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Giving up smoking

Changing culture, public health campaigns and the smoking ban

The ban on smoking in public places came into effect in Scotland in 2006 and in the rest of the UK in 2007 (the Republic of Ireland introduced its ban in 2004). People we talked to felt that the ban had made it very clear that the public disapproved of smoking. Some thought that smokers were ‘persecuted’, but others were delighted that the ban had come into force recognising how much nicer it was to go to bars as a non-smoker. Some people thought the smoking ban had probably made it easier to give up.

Many people were increasingly aware of the ‘negative’ image smoking could portray. Many felt increasingly guilty when smoking, and others also made them feel guilty. Khan thought that the media portray smoking as a ‘chav’ thing and something done by people with ‘nothing better to do’. Some people were irritated by the health advice they received and thought it was counter-productive for doctors to blame so many ills on smoking.
 

Angela thinks that things have gone from one extreme to another: first being able to smoke everywhere, then making it very difficult to smoke.

Angela thinks that things have gone from one extreme to another: first being able to smoke everywhere, then making it very difficult to smoke.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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Well you could smoke anywhere really. Anywhere. And then they just changed it to upstairs on buses didn’t they? So they were…. it’s made like a social life not very good for good for most people and it really, you know, for smokers and non smokers, because you can go out in a crowd, what I understand, you can go out in a crowd, and if everybody smokes then you’re left in pub on your own. You know. So it’s not nice for both smokers and non smokers. I don’t think it’s done…

And are you finding that now?

Yes, yes.

So a lot of your friends still smoke outside?

Hm. And you’re sort of just stood like, so you’ll drink more than them [laugh]. So then I’m going to have another problem. But I remember when I still smoked and my daughter like, she’s never smoked, but she said one of the things that she noticed where you can smell, instead of stale cigs, fags masking everything, and you go into a pub you can smell the stale beer and things, and she said she didn’t know which is nice… you know, which is worse. So… I don’t, I’ve never noticed that, you know, because one just stops smoking, so… [Laughs].

But yes, you can, you can’t really smoke anywhere. At our work, we used to have what we called a bus shelter what you smoked in, but they’ve had to take some windows out, because you can only have so many. So you were there smoking, freezing and the winds coming in from where you would have been protected before and it was like… I don’t know. You can’t smoke anywhere, whereas before you could smoke everywhere. They’ve gone from one extreme to other and it’s not really stopping anybody from smoking is it? [Laughs].

And how did you feel about all those changes when you were a smoker?

Well I didn’t like them, but to be honest, because doctors and everybody blames everything on smoking, it’s just another thing that you have, you just get on with it, because it’s all to do with smoking. So, they’re going to blame smoking for everything so just get on with it and continue smoking.

So it’s more like a sort of inconvenience?

Yes, yes, it’s just like another thing that they’re trying to do to stop you from smoking.
Changes over the years: before the ban

In the 1950s, 60s and 70s it was common for people to be able to smoke in places like offices and in cinemas, and some people remembered that when people complained about smoking indoors they were thought of as ‘wet blankets’.
 

In the early 1980s Sue could smoke in numerous places, including her place of work.

In the early 1980s Sue could smoke in numerous places, including her place of work.

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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Well when I, for a while in my twenties, I had a flat on my own and then I could, you know, there was no consideration of anybody else. I could do what I wanted. And I generally had a cigarette in the morning with a cup of tea or a cup of coffee and basically then continued through the day at intervals depending on what I was doing. But again, I could smoke in the office then. So, but there was one job I had where I had I think three telephones on my desk for some, I have no idea why, and they were all different colours and they ring, it wasn’t that you know, if the red one rang it would be so and so, and if the green one rang it was somebody else, but they had different numbers so the calls, you could get simultaneous calls on all of them and the number of times that I would light a cigarette and put it down because the phone rang and then it would be burnt out by the time I’d finished and, because I would have the phone in one hand and the pen in the other. And then I’d light another one and another phone would ring and it just, I seem to go through the day lighting cigarettes and then taking phone calls, and it didn’t occur to me for ages that I was wasting a huge amount of money for, [laughs] from not smoking these cigarettes.

