aligned, should I carry on in my habit.
We were once the edgy crowd, rebels, Brando-esque outsiders. Now we're only seen as malodorous cranks. And if we're pig-headed enough to go on smoking these things in the face of technicolour evidence of the many ways in which they mess us up, then maybe we'll be stupid enough to spend more money on stickers designed to hide the nasty pictures and shrill warnings on the new boxes - stickers of honest, feel-good stuff, such as the Australian flag or a young woman's bikini-clad bottom.
Anthony Do Rozario, the general manager of cheeky Gold Coast company Box Wraps, certainly hopes we are. Meanwhile, the dastardly tobacco industry, stripped of its right to dazzle and seduce us with glamorous wrapping, is busy making friends with peer-advocacy and the wonderful world of social networking.
Plus the prices are going up again, aren't they? This has all become so unseemly. Enough is enough. Come January 1, I'll be hanging up my lighter and cleaning out my lungs. For good this time. Again.