Thursday, April 29th, 2010

In Praise of Five Cigarettes a Day

SMOKE IN HERE PLEASEAt the recently smoked-in Heathrow Airport, as at almost every airport I can think of, it is necessary to go outside to smoke. Not an easy task, if you've got a long layover. We had to go through immigration in order to even get outside, last time. ("Purpose of visit?" "Smoking." No seriously, I wrote that on the form.)

Once you've been cleared for smoking at Heathrow, you have to go in a little glassed-in outdoor pen reminiscent of a zoo enclosure. There you will puff in uncomfortably close proximity to a bunch of guilty-looking fellow-smokers, many of them in airport staff uniforms. Smoking in the pen is so shameful that you don't even get the pleasurable feeling of being in a wicked little cabal, like we have in office life in the States. A policeman came by at one point and put a stray smoker who'd been wandering just outside the pen back inside. It feels weak, dirty, to be huddled out there smoking, kind of furtive. To say nothing of the uneasy sense that passing tourists might photograph you, or toss you a sardine.

And London used to be such a smokers' town! In the 1980s you'd be greeted at the pub with a wall of Silk Cut fumes so thick it was impossible to tell whether or not your friends were even in there until you got within six inches of them. But now there are glassed-in outdoor smokers' habitats, and posters all over the place celebrating "Smokefree England." Their plans went far beyond keeping non-smokers away from smoke-and now it's got much the same smugly clean-livin', scolding air that our own Yankee anti-smoking folk give off.

So this thing has spread, is what has happened, this thing of making pariahs of smokers, punishing them with ostracism. Smoking Kills!-as if it just kills generically, kills everyone, and not just the addicts who are torching three packs a day. (Which, yes, it may!) There's a weird, angry vengefulness against smokers, who are now treated like "outsiders" in more than just the literal sense of having to cluster round the ashcan at some specified distance from an office building.

At the same time, though, everybody is staring at the various beauties of Mad Men and thinking how sexy and exciting all that smoking is.

A very similar kind of Tea Party absolutism succeeded in outlawing liquor for thirteen long U.S. years, you will recall. The Volstead Act (1920-1933) didn't really stop anyone from drinking, of course; it only drove liquor underground, cheapened and degraded it. Only imagine having to hire a bootlegger every time you're about to have a party. Basically they smashed Henri Charpentier's whole wine cellar, tens of thousands of bottles of beautiful wine, so that people could go and addle themselves on shoe polish, bathtub gin or whatever.

The neo-prohibitionist atmosphere around smoking means increased anxiety for those of us who still enjoy a cigarette. Smokers have been harassed into a mortified, self-flagellating condition, a subtle little longing to die, almost. Some quit, which is good! And some say, fuck it, I'm going to die of something, so why struggle so hard to stave off the day? That's the attitude that explains why smoking tends to go hand in hand with depression.

But as Richard Klein writes in the thought-provoking Cigarettes are Sublime: "warning smokers or neophytes of the dangers entices them more powerfully to the edge of the abyss, where, like travelers in a Swiss landscape, they can be thrilled by the subtle grandeur of the perspectives on mortality that open up by the little terrors in every puff. Cigarettes are bad. That is why they are good–not good, not beautiful, but sublime."

Such a lovely passage; it always reminds me of this:


Furthermore, as we were getting round to observing earlier, smoking hasn't lost an iota of its immemorial glamor. It's also thoughtful, meditative and sexy, a contemplative space apart from all other rituals whether solitary or shared. The deep and abiding pleasures of smoking are in no way to be derided.

I therefore wish to propose a better way to deal with the deadly scourge of tobacco, one based on our reasonably successful taming of Demon Alcohol. The puritanical demand for a measure of guilt to go with every pleasure is quintessentially American, yet one can now knock back a cocktail or two with complete impunity. (Magazines are full of advice about how you will live to be a thousand if you have a glass or two of wine every day! Only imagine what they would have made of that, back in the 1920s.)

So I write to ask, first, that the same impunity be granted to a restrained, temperate level of smoking; and second, to advocate for that habit of restraint.

I believe we ought to encourage smokers to have a reasonable amount and be happy, rather than telling them to QUIT OR DIE! Indeed, the ideal of moderation would be very beneficial in a lot of areas. Healthy, restrained, pleasurable indulgence!-we could have that for all manner of things, such as taking drugs, exercise, videogaming, gambling and working.