So we often would go out for lunch there’s a little pub over the road, so we’d go out for lunch and there were three or four people there who smoked and so we’d smoke at lunch time, breaks, meetings, and then sort of when I went, oh if I went out in the evening, smoke in the pub or wherever. And there was a time when you could smoke in cinemas as well so… [Laughs] so you could just smoke everywhere.
 

Miles got his first job in a solicitor’s office in the mid 80s and remembers smoking there.

Miles got his first job in a solicitor’s office in the mid 80s and remembers smoking there.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Male
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I think I was on about twenty a day. So I was relatively a heavy smoker. And, I continued smoking, obviously when I then moved into employment and I was, I got my first job as a solicitor when I was, in 1985, so that was, that was at the age of 23, and in those days of course you could smoke in work as well. So, it sort of relieved some, somewhat of the stressing in, in my new job by being able to smoke in the office and work at the same time. So I think it some ways sort of that exacerbated the habit.

It’s strange nowadays because you never, ever see smoking in the office at all, whereas in those days, it was common place, and certainly my boss he smoked quite heavily. I always remember him having, you know, sort of yellow ceiling where he smoked. So it was one of those different culture, obviously than it is now. And I would for the record I totally agree with what the government done a few years ago, by banning smoking in public places.
 

Gareth remembers smoking in meetings when he had been a social worker, and thought it was a ‘different world’ now.

Gareth remembers smoking in meetings when he had been a social worker, and thought it was a ‘different world’ now.

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
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I, well I worked as a social worker once, you know, it was just bloody smoke, you know, and they smoke in meetings it’s weird. We actually used to smoke. Well of course in those days you used to smoke in your place of work and I managed the unit of service for adults with learning disabilities. Staff meetings, we’d light up. You know, it’s amazing. It was a different world. A totally different world. And I think it’s about that. You move from one world into another and it’s very different. Even in the same place. Yes, there were quite a number of smokers. You know, it’s a weird one.

Sometimes smoking goes with the profession. You know, there’s always an element, and if there are more smokers then non smokers the non smokers don’t stand a chance [laughs]. Thinking back to those staff meetings because I remember bringing it up at a staff meeting. I said, maybe, I don’t think we should be smoking. I thought as a manager of the group of staff I thought I’m going to have to do something here, because it’s not … particularly if the residents were involved if they came into the meeting. Mind you one of the residents was a smoker. I think that’s probably what made the difference, you know. And he would sit in our staff meetings. Yes, that’s right I’ve forgotten about that.
Caroline remembered being able to smoke in the bank where she worked in the 1980s, but later she could smoke only in a back office. Roger likewise could at work in council offices at around the same time. Older people could remember smoking going on ‘everywhere’ when they were young. Some, like Anna and Laura, had been very ‘anti-smoking’ as children.

People remembered smoking in environments where smoking was the “norm” even comparatively recently and marvelled at how different the culture is now.
 

15 years ago at university, Tom associated going out drinking with having a cigarette. At uni in France smoking was normal.

15 years ago at university, Tom associated going out drinking with having a cigarette. At uni in France smoking was normal.

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I kind of fell into a crowd at uni that where everybody smoked dope, and everybody smoked tobacco.

So, yeah, they kind of got wrapped up together I suppose, and then from the beginning of university right through to probably my mid-twenties, I was a really regular smoker. Probably at its peak maybe between 20 and 30 a day and maybe more if I was going out in the evening and if I had a drink in my hand or what have you. So yeah, university was when it really kind of became a regular thing. It’s just kind of like, everybody else was doing it, but it wasn’t, at that point, it wasn’t, I was too old to, for it to be a peer pressure thing. I think I just really enjoyed it.

