Wednesday, October 7, 2009
This isn't going to a rant against the dangers of smoking cigarettes. We all know that smoking leads to several types of cancer, heart disease, peptic ulcers, bronchitis, etc. This site, one of many, is pretty clear: " Cigarettes are filled with poison that goes into the lungs when you inhale." Duh.
Now that that's out of the way, I should add that despite the implied claims of the anti-tobacco people, cigarettes don't kill you instantly, and not everyone gets hooked from a single puff. Some smokers never become full-fledged nicotine junkies. Smoking is risky, but so are things like drinking excessively, riding mechanical bulls, doing hard drugs, having anonymous sex in seedy bathrooms, fighting in bars and in bar parking lots, firing your handgun into the air to frighten the crowd you are fighting with, stealing cars, feeling from the police, and sleeping in a bus station after ditching the car. If you have a life like that, having a few puffs is not going to be what catches up with you.
But those behaviors listed above at least have short-term benefits. Drinking makes you feel good and can act as a social lubricant, snorting concaine makes you feel really good for a really short time, stealing a car gets you a car, and so on. You may disapprove of activities like this, but at least you can see the appeal they would have for someone who genuinely doesn't care about tomorrow. The same can't be said of smoking cigarettes.
Even if you ignored the major health issues, the costs of smoking outweigh the benefits rather drastically. Smoking is expensive, cigarettes taste terrible, your teeth become stained, you start coughing all the time and lose lung capacity, you smell like old smoke, and thanks to the anti-smoking lobby's efforts to attach a social stigma to smokers, you might become less attractive to the opposite sex (at least the non-smokers). You don't even get high by smoking tobacco. And if you are using cigarettes to worship Native American deities, you're not doing it right.
Some smokers have created neurotic reasons to explain their habit ("I need something to do with my hands") or say "It's just something I do" and leave it at that, but it wasn't like these people came out of the womb tapping a pack of Marlboro Reds against their palm. Being addicted to nicotine is a reason to continue smoking, but why in Camel Joe's name would you start?
The anti-tobacco people sometimes blame ads and peer pressure for getting young people to smoke, and that was definitely true years ago, but that doesn't work anymore. Thanks to increased knowledge of the dangers of smoking (although I don't buy that no one knew smoking was bad for you before 1960), and the anti-smoking ads (which are so aggressive there's some backlash against them), there's actually peer pressure in some groups against smoking. Young people don't smoke to "fit in" anymore because smoking would make them stand out in a lot of places. And while cigarette smoking has been declining in young people since 1965, when 45 percent of Americans aged 18-24 smoked, that percentage has never dropped below 23. (This from a recent American Lung Association report.) It's pretty clear that no matter what, a minority of people are going to smoke, even if you call cigarettes Instant Death Sticks.
My theory is that people smoke cigarettes precisely because smoking is such a clearly terrible idea. "This is a poor choice that I will pay for later on," a smoker, especially a young smoker, is saying to the world. "Fuck tomorrow, I'm living for today." Smoking can be seen as a kind of signaling behavior, indicating to other young people that they're experimenting with risky behavior and aren't concerned with the morality of the larger society that publishes studies about the dangers of smoking and shows anti-smoking commercials. Or to use vernacular, they're "down for whatever."
Smoking is definitely, definitely a bad idea, which doesn't make it much different than anything else. (See the rest of this blog for details.) The defining characteristic of smoking is that it's so obviously a terrible decision that it has become a shorthand for other kinds of rebellion. In a world where people are told not to smoke, only people who don't do what they're told will smoke, or something like that.
Or it could be that smokers are just stupid and think putting a tube of burning plants in their mouths makes them look cool.