Wednesday, September 24, 2008

smoke smoke smoke

On Friday, I will have gone six months since quitting smoking cigarettes. I'd been smoking off and on for about 6-7 years. Camel Lights. I'm very pleased with myself. I haven't had ONE cigarette in that whole time. I intend to keep it that way for the rest of my life. I loved smoking, but the health risks are just too much. I knew that when I was smoking too, but I just told myself I'd quit soon, and I'd be alright. And then I did. I hope I'm alright. Before you read on, let me make clear that I definitely would discourage anyone from smoking, and I would encourage any smoker to quit as soon as possible. That being said...

Nobody needs to hear a diatribe against cigarettes. The scientific evidence is overwhelming, and we're beaten over the head with it every day. Yes, we get it, smoking is bad. What interests me right now is the fact that millions of people still smoke, even though they know damn well about the health consequences. From my own experience of quitting, I can confidently say that for some people, the addictive aspect of smoking is not why we do it. It wasn't that hard for me to quit once I decided to. Obviously, everyone has different levels of self discipline and is affected differently by chemicals.

But why did I smoke? It wasn't only nicotine addiction for me, and I doubt it's the entire reason for most smokers. And smokers are not all idiots or bad people. No more so than non-smokers. No one seems to want to admit it because of the huge backlash against smoking these days, but there actually are benefits to smoking. Certainly not health benefits, that I know of anyway. Social benefits, which, in the grand scheme of things, are just as important, aren't they?

Human beings don't exist merely to live as long as they can. At least some of us exist to experience life and its infinitely various pleasures. And smoking happens to be a pretty good tool for that in some ways.

First, there's the interpersonal factor. Being a smoker can get you into or out of a lot of conversations. Smokers share a bond, perhaps because they know they're partners in telling all their health conscious friends to go fuck themselves. There must be billions of conversations that have started as the result of asking a stranger for a cigarette or a light. Some of those conversations must have ended up in happy marriages and lifelong friendships. Smoking is almost as useful for getting out of conversations too. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten bored at a party or bar and was able to excuse myself to go out and have a cigarette. They're a useful tool for getting away with things you might've looked awkward doing otherwise.

Then, there's the fact that it breaks up the day. Going out for a smoke was often a time when I could take a step back and reflect on my day or my life in between the regular activities of life, especially work. It's a way to hit the pause button on the day so you can get a fresher start when you hit play again. For some people, this is a very important ritual to have. Looking forward to these breaks can be motivation to work harder to get to them. Of course, smoke breaks are probably just as often used for procrastination, but I look at that as a wash, because procrastinators will do anything to avoid their tasks for a while, not just smoke.

Also, although haters scoff at the notion of smoking being cool, it definitely is cool, to certain people anyway. It completes an image or persona in a way that few other things can. This may not make logical sense, but to say it's not real is to be in denial. I'd certainly been told by more than one girl that I looked sexy with a cigarette. Tell me that isn't a benefit!

It also tastes and smells good to some people. "Ew," some of you are probably thinking, but I bet you drink diet soda or eat liver or fruit-by-the-foot, to which I say to you, "Ew." Then there's the fact that cigarettes give you something to do with your hands and mouth, for those of us with uncontrollable oral and manual fixations. I fidget a lot, and it gives me a very subtle comfort to be doing something with my fingers. Smoke itself is also aesthetically pleasing. It looks cool when it blows around and changes the look of things, like clouds on a small scale.

The list could probably go on and on for a lot of people. As I said before, I'd hate to be misinterpreted as encouraging smoking in any way. I do not! All I'm trying to say is that unilaterally judging smokers as ignorant, disgusting addicts is too simplistic. We make progress through understanding problems. Understanding and validating certain aspects of smoking can help ingratiate you to someone you are encouraging to quit. Judging and repeating well-known facts usually won't do the trick. If you truly want to help someone, let go of your anger and establish a connection of understanding. Be a friend, not a judge.


lac582 said...

Yeahhhhh,the problem is partly that whole secondhand smoke thing. My downstairs neighbor smokes. That's his or her right. But my closet and therefore clothing smells and I don't really want his/her toxins in my body, thanks.

Also, I am going to sound like an asshole - but that marriage that started by two people meeting during a smoke break could also be cut short by lung cancer.

Which is why I ordered my exercise bike (which I can't use until my foot heals). I have a commitment to my loved ones to keep myself as healthy as I can for those things that are within my control.

Which I guess also means I have an obligation to stop tripping over purses :p

Anonymous said...

Smoking is and always will be cool. The only thing cooler than smoking a cigarette is probably smoking a cigarette while watching Oddzar play, which several other people as well as myself participated in last Friday. Eli not quite so cool by his own or my standards seeing as he failed to appear at the Oddzar show and no longer smokes cigarette.