I really enjoyed smoking dope, and I really enjoyed smoking cigarettes, and I didn’t really particularly enjoy drinking alcohol at that point.

So yes, so that was right throughout uni that was a constant thing, and one of the years I was at uni I was in France for a year, where smoking is more or less compulsory, and cigarettes are extremely cheap. Yeah, so that was, and again that was quite a, quite a full on year in a lot of ways. I smoked too much, drank too much, didn’t go to lectures enough. It was fun, in a lot of ways.
 

10 years ago at university, Andy spent much time with his friends in bars smoking and surrounded by smokers.

10 years ago at university, Andy spent much time with his friends in bars smoking and surrounded by smokers.

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
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But again it was less central to everything we did at university. Because all of a sudden there’s a whole new world open to you, and you go off and do your own thing, do different things and we just we just happened to smoke alongside it. But again that was back in the days when you could sit inside pubs and smoke. And so we spent most of our time at university sat in the pub anyway. So it was you know, so we just sat there and smoked all the time.

But it was yes, I’m just trying to think if I actually ever gave, tried to give while I was at university. Because I’m sure I must have done, because there must have been the times when I said, I don’t think I can afford this at all. But if it did, I failed miserably while I was at university, because it was a, I don’t know, because you’re surrounded by lots of other people smoking and I was weak willed [laughs]. And I think truly to be perfectly honest I didn’t have the desire to give up. I think that was probably the crucial element of it.
Public health campaigns

Anti-smoking ads on TV and on bill boards have been around for many years. Messages such as ‘Smoking Kills’ on cigarette packets have been EU law since 1991, yet to many people they seemed to be less memorable than the cigarette ads (which were completely banned in 2002). Often people couldn’t quite place how they had come to know that smoking harmed their health; some remembered a lesson at school or a poster they had once seen. Many who grew up to smoke later in life had been firmly against smoking as children. Laura’s Mum and Dad said she could be embarrassing as a young child as she would ‘waft her arms around’ and ‘made a scene’ if anybody was smoking nearby.
 

For ages Haseen didn’t realise just how bad smoking was for people and always thought he wouldn’t be the one to get ill.

For ages Haseen didn’t realise just how bad smoking was for people and always thought he wouldn’t be the one to get ill.

Age at interview: 46
Sex: Male
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But I mean I had no idea. I mean. How much smoking can be harmful to you. People don’t. I mean I don’t, I can’t talk about people, but I’m talking about myself. Just could not get it into my head that it is so bad for you, you know, it just. I consider it some sort of magic, sort of spell put on people. Yes, both psychologically and physically, and psychologically too, there’s the fact, you know, the thing I was telling you about it being company. It is a big thing. It has such a strong effect, it had a strong effect on me. Hm. So strange. Hm.

Yes, I mean there were warnings on cigarettes packets you, the statutory message, smoking can cause injury you know, cancer and all that stuff. It, I mean, I did get, I did realise the significance of smoking to that also. And in articles and paper, you know, sometimes medical journals and so on, you come across, you read [coughs] about that and you find out so many people died of lung cancer. So many people dying of heart disease and so on. Yes, it did, but on a, I never a journal and said like okay let me read about smoke, deaths caused by smoking or any of that. But on a casual basis you see it in the newspaper, you read it and so on. It didn’t actually make a big difference I don’t think, you know. It is always like, how do you say, like it’s not going to happen to me, it’s going to happen to somebody else. That kind of, but so many die, so many people but not me, so you know, that kind of way of thinking. So yes.
People told us that they had actively ignored health warnings about smoking or got used to them. Caroline, for example, talked through anti-smoking ads on TV to distract her kids when they were in the room.
 

Tom developed a ‘dark smoker’s humour’ and made jokes about the warnings on cigarette packets.

Tom developed a ‘dark smoker’s humour’ and made jokes about the warnings on cigarette packets.