After years of quitting smoking, starting again and blah, I have myself managed to achieve the most marvelously peaceful and pleasant rate of five or so cigarettes per day. Sometimes if I have cocktails, a few more, and sometimes less. It doesn't interfere with my yoga, I don't cough, etc. Here is how I did it, for those who may be interested in cutting down to a rational level:

1. Have only the amount you want, even if it is only a puff or two. One cigarette is really a huge portion, along the lines of a Cheesecake-Factory-sized entree. Leave the rest outside for later, or throw it out, if you are rich, and if you want to.

2. Don't smoke at your desk; go outside or take a walk. By which I mean, have just the cigarette by itself and really enjoy it, don't smoke during some other activity.

3. Wait until you really want one, and know that you can have as much as you want, then.

Yes, of course we may still worry about the one- and two-pack-a-day smoker, in the same way we pity and fear for the man who greets the day with a half-dozen shots of tequila, having thereby lost his grip on everything from his career to his bowels. But we don't worry for a moment about anybody who likes to pop out for a drink or two with his mates after work, for once all the tapas are polished off with a final draught of club soda to clear the palate, a temperate reveller won't even blow .08. He will, in fact, be just fine tomorrow morning for work, refreshed and restored by his moment off the hamster wheel. Why, therefore, should we worry about the smoker of similarly grown-up habits; why not accord the temperate smoker the same respect we bestow on the moderate drinker?

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.

54 Comments / Post A Comment

NicFit (#616)

Agreed. Anti-smoking hysteria is completely out of control.

NicFit (#616)

And I say that as a current/ex/former-ex on and off smoker.

Crantastical (#4,127)

I probably smoke 3 cigarettes a month (usually when drinking). This has been going on for years, sometimes less. Why is it met with such horror and judgement from some people? Let me have my fun. I'll probably suck up more toxic fumes waiting for the bus. It isn't like they listen to me when they go sit in tanning beds.

Meat-pole Tarzan (#4,312)

Or drink alcohol. Shit, alcoholism is way fucking worse than being a regular smoker. You can still be a functional member of society as a regular smoker.

Suzi (#3,593)

Did somebody email you this post right before they posted it so you could be first? I hope so!

Meat-pole Tarzan (#4,312)

I think I love you.

deepomega (#1,720)

Being loved by Meat-pole Tarzan is a harrowing experience.

Meat-pole Tarzan (#4,312)

I'm actually quite gentle (emotionally, anyway).

saythatscool (#101)

Danny Alexander?

brent_cox (#40)

I've been waiting for my first chance to "yes, this" a post.

Hamilton (#122)

Unfortunately five cigarettes a day will also totally kill you, but it's a nice sentiment.

Kevin (#2,559)

You too will also die. Smoke free or not. It's gonna happen.

scrooge (#2,697)

As a smoker of about 10 a day, that survey really cheered me up. My chances of dying from any cause go up to a massive 2% per 100,000 person years. Jeez, I think that means I'm going to live to be 50,000. Also makes you realize what a lot of horse-poo those second-hand smoke zealots are eating (I mean the ones who think it'll kill you, not those namby-pambies who object to the smell, wear strong cologne, and drive hummers).

It reminds me of that scene in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. They're perched on a ledge on the side of a mountain. The relentless White Hats (who are those guys?) are coming over the mountain to get them. There's a 300-foot drop to a pool below, and Sundance won't jump because he can't swim.

"Hell, the fall'll probably kill ya".

betsy (#274)

I agree absolutely that smoking is sublime, and I disagree with almost all smoking prohibitions, but this argument just ignores that drinking in moderation is actually good for general health, while smoking even one cigarette is exponentially worse than smoking none (plus affects people in close proximity). That doesn't mean we can't take a libertarian approach to smoking, but I think it's why the powers that be don't "accord…the same respect."

Miles (#3,961)

Way to completely rationalize your disgusting, unhealthy habit.

I say this as a smoker of 13 years who quit four months ago. Just because you smoke five cigarettes a day right now doesn't mean that you won't get throat cancer in ten years. If you're good with that, you're good with it, I guess. Makes good filler post material.

