The persecution of smokers
Almost three years ago the city of Chicago banned smoking in all public establishments, including the bars and cafe’s once synonymous with cigarettes and cigars. Taxes on tobacco continue to rise.
A movement has long been afoot to cast out smokers as deviants and reeducate them about the superiority of a lifestyle based on marathons and whole wheat. Pushing back against this onslaught is an important fight for smokers and nonsmokers alike based on principle alone, but there is a glaring omission from these sorts of discussions and conflicts that demands correction.
The health-Nazis claim the moral high-ground and stress that smoking is a vice and that smokers are killing themselves. This is the großen Lüge, the “Big Lie” that must be corrected. There is something these anti-tobacco crusaders don’t want you to know. Something that they may not know or may even lie to themselves about.
Smoking is fun.
Smoking is an enjoyable activity that happens to carry certain bodily risks, much like rock climbing or advanced positions in the Kama Sutra. People try to project an indignant attitude about smokers, shaking their heads, saying things like “you know, those things can kill you.”
Well, sort of.
There is something mildly pathetic about the two pack a day smoker, the one who wants to stop but can’t, the man with the smoker’s hack or smoking while he has a tube in his neck. Moderation is a virtue. But the truth is that people who are able to responsibly enjoy the pleasures of smoking are happier people. They get life.
Here’s a random fact you won’t hear much. Nicotine stimulates chemical receptors in the brain associated with preventing the onset of dementia. Smokers have more active receptors than non-smokers. Smokers have lower rates of Parkinson’s, Turrett’s, Alzheimers, and many other brain diseases. Smoking is good for your brain. The smoker’s brain is healthier than the non-smoker’s.
Smokers will attest to the powers of concentration smoking a cigarette or pipe will give you. Memory improves and focus is trained. Yes, there is a risk of cancer and lung disease; smoking too much is not advised, but there are clear benefits to smoking and many people, even when informed of the risks, prefer to smoke.
People will tell you that smoke doesn’t taste good, that it is “gross”. Some of these people idolize childhood and youth, and measure everything against their distorted ideal of what youth is: children don’t like smoke, people who start smoking cough, so obviously it’s not good for you.
People start because it’s cool, the story goes, but keep doing it because of a physical addiction. By the logic of this story one can observe that children don’t like vegetables, children who start eating vegetables wretch, even to the point of hiding vegetables in napkins; but because they’re told it’s “good”, some children get hooked on vegetables and this “good feeling” it gives them.
What’s missing here is that health Nazis don’t understand why people smoke. It’s not enough to say their bodies are addicted. Withdrawal from smoking invariably consists of mental, not bodily symptoms. To the extent that the dependency is psychological, you have to understand the reasons why smoking is enjoyable.
Like a child with his first broccoli, the initiate does not understand smoking. Smoking is quite strange if one pauses to reflect on it (preferably while puffing on a Briar pipe). It is as much of a process and ritual as it is stimulant and one must learn the appropriate technique. Not until he has learned how to smoke it, to take in the right amount of tobacco and to savor the taste, will he like it.
Tobacco was first smoked by various American-Indian tribes, who believed smoking tobacco was sacred. They believed that the smoke of the tobacco carried their prayers up to the heavens, a practice of communion and contemplation that happens even today. The role of smoking tobacco in peace treaties is well known.
One report states that it was “unimaginable for an Indian to break his word after smoking the pipe. [T]he signing of treaties was always accompanied by pipe ceremonies because Indians believed that smoking the pipe would secure the arrangement. No one would be foolish enough to lie or go back on their word once the pipe was smoked because the pipe was the vehicle for carrying their word up to the Creator. And in return, a blessing would descend from the Creator to the individuals smoking it.”
Tobacco smoking was introduced into the New World after Columbus’ crew discovered “certain dried leaves which gave off a distinct fragrance. ” Rodrigo de Perez became the first European smoker (does this guy have a holiday yet?).
He brought the habit to his hometown of Ayamonte, but was locked up by the Inquisition for his terrifyingly strange habit. He was soon freed after smoking became a sensation in Spain. Eventually the Church reconciled with tobacco and at least one Pope, Pius X, smoked on occasion.
The role of tobacco in Western Civilization has a rich history and tracing the evolving tradition of smoking tobacco is a rewarding task. Think of those we can’t imagine without tobacco. Sherlock Holmes, Albert Einstein, Groucho Marx, Sir Walter Raleigh, Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkein, Dorus Rijkers, Frank Zappa, Frank Sinatra, Walt Disney, Lucille Ball, and on and on.
Can cigarettes be a crutch for some people? Sure. But people can be dependent on many things, including food, adrenaline, ideology, and other people; all of which can reduce your lifespan.
Are cigarettes dangerous? Yes, potentially. But you can quit anytime you judge the consequences to be greater than the rewards, and as oft-published statistics affirm, your risk of cancer quickly falls after quitting, if that is the decision you make.
Smoking has virtues that have stood the test of time. Smoking with others, like sharing good beer or wine, or even coffee, are social rituals with deep meaning carved by the many who have smoked before us.
Puffing a pipe or cigarette in solitude can stimulate creative, reflective thought and is a much more pleasant and rewarding method of meditation than sitting uncomfortably on the floor wondering why Buddha is three pounds of flax.
Tobacco has long been an important, cherished part of our culture – busybodies be damned. If you can’t take the smoke, go to another bar or coffee shop. Everyone else, send your prayers to the heavens, lifted upward by smoke, that this time of oppression may end.