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I think probably when we all started the only one we really, we were ever really aware was ‘oh this gives you cancer.’ Because it said so on the packet. And then late, I do remember sort of, there was a point at which they started putting more specific warnings on the packets. But [laughs] we sort of like, don’t know, there is an element, there is I’m sure a strong element of denial in all of that, because you are walking into a shop and buying something…it says on the box ‘these will probably kill you at some point’. And yet you still buy them. And then you get the sort of dark smokers’ humour in there as well. I remember the ones that said, ‘smoking while pregnant harms your baby.’ Going into the shop and saying to the person, “Can I have a packet of the ones that only harm unborn children.” You know, so there is, that is being totally aware that they’re bad for you, but still sort of on one level not giving a shit, and making a joke out of it, but on another level you can’t claim that you didn’t know it.

So when they started putting the more specific things on, I remember kind of like, “Oh no, you’ve got the ones that lower your sperm count. You want to take them back and get the unborn children ones.” I don’t know if that means it was successful or not. I guess it, I guess it means we were all sort of, maybe more aware of things that we didn’t know before.

But yeah, I guess I sort of, I always knew that it was something that would, that would be bad for me, and I guess the sort of, you don’t need to really know much beyond ‘these will give you cancer.’
People also found ways to convince themselves that the warnings about smoking did not apply to them. Val said that she knew the risks but didn’t think they applied to her.
 

Angela thought that ‘all the campaigning in the world’ wouldn’t stop someone who wanted to smoke.

Angela thought that ‘all the campaigning in the world’ wouldn’t stop someone who wanted to smoke.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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You know, basically when you sort of get. You know, when kids start smoking they don’t really know. But when you’re like a hardened smoker or, you know, all these things, you know that they’re bad for you, you know that they’re going to clog your arteries, they know that they give lung cancer, and you know you can die. And I mean that woman on Coronation Street who has to have that tank, I forgot her, Vera.

Yes, that’s the one.

You know all this. But you still like to smoke. I know you don’t like to smoke, like, and most people agree with me, you’ve got a packet of 20 and you’ve smoke all them, there’s not all of them 20 that you enjoy all day. But there is four or five that you do. And so all the campaigning in the world, and all the stopping smoking, and all the ‘don’t do this’, and ‘you’re not doing it here’. You’re still going to smoke, because you enjoy it. And most people it’s when they’ve had enough their selves like me. I mean lots of people that you know, doctors or surgeons will say if you don’t stop smoking, you don’t live to when people stop then, but mainly you smoke because you want to and you like it, and it doesn’t matter what you say [laughs] or what you do, or how much money you put on them fags, that’s going to stop you from smoking.
The smoking ban

Smoking bans were controversial at the time and several people remembered thinking that the ban was an example of the ‘nanny state’. Yet many of those who were still smoking at the time of the ban understood the reasons, and looking back, nearly all thought it had been a good idea. Many also recognised that the ban was one of the changes that had helped them to give up.
 

Andy was still smoking when the ban came, but realised that it might help him give up smoking in the future.

Andy was still smoking when the ban came, but realised that it might help him give up smoking in the future.

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
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The thing is the smoking ban came on a fairly interesting time for me, because I still smoked when they were first talking about it. I mean, all the debates you’d have with your friends in the pub about should they be banning smoking, human rights, blah, blah, blah. Even as a smoker, I said, “To be honest with you, we haven’t got a leg to stand on here. You know, I mean, you find, you find a pub, that’s, you find a dingy little room where all the smokers can go and drink and work and things like that. Kind of fair enough. But in a normal pub which people who don’t smoke want to go and enjoy the evening. There is no excuse. So there’s no argument, genuine argument you can give as to why we should have a right to smoke in here, because, you know, it’s damaging to other people’s health. It’s unpleasant for people who don’t, who, don’t smoke.” And I think we didn’t really have a lot to stand on as smokers at that point to say they shouldn’t bring this ban in. And for me as well as I actually thought to myself, I hope they do bring it in because it will help me give up. And I almost kind of flagged that up in the future as may be a day to give up when the smoking ban comes in I’ll knock it on the head because it will be a yes, it will make life an awful lot easier. 

