One of the state government's, indeed, every level of government, biggest problems right now is mental health in our community, especially with men. Suicide rates are at ridiculously high levels. I barely know someone who hasn't been affected by a suicide in their family. Antidepressants are being handed out like butter menthols and they don't seem to be helping long term. And nothing government tries seems to be getting to the heart of the problem.
I'm not going to claim I'm a big depression sufferer. It certainly exists in my family, but I've done as well as most people I know in navigating the trials and sufferings of my life thus far. That's not to say I haven't stared into the abyss more than once and wondered what to do.
But a few years ago I came upon a very unlikely saviour in terms of helping me fill a deep, unmet need. That was cigars.
I had always been curious as to what was involved in smoking a cigar. My religious upbringing had made sure I knew how evil cigarettes were, and thus it was assumed cigars were just supercharged cigarettes.
But despite that, in my mind cigars were not like cigarettes at all. You didn't light up a cigar at the back of the office quickly and puff it down to get a nicotine fix. You sat down and took your time and enjoyed it.
So one day I eventually jumped on YouTube, did some research on cigars, and went out and bought my first cigar.
I sat out the front of my house overlooking the park, cut it, and lit it. As I enjoyed my first cigar, actually half a cigar because I couldn't get through the whole thing, I thought about the week, I thought about life, I thought about the future.
I finished and went inside. Calm. Meditative. Peaceful. And quite pleased.
I had another cigar a few weeks after that when I felt like one. I noticed I never craved a cigar though. They didn't appear to be addictive like a cigarette. To me they were more like a nice massage. Pleasurable, but ultimately not needed.
After a couple of months I caught up with a good friend. I hadn't seen him very much in the previous few years despite him being one of my closest friends. I told him about my discovery of cigars, and we resolved to have one together. And we did. We managed to find a store that sold them, bought a couple, and went back to his place and smoked them.
Smoking a cigar can take half an hour or longer. You don't smash it back like a cigarette. You take your time, have a break, and talk with those in your company.
And that's what my friend and I did. We talked for hours and thoroughly enjoyed our cigars.
So the next thing on our to do list was to let some other close friends of ours know about the great time we had smoking a cigar. They were delighted to try them with us.
So we organised a specific meeting to get together, all the men, and enjoy each other's company and some fine cigars.
And we all enjoyed it so much we started doing it regularly. Even now, a few years on, we look forward to getting together, enjoying a cigar, and some great fellowship.
You see, the cigar was not just a lump of tobacco. It was an excuse to meet up with other men and spend some much needing time talking.
The thing about us men is we're never going to call each other up and say "Hey, I'm really struggling at home with work, the wife, and the kids. I need a deep hearted talk with my friends to get some stuff off my chest and solicit some advice."
But what we WILL do is suggest meeting up for a cigar, and then the other thing happens naturally.
Sometimes you need a place to go and enjoy that fellowship with your peers that just doesn't work at home. Because of current laws, it's challenging even to find a restaurant or bar where you can find a suitable place to enjoy a cigar. And even when you do, they're usually so noisy you can't really talk properly anyway.
But there's a magical little place in Subiaco where men (and women) can gather and enjoy a cigar. There are cigars for sale, and a great range on display. It's a place of friendship and great company. It's also a great place to meet new people. One of my friends is a member and has invited us there on plenty of occasions.
I've never met the owner, but if I did, I would tell him this:
What you've created is more than just a fine cigar establishment. It's a place where men can go and flush away the troubles of the world.
No man, having spent a great evening in the company of friends and enjoyed a cigar, would feel he has nothing to live for and head home to do something his family would regret. Devlin's is better than therapy. It's better than medication. It meets a core human need that is all too lacking in our crazy, modern lifestyle.
But this week I learned it's under threat.
Legislation sits before state parliament that proposes to amend the Tobacco Products Control Act yet again, making it so that tobacco products will not be able to be displayed in any retail store, this means cigars will need to be away from view in locked boxes and may only be seen after they have been purchased. Here's a link. The change would essentially shut Devlin's down and cost the jobs of the dozen or so folks who work there. If you wanted a fine cigar, you'd have to buy them from overseas online, sending yet more jobs offshore.
Now look, I understand why the cultural shift regarding tobacco needed to happen. For too long immoral cigarette manufacturers essentially lied to the public and targeted children with their wares.
But overreacting to that issue will cause other second order problems that are not immediately evident on the surface. I'm sure there are those in parliament that want to live in a world where tobacco, sugar, and refined grains are illegal.
But I don't want to live in a world where the government fights against the very thing that so many men I know have chosen as their way to enjoy a fraction of their precious downtime.
Cigars are not a pastime of children. They cost too much for starters. People who choose to indulge in them usually have one on occasion, not 6 a day. In terms of their effect on the public health sector, I dare say a certain golden arch company has more to answer for than cigars ever will.
Cigars remain a fantastic excuse to get together with my fellow men, share our thoughts and problems, and we emerge stronger and better equipped to go out and contribute positively in our communities and families.
I implore members of state parliament to consider this when dealing with the legislation currently before parliament.