“I smoke, I drink, lot of you don’t drink, don’t smoke. Some people here tonight, they don’t eat butter; no salt, no sugar, no lard. ‘Cause they wanna live, they give up that good stuff; neckbone, pigtail.
You gonna feel like a damn fool layin’ at the hospital dyin’ from nothin’.”
Discipline 99 Quasimoto
Smoking is terrible, I think we all can agree. One half of smokers die of smoking related illness. Pregnant women who smoke can give birth to babies with mental and physical disabilities. Cigarettes are the most frequent source of domestic fire. Cigarette butts are numerically the most littered item in the world. It makes you stink. Your teeth become discolored. Dedicated use can eventually turn your finger tips yellow. Not to mention the prices in major cities. In some areas in the UK the tax alone is more than half the cost of the pack itself. Smoking is terrible. We’re all on the same page.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the other side of the tobacco issue. As the character Mark Renton explains in the film Trainspotting, “People think it’s all about misery and desperation and death and all that shite, which is not to be ignored. But what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. After all, we’re not fucking stupid.” Now granted, Mark is discussing heroin not tobacco, but with cultural war on cigarettes, they may as well be the same thing. And that’s what’s ignored. The utter joy of a cigarette. The public acts as if Big Tobacco has tricked all of us smokers into thinking that cigarettes won’t kill us, as if we’re little lambs all lined up for slaughter, unknowingly ingesting deadly toxins. But as covered above, we know. Anti-tobacco activists are putting so much time and effort into saving people who don’t want to be saved. Smoking is a personal choice. I understand making health dangers public and keeping children away at all costs — I’d wish I’d been smart enough to stay away as a teen because it is one hell of an expensive habit (health risks too, health risks too.) But for the rest of us, the dedicated, unwavering smokers, it’s a waste of breath.
To take up smoking is to take up a new identity, often unwittingly. Initially it tends to be that of rebellion. The 17 year old who sneaks out after lunch for that secret digestion cig (there is almost no cig better than the digestion cig) develops an air of mystery. As well as an air of terribly stinky cigarette smell, but stink tinged with mystery. Rebellion, a love of instant gratification, a strange maturity — all typical side effects of smoking. While jotting down ideas for this post I wrote down every real smoker that I know. The ones who always have packs and aren’t just the “I just had a shot of tequila give me a cigarette!” smokers. And albeit a small sample of the global association of smokers, I found that each one of these people is deeper, more thoughtful and more open minded than my non-smoking friends. I once saw an image on tumblr of a woman smoking a cigarette and the text laid on top read “Smoking is Thinking.” Smokers spend much more time per day than their non-smoking counterparts quietly reflecting. Those frequent cig breaks are often taken alone, leaving the smoker time to think about their day, their life, their world, and you non-smokers would be surprised what your brain can do with 15 minutes and a shot of nicotine. I tried to quit in college and I got past the first few days easily, but then the loneliness set in. Smoking is a hobby — it’s a friend who’s never busy and is there to keep you company if you get to an appointment 20 minutes early or want a 15 minute break from your drunk friends on a night out. The smoking lifestyle is what’s hard to quit.
For years, really from the 1900s to the 1960s smoking was sexy. As the New York Times puts it, smoking was a “culture icon of sophistication, glamour and sexual allure — a highly prized commodity for one out of two Americans.” The health dangers were relatively undiscovered and, kind of like sex in this era, you knew there was probably some kind of risk associated with the action but did it anyway. The Brits were the first to link smoking to lung cancer, and along with many other areas of Europe, have since really been on the forefront of the anti-tobacco rally. With America being so invested in tobacco farming, the US has dragged its heels somewhat. But in 2006 the charade was over as a Washington DC judge concluded that the tobacco industry had “engaged in a 40 year conspiracy to defraud smokers of health risks.” Cigarette culture proceded to enter a downward spiral of strict rules and regulations. And as our freedoms disappeared, we were more and more frequently confronted with the self-righteous non-smoker, cleverly informing us on the streets that “those things’ll kill ya!” Non-smokers, let me just tell you, there is nothing a smoker loves more than hearing your opinion of and advice on smoking.
I often dream of living in the time when smoking on airplanes was commonplace, movie theaters were filled with tobacco fog, secretaries and businessmen lit up throughout the workday, and elevators had ashtrays. A cigarette on the subway, in the mall, at the dinner table. That level of freedom is unimaginable today.
Let’s look back on this smoker’s paradise — and to all you non-smokers: enjoy the world, for it belongs to you now.