No one ever lied to me about the risks of smoking. They were made abundantly clear to me from years of after-school specials and cloyingly dishonest television commercials (thanks Truth.com!) I began smoking entirely of my own volition as a free-born adult of these United States of America. Peer pressure played very little role in bringing that first sweet cancer-stick to my lips, nor did a Tobacco industry executive ever come to my house and threaten to kill my family if I refused to try his product. The point being that I made a conscious decision to start smoking, a decision which I do not regret and which I have declined, since making, to change.
The evils of smoking are myriad and immediately appreciable. They can be recited by any elementary school-student. Stained teeth, fetid breath, noxious clothes, burns on the upholstery, death. Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks To Your Health reads the latest of the increasingly strident Surgeon General’s warnings. Walk into a 7/11 in Canada and you can see row after row of blackened lungs staring at you over the cashier’s shoulder from the backs of Marlboro cigarette cartons. In this day and age, one would have to be possessed of a more than mild retardation to miss the obvious fact that cigarettes are bad for you. But the benefits and kindnesses of cigarette smoking are more difficult to recognize, and only reveal themselves to those of us who have undergone the tender ministrations of Our Sweet Lady of Nicotine. With her name constantly disparaged by every two-bit moralizer in the nation, it falls to me to champion her, and to defend her honor the best I am able.
I first began smoking while traveling down to Birmingham to work in a refugee center after Hurricane Katrina. Before starting the long drive down from Pennsylvania, we filled up our car with foodstuffs and toiletries, the better to bring aid to our fellow citizens of Louisiana, now sadly displaced from their homes. In addition, one of my friends, a sometime smoker, picked up a couple of cartons of cigarettes. Upon arriving in Birmingham, fourteen or so hours later, we discovered that the refugee center was choc-full of every conceivable type of food and clothing, as provided by the good people of Alabama. What the refugee center was not choc-full of was cigarettes.
Thus began my first experience with the power cigarettes have to bring people together, a power sufficient to traverse nationality, ethnicity, social-class, even language. There is little to encourage generosity in the modern world, with the popular cynicism of the age dominating out interactions with each other. But I have found that the small kindness of giving another human-being a cigarette acts as a positive counterbalance towards the distrust of our fellow man which the media and society has worked so hard to instill in us. I have traveled the world, all around North America, throughout Europe from London to Talinn, and across much of East Asia, and I have learned that so long as I have a pack of smokes in my pocket I can always find a friend. Smoking cigarettes allows me, at least once or twice a week, to indulge those higher aspects of the human soul by improving, in a small way, the day of a total stranger.
The international brotherhood of Nicotine addicts have only been strengthened by the oppression being heaped upon us by society and the government. When I huddle outside a restaurant or a bar in the dark chill of winter, numb fingers flicking at a bic lighter, I know that anyone else freezing outside with me is my comrade in arms, a confederate in the struggle against a nation increasingly willing to dictate norms of behavior based upon an abstract notion of group good. “Damn government” I always say. My compatriot always nods sympathetically.
On a related note, cigarette smokers do not fear global warming. A five-degree rise in average global temperature you say? A few more weeks I can smoke outside without a coat.
Smoking cigarettes gives me a foolproof excuse to extricate myself from any situation which becomes, for one reason or another, socially unbearable. Funerals, family gatherings, reunions with ex-girlfriends, whatever. Other people may have to sit still while cousin Ida describes her pregnancy in grim and thorough detail, but I pull out my pack of Camels and look around for an exit. “Sorry everyone, I’m a nicotine addict, completely unable to contain my all-consuming desire for another cancer-stick. Be back in five!”
The simplest reason that I smoke cigarettes is because it causes me a certain amount of moderate pleasure. The response to this, by any of the legions of (depending upon your position) well-meaning/self-righteous anti-smoking activists is that I enjoy cigarettes because I have become addicted/accustomed to them, and when I first started smoking I found the activity distasteful. Like many polemics people often throw out, this has all the features of an argument without actually being an argument. Yes, at one point I did not enjoy smoking cigarettes. At one point I also didn’t like onions. I now enjoy partaking of both, and my earlier feelings on the subject are of little relevance.
To those of you whose customs and morals are called into question daily, whose habits are portrayed as having roughly the same degenerative effect upon society as say, pedophilia, who subsidize countless layers of government bureaucracy and social programs, I say stand strong. We are innumerable and indestructible. Nothing can stop us. Except, you know, lung cancer, obviously.