Thursday, June 12, 2008

We few, we cancerous few...

We band of smokers. Sucking perfectly fresh air - upwards of a dozen times daily - through the business end of a cigarette. Irrationality defined. The myriad pitfalls of what, at best, is a bad habit, can and have been extensively documented and persistently reiterated by the medical community, non-Chinese governments, NGO's, and my friends and family.

Regulation on tar, nicotine, and their biochemical compadres have had a marginal effect on the actual harms of smoking, but the perceived (read: understood) disincentive against smoking has increased exponentially in the last half-century. Where once our grandparents saw adverts in their comic books advertising that 4 out of 5 doctors recommend Marlboros for your health, we are now inundated by warnings, from friends and institutions alike, that smoking will kill you.

So why the nonchalance? Why do we, as a society, still blithely drag away at our favourite brands? Smoking rates may have decreased, but they don't seem to be going anywhere fast.

While I can't purport to speak for others, talking about myself is one of my passions; I'll stick to that. What follows is not a detachedly rational exploration of my involvement with the filthy nicotine monkey on our society's back, but rather more of a retrospective attempt at rationalizing at why I do something that's clearly not in my best interests.

...Hold on, I'm lighting my smoke.

Simple addiction is too simplistic an explanation. This is not to suggest that I'm not a nicotine addict; a few hours without my fix sets me invariably on edge. The biochemical aspect, in my personal life, is undeniable. It's the reason why quitting is difficult, but it can't fully explain the casus belli on the War on My Lungs.

With my friends, I'm consistently glib about my own smoking habit. Few of my closest friends smoke, and when one of them asks why I would ever get into such an obviously fruitless - and worse, self-destructive habit - my facetious reply is, if nothing else, consistent: "shiny packaging and peer pressure."

I announce my smoke breaks sardonically as "a trip downstairs for some cancer research." Don't forgive me, I know exactly what I do. Yet I started anyway. I used to be the most vehemently anti-smoking high-schooler I knew. I'd incessantly give my smoking friends the myriad reasons why it's a stupid fucking idea.

One of my friends, Mark, gave me an answer that, more than anything, seems brilliant in its insightfulness:

"Smoking isn't cool; smokers are cool."

I guess that just about sums it up. And I'm actually prepared, to some extent, to accept a version of this explanation. We, as a society have a double-standard regarding the associations we make with smoking. There's the contemporary one, persistently and consciously made by a rightly anti-smoking media: the smoker is the villain in the movie, the low class, uneducated, inarticulate and boorishly twattish trogdolyte. The smokers are the bad guys. Boondock saints excepted, I can't think of any smoking characters in modern film to be portrayed as smart people.

But there still persists under the surface another, older, association we make with smoking. Danger. James Dean, Marlon fucking Brando, and yeah, the Boondock Saints.

...Hold on, I'm lighting my second smoke.

We still associate, at least on some level, (and at least for myself,) careless smoking with untethered badassery. Smoking isn't cool, but smokers are.

I'm not saying it's causal, but the facts remain: studies show that people who smoke are consistently more likely to be risk-takers. We fight more wars, start more small businesses, take more road trips, and (in my seasoned experience,) fuck more people. It doesn't make sense. But it doesn't have to. I didn't start smoking because my immediate peer group and family role models did, as is the case for most smokers. I started, at at least in retrospect, primarily because they didn't. It set me apart. It made me feel different; it made me feel dangerously sophisticated; it made me feel cool.

And, in a sense, it did. The whole persona that I carefully constructed in my late adolescence was one of devil-may-care nonchalance. I was never the guy who got laid in high school. Put differently, I never got laid in high school. I had always taken my female friends' advice at face value and assumed that girls went for nice guys. It's simply not true. Nice guys finish last. Success with women may doesn't seem like the best metric for personal self-worth, but in a darwinian sense, it's our tautological raison d'ĂȘtre.

So I changed. I became the asshole that girls would fuck before crying on their nice-guy-friend's shoulder about it when everything went sour. In my first year of university, I was voted my fraternity chapter's "Most Promiscuous Brother." I decorate my window with my award and a phalanx of donated panties.

I was cool.

Smoking is endemic of that: girls always say they don't like guys who smoke, but I never got girls until I smoked. I'm not saying smoking is the direct cause, but it's part of the cognitive dissonance that people hold between what they want and what they think that they want.

So why do we still smoke?

Because it's still cool.

Thank you for smoking.

1 comment: