May 2, 2008

On Cancer Sticks and Coolness.

Perfect nights like these make me want to take a cigarette and sit on the front steps and just enjoy the warm night air.

Now, there are many, many bad things about smoking, not the least of which that it is unhealthy. But, you know, there are plenty of positives to it, too (ones that would probably disappear if the social stigma to a cancer stick in the mouth were to disappear as well). My friend Scott makes a good point in saying that a cigarette emboldens you, makes you feel like you are being daring. It’s probably the fact that you hold death in your hands and lungs, but he is right. It is like rebelling without rebelling. They're legal, but socially unacceptable. They probably produce the same effect that wearing a mohawk does. "Cigarettes! That you can legally buy in shops?! I'll try to carry on but I’m shocked!" said Simon Amstell on the BBC show Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

I have seen and hung out with plenty of smokers. They are, surprisingly, not fire-breathing dragons who lurk around doorways waiting till you walk by to exhale their cloud of smoke on you out of envy of your pink-healthy lungs. They are nice people who just happen to suck down one to 25 cancer sticks in a day. Knowing lots and lots of smokers makes me feel sorry for the people who are forced out into the cold because of their habits. Of course, they can just quit* but I still feel that knee-jerk reaction of sympathy.

*Because, you know, just dieting is easy, too. and so is cutting down on how many miles you drive per week, and so is exercising more, and so is every other new years resolution know to humankind.

Good thing that many club and restaurant owners are recognizing this and putting those magic heat umbrellas outside, making the smoker’s natural habitat more inviting. (and, consequently, more like a fire-breathing dragon’s lair.)

I notice that most of my smoker friends are my age or younger. It is possible that this fascination with the ‘backy is from a cocksure teenage attitude of “dude, they’re gonna die but not me, ‘cuz, like, that doesn’t happen to ME.” but I don’t think so. Rather, I believe it stems from a fatalistic mindset instilled in a generation raised by news media, television, and the internet. The very word “whatever” (oh, teenage slang!) as a reaction to life’s ups and downs is a testament to lack of concern for self that my generation faces.

Of course, there is an enormous amount of blind optimism (exhibit a: me!) that causes my generation to also be selfless do-gooders. Apparently, according to NSSE (a survey given to college freshmen across the United States), kids that graduated from high school in 2007 (me!) completed numbers of hours of community service that were unheard of and also got outrageously high test scores. (did I mention that my generation was also raised with standardized testing as a teacher? cuz we were.) But still, this is not concern for self as much as it is for community and others. These kids could just as likely be smokers.

Now, I am nowhere near a habitual smoker. I enjoy, at maximum, one pack per semester. They are saved up and savored like Friday night drinks (except minus the calories). It’s difficult to get addicted if you don’t resupply your system with it every 24 hours. I’ve been doing this kind of smoking for well over a year now and can’t say that I’ve ever physically desired a cigarette. I’ve only ever wanted them to compliment nights like this. Unlike most people, I like the way they smell and the way they taste and the way they feel. it is probably a sort of pavlovian response to the fact the majority of my friends at the Hava Java are smokers and smelling/tasting the smoke automatically transports me back to good times, but, you know, whatever.

This post is mainly to get another side of the tobacco debate out there. It is always easy to do the popular thing and bash cigarettes. But it's an entirely different thing to recognize that, hey, drinking is also really, really bad for your body and, hey, driving cars also pollutes the air, and then look at a smoker and say, “hey, your decision, man.” instead of, “OMGZ CIGARETTES ARE GOING TO KILL YOU THE WAY THEY KILLED MY UNCLE, DON’T YOU KNOW THEY’RE DANGEROUS?!”*

*if you tell a smoker that what he or she is doing is dangerous and is going to kill them and then they actually STOP smoking (as in put their cigarette down right then and there) do tell me. I won’t believe it till I see it.

I think it’s ok to ban smoking inside restaurants and bars.* Who wants a bartender or waitress who is earning piss-poor wages to get lung cancer just from going to work? I also think that it should be regulated and licensed the way liquor is: that there is a limited number of restaurants/bars allowed to have indoor smoking and that they must pay for a license. This would allow smokers to have their little lair where they can smoke inside** and allow for bartenders/waitresses to choose where they want to work (or at least choose how much they value their health in comparison to how much they value their paycheck).

*To quote my smoker-aunt on the NJ smoking ban, “What really sucks now is that you go into a bar and you can smell the people.”

**My friend, Rob, returned from a frat party here at school and his most exciting fact of the night was that he could smoke INSIDE and kept talking about how smoking INSIDE was amazing and how he was happy that he could be warm and smoke at the same time because he was smoking INSIDE. He was also very, very drunk.

Ohhhhhh, cigarettes! One of the many smells of summer.

(OH MAN it is time to go write that paper. Did you know it is due at noon tomorrow? I feel like I am preparing for some sort of Old West gun slinger battle in the quad.)

(5:13 AM update: Operation: Paper COMPLETE! How, oh how, did I do papers before I had an endless supply of caffeinated tea? I do not know. Lesson learned: procrastination is a terrible fire-breathing dragon that is just waiting to blow smoke on you as you walk by. And caffeine produces an AMAZING high.)


Anonymous said...

Hey Katie Bee,

I won't give you a hard time like I'm sure other people will. I understand where you're coming from. I am what I'd call a social smoker. I smoke only when I drink (as the joke goes, that would be All the Time!), but seriously, that's probably one day a week. Typically a Friday night. I also do not crave it in the physical sense. I can easily go about my usual week without a single puff, but come the weekend, some friends and some good wine, and I'll plow through 1/2 to an entire pack of American Spirits (celery sticks) in a night. I'm not advocating it, but I feel everything is fine in moderation. I read somewhere that just living in NYC is equivalent to smoking a pack a week and (most) people aren't spontaneously dying of lung diseases there.

Katie Bee said...

"celery sticks"?? that is GOLD. i will remember to call them that!

if that's what NYC is, can you imagine what Mexico City is? that place is as polluted as it gets.

Anonymous said...

The smell/taste of cigarettes is tied to good times for me too. I remember all the beautiful smoker boys I have kissed. I like the taste more than anything. I miss you a lot, as much as I miss random smoker boys in all kinds of questionable places.

Katie Bee said...

Aw, Karly. I miss you, too. I'll see you soon. By this time next week we won't have to miss each other for, like, five months.

Bernie O'Hare said...

A cigarette never tasted better than the one I would smoke after running for three miles.