I think it was a problem because I was defining all of my smoking being around drinking. Which it really, which it really wasn’t. But I knew it would just make life a little bit easier if you couldn’t smoke in pubs. If nobody was smoking in pubs. And what I didn’t, I didn’t take into account, I think around the time the ban came in I decided to start giving up, but it was also, I think, I’m think I’m right in saying it was around the same time we had the really nice hot summer and so we all sat outside in pub gardens and, and everyone was smoking outside. So I just carried on smoking.
 

In the longer term Keith thought that the ban might help him give up smoking.

In the longer term Keith thought that the ban might help him give up smoking.

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
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I do remember it coming in and I fully supported it and even though I was a smoker at the time. I thought that it was a really good thing. I thought, I suppose at the back of my mind I thought it would be a way to stop me smoking and I suppose it was in the really long run, but short term I carried on just the same. I was a firm believer in stopping smoking in public places and in pubs and I think it has been a really good move. I’m not aware of the statistics, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of smokers has decreased significantly because of it and that’s another thing. I hope so anyway.
 

Roger always supported the smoking ban even though he was still a smoker when it came.

Roger always supported the smoking ban even though he was still a smoker when it came.

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
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But when you smoke you don’t realise, and because you’re an addict you have a total inability to empathise with non-smokers, to the point where you think it’s terrible that smokers aren’t able to smoke in enclosed public premises any more. And that sort of selfish, unthinking attitude which some people have, which I’ve never shared, I’ve always supported the idea of smokers not being able to smoke in public places like that. Always, even, when it wasn’t even, you know, I’ve always gone into a restaurant and thought ‘oh that’s disgusting’, people smoking, you know, I’m trying to eat here. And that’s from a heavy smoker think thought like that. So I haven’t got much sympathy with smokers who feel they’re hard done by because they have to stand outside in the nice warm gazebo, yeah. So…anyway.
After having given up, some people like Khan, Miles, Gareth and Munir didn’t think that the smoking ban went far enough, and wished that cigarettes had disappeared.

However, others regretted the ban and thought that smokers should be given nicer places to smoke and should still have the right to smoke. Oddly Sue’s smoking became more ‘ritualistic’ as she had to plan when to smoke, and so thought more about cigarettes. Cassie just ended up smoking much more at home.
 

Looking back, Blodwen felt that the smoking ban was good but she had disliked it at the time. [TEXT ONLY]

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Looking back, Blodwen felt that the smoking ban was good but she had disliked it at the time. [TEXT ONLY]

Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
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Years and years ago, we used to smoke in the kitchen [at work] you see. So, you know, stuff like that has changed hasn’t it. Which helps in a way.

Would you have said that the time. What did you think about that kind of legislation?

I didn’t like it at the time. I didn’t like it at the time. Because it was almost sort of like forcing you isn’t it? But yes. In hindsight obviously it’s a good thing. So I suppose it’s a bit, just a bit of everything. It’s only now that I’m actually thinking about it, with talking about it. You know, the gradual thing. It’s only now that I’m actually thinking about it, with talking about it. You know, the gradual thing that, that yes, with a little assistance from yes, legislation. That’s one isn’t it? Something being, you know, not being able to smoke in the building. Not being able to smoke inside the pub. And I remember God, no, I’m not going outside for a fag, it’s too blooming cold out there.

You know, so its stuff like I suppose that makes, makes a difference, and then, you know, realising, well yes, I’ve got, I’ve got so many left now, I haven’t smoked as much. But it was the illness thing that actually was the crunch. That was, you know, that’s what did it for me, and because I was ready to I suppose. I was ready to yes.
 

Neil didn’t like how the smoking ban was implemented and thought that businesses and smokers should still have a choice.

Neil didn’t like how the smoking ban was implemented and thought that businesses and smokers should still have a choice.