Also if I need to demonstrate to you the differences between drinking and smoking and why one has been pushed further and further away from the public sphere, I will–but I expect remuneration.

sargasm (#104)


Louis Fyne (#2,066)

Look – it's everyone's favorite person to be around!

mle (#1,292)

Easy smiles, quitting after 13 years won't put you in the clear for throat cancer either. But you know, don't stop believing!

Miles (#3,961)

Hey, way to address a point I didn't even attempt to make! Thrash that strawman!

HiredGoons (#603)

Personally I would enjoy people tossing me sardines.

HiredGoons (#603)

and maybe a little toast?

Baroness (#273)

Being smacked with a mackerel is sublime.

HiredGoons (#603)

When my boyfriend and I get kinky he whips me with eels.

BoHan (#29)

I'd like to be allowed five spoken "Fucks" a day, without shame. Also, fuck smoking rationalization – you're a Tea Party, so live with the shame.


At the same time, though, everybody is staring at the various beauties of Mad Men and thinking how sexy and exciting all that smoking is.

…smoking hasn't lost an iota of its immemorial glamor.

Not quite. That's not the glamor of smoking; it's nostalgia for when smoking was glamorous. It's a subtle but important difference. And that loss of glamour was inevitable. There's only so long that people can huddle together, mute and beaten, engaged in some pursuit in all manner of inclement weather without that pursuit becoming, well, shameful.

Activities done furtively in private = cool
Activities done furtively in plain sight = pathetic

Bettytron (#575)

This is nice in theory, but also? Smoking smells BAD. And it makes you smell far worse than any amount of alcohol in your system, and it makes your clothes smell bad, and it makes the people around you smell bad. Having a cocktail while sitting next to a teetotaler isn't going to give that person a headache, or a cough, or a stomach-ache, but smoking will. Someone having a beer across a restaurant isn't going to ruin the taste of your meal.

I'm guessing these are the reasons Miles was hinting at as to why a physical distance has been built up between smokers and non-smokers.

Meat-pole Tarzan (#4,312)

I don't know. Have you ever smelled a guy with a high metabolism the day after some heavy drinking? That is foul.

Depends on what you're smoking, tho.

Here's the thing about smoking: It looks awesome. Like Cusack in High Fidelity. That dude was smoking all through the movie and it gave his breaking-the-fourth-wall speeches a lot of extra importance and sexiness. Or like this Mad Men show everyone keeps talking about.

But, that's ON A SCREEN. Or, as above, IN A PICTURE. You don't get any of the nasty smell or hazy thickness that cause sore throats and coughs when you can only see it.

So smoking loses in the end.

Italics fail again.

mullenmc (#4,684)

"Smoking smells BAD" relative to what? Smoking smells GOOD compared to lots of things I smell in the city. My co-workers burn microwave popcorn in an enclosed environment on a regular basis and nobody gets self-righteous on them. They complain, but that shrill righteousness that attaches itself to the virulent anti-smoker is entirely absent. My personal take on this is that the campaign against smoking is a place where people who may be nice in other areas of their lives allow themselves to be complete assholes. Just a thought.

HiredGoons (#603)

@Meat-pole Tarzan: as a guy with a high-metabolism who drinks (somewhat) heavily, I can attest you're absolutely spot on.

Bettytron (#575)

I imagine if your coworkers were habitually burning popcorn, more than once a day, and the smell were lingering and giving all of the non-popcorn-burning employees health problems (in the long run, cancer, but in the short term, bad headaches or nausea) then the opposition would be a bit more shrilly self-righteous.
And it's possible that your last comment there is applicable to both sides of the debate. Frankly, if people are smoking outside or in their own spaces it doesn't bother me. I just resent the idea that there is some innate right to intentionally contaminate the air around me in a non-open air space.

and @Meat-pole Tarzan, point taken, but it is usually something a good steamy shower will get rid of, no?

Ugh, I don't like this discussion, it's made me feel petty.