Age at interview: 64
Sex: Male
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What are your thoughts about the smoking ban and how did that affect you in your life?

I don’t think the smoking ban was right in the way it was implemented. I think it should have been up to the landlord if it’s a pub, or if it’s a café the owner of the café. I think it should have been up to them to decide whether they were going non smoking or smoking. Or like in the old days pubs used to have a smoking room and if you wanted to smoke you went into the smoking room. So, it wasn’t a choice. It was just you will not do it. And I don’t like anyone talking to me like that. Especially the government. And it took away people’s choice. And I don’t think that is right at all. Has it affected me? Well no, not really, because I decided I was stopping. If there are smokers around it gets to me for a bit like, but after that it just don’t matter really. So, no if they want to smoke it’s fine by me. Even though I don’t like it, but I know what they’re doing to themselves. One day they’ll stop or they’ll die.
Chris thought that smokers should have somewhere to go to have a cigarette and not be made to stand outside as if they were ‘naughty children’.
 

Now that he has stopped smoking Raf thinks that the ban is a good thing, but when it first came in he used to smoke between jobs as a taxi driver.

Now that he has stopped smoking Raf thinks that the ban is a good thing, but when it first came in he used to smoke between jobs as a taxi driver.

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
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And can you remember the smoking ban coming in?

Yes, yes I can.

Tell me what you can remember about that and how you felt about it and…?

When it actually started at the time, I was working as a taxi driver and it became law that you can’t actually smoke in your car because it’s a public place in a sense, and but it never actually stopped me. I’d have the window fully down and I’d light a cigarette up in between jobs and I’d smoke it, and working on weekends, in picking customers and dropping them in town and vice versa, you’d see people standing outside clubs smoking and complaining, ever since this ban’s come in we can’t smoke inside, whereas normally they’d be enjoying a drink and a cigarette inside a club, but ever since this basically happened. It has affected I’d say every smoker in the sense that they’re limited to where they can and where they can’t smoke.

And what do you think about that?

I think it’s good now that, now that obviously that I have obviously stopped, but at the time, right up to when I hadn’t stopped, I thought it was just a waste of time, bringing that ban in and stopping people from smoking where they’re more comfortable, and but now obviously I see it all different. If not completely different, a lot more different than what I actually did prior to that.
 

Tam was in two minds about the smoking ban, but while she was pregnant she enjoyed being able to go to the pub to meet friends without being exposed to smoke.

Tam was in two minds about the smoking ban, but while she was pregnant she enjoyed being able to go to the pub to meet friends without being exposed to smoke.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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It was nice through pregnancy to be able to still pop to the pub now and then to see friends. Because now, I don’t know, sometimes the smell of it sort of catches me as ooh that smells lovely, and other times it’s hideous. So it is nice to be able to sort of go out and not be, you know, smell bad.

I know you said the first time when the ban came in you sort of smoked that night on principle but…?

Yes, because it was the last time you could smoke in a pub, so in principle I was. I mean I am in two minds about it, but yes, in a way, it’s sort of we’re going with a nanny state, you know, if people want to smoke let them, but it has been nicer to be able to go down the pub when pregnant and since then and it not smell bad.

Because I don’t know, yes, I haven’t really gone not out that much, but I don’t really go anywhere where there is smoking now to know if I really miss it or not. Because it’s been gone for so long.
(Also see ‘The image of smoking and smoking in secret’, ‘Unsolicited advice from health professionals, family and friends’ and ‘Parents, friends and first cigarettes’).

Since these interviews there has been further legislation in the UK against smoking:
  • Age at which tobacco products could be purchased increased from 16 to 18 years old
  • Picture warnings of the harm of smoking introduced on cigarette packets.
  • Sale of tobacco from vending machines banned.
  • Tobacco displays banned in large stores.
  • Ban on smoking in cars carrying children.
  • Standardised packaging rolled out across UK.

​Last reviewed August 2018.
Last updated August 2018.
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