Meat-pole Tarzan (#4,312)

@HiredGoons @Bettytron I happen to live within close proximity of a man with extremely high metabolism, and no, a shower won't always help. The gin … it seeps through his pores.

scrooge (#2,697)

Funny thing about that microwave popcorn:

Go get 'em, Tiger!

brianvan (#149)

The entire point of the restrictions is not to ban smoking, but to keep the (actually-yes-it-is) dangerous smoke, fire, and the rest of the mess, away from the personal space of fellow citizens. This is something many people have wanted for a long time, but people who smoke were unwilling to grant it. Ultimately, after a lot of really common sense thinking, that decision was made for them.

You can still do it, at reduced convenience. It's an enforced courtesy not for the protection of your health, but for ours.

If you can find a nicotine delivery system without burning materials and noxious smoke, you just might be able to use it in a bar, like you were once used to. Even if it slowly kills you, I won't judge!

(Says the guy who's family member who was burnt to death in a fire caused by an errant cigarette, so go ahead, call me a Health Nazi)

deepomega (#1,720)

They exist, they are called electronic cigarettes and – hooray! – the FDA is trying to get selling them banned.

scrooge (#2,697)

Say it ain't so, deep! I so much enjoy smoking my electronic cigarette on airplanes and in airports.

the Loud Coast (#1,362)

This avatar picture is not a joke. I smoke a pipe about once a week and enjoy it. It takes more time than a cigarette, so it's not really a fifteen minute break activity, more of a leisurely thing. You don't really inhale the smoke into your lungs, it smells and tastes better, (more like tobacco and less like tar) and if done in moderation, is also cheaper than cigarettes. You still get plenty of nicotene absorbed through your mouth and gums, but you wont build up a tolerance if you only smoke once a week or so. The only non-health related downside is that people will think you are just trying to be cute. But that wont be a downside anymore if pipes make a comeback.

I do this too, to myself. It is damn leisurely.
People draw way too much of an either/or in this smoking business.

WhoShotSnot (#4,676)

"The beauty of quitting is, now that I've quit, I can have one, 'cause I've quit." – Tom Waits

hman (#53)

Just last night, my dad was telling me about a co-worker of his who had cancer of the freaking palate. "He used to smoke," he said, ominously. One thing or the other is gonna get me – I'm a 'light' smoker and srsly don't care right now.

myfanwy (#1,124)

Your three guidelines for reducing your intake of cigarettes is very similar to the ones for managing overeating. (With the "walking around" one changed to "Don't eat while engaging in other activities" obvs.) Anyways.

vespavirgin (#1,422)

For the record, one of my traditional Chinese medicine professors swore that 4 cigarettes a day was almost like not smoking at all!

Ingrid C (#3,596)

Sorry, Maria. I can't romanticize smoking. I was a one-pack a day smoker for 20 years. Doing breathing treatments for asthma is not very glamorous.

Senor_Wences (#2,234)

Ugly, stupid looking people should not be permitted to smoke. I think that's the real issue here. No one wants to see that, some lurching freak sucking on a butt. It's a sophisticated activity, and left to the sophisticates it's got Cole Porter class and charm, welcomed and celebrated by all.

I smoke five cigarettes a day.

When I told my doctor at my first visit that I smoked he noticeably puffed up to deliver a big lecture and asked "How many?" When I said five he deflated and said, "Oh, well, you probably shouldn't." Then he gave me a big lecture about not putting q-tips in my ear.

Oh, also I almost forgot, Nick Clegg smokes so, you know, no relief in sight. (Avoiding favoritism and all)

camelface (#4,600)

quitting smoking is a nasty habit.

According to my 80 year old Nana (grandma), if you smoke less than six a day, you're actually a "non-smoker." Love that logic!

abd al-musawwir (#4,685)

It may be noted that Balthus, the painter of the sublime image above, was himself a lifelong heavy smoker, and cold not even imagine working in his studio without the ever-present cigarette dangling from his mouth. He died at age 93 in 2001, rich and accomplished.

Smokers have been vilified by Nanny State policies.
These over-reaching behavior control measures
have turned smokers into outsiders, people to shun…
So, the use of the term "Tea Party Absolutism" to describe
behavioral control-motivated legislation is
egregious in it's misuse and appear as a thinly veiled political
swipe in the context of this piece – which I otherwise enjoyed reading.
The Tea Party is about freedom and that
includes the right of someone to smoke if that is what
they care to do. Just saying'…

thomas thomas (#269,800)

Awesome! Immense information there.
evic supreme

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