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Do We Really Want to Be the Generation That Ends Smoking?

Res Publica

August 2016

by Jackson Yenor

“A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure.It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?” – Oscar Wilde

Pipe tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes have cultivated sociability for centuries. Indians and cowboys sat around, in separate contexts of course, puffing a pipe to commune over the day they shared. The television series, Downton Abbey, commemorates this notion when Lord Crawley and his companions light up a smoke after dinner. Don Draper and company in the critically acclaimed television series, Mad Men, are always found sharing a cigarette as they plan their next marketing strategy. A smoke occupies the hand in times of innovation or friendship, and it seems to create a kind of social bond that goes along with those endeavors. However, although smoking used to be a special moment to be social, in the context of daily life it has become more and more of a disgrace. If someone is a smoker, we are more likely to ask, “What is wrong with him?” before we think anything else.

Given the various health studies into smoking and its effects on the human body, it seems to make sense that societies drop smoking altogether and explore new ways to form this social bond. However, I would caution this generally, for the mysterious love communicated in the coals of a smoke, something stirred with a certain “fume of sighs,” will not be replaced as easily as one might think.

Consider this: when a person smokes with another, they are spending about 10 to 15 minutes talking about anything they would like. For me, these conversations have ranged from the big questions of life, long discussed with my closest friends, to sneaking a smoke with a fellow waiter behind our restaurant. I think back to the times I have had over a smoke, and I find it hard to believe that those conversations would have happened without it.In a sense, tobacco was our reason for being in that place. It is often difficult to escape from a crowd with a friend (or stranger) and have reason to sit outside, just the two of you, talking. If you do just that, and there is not a thing you are both doing in common, each becomes restless and searches for the purpose of the moment. The tobacco answers this question handily; you both will smoke whatever you have, and when it runs out, you will go back inside.There is a beginning and an end, and what happens in between is up to you.

Tobacco, then, is a means; it is not an end itself. The smoke of a cigarette answers the question of why we are at the place, releasing us of the anxiety that is always attached to that very question. Also, I would submit that tobacco provides a unique set of feelings, a new setting and a new thing to talk about, always serving as an add-on to whatever one is doing.

Just now two old friends are watching the game with their buddies at the bar. They then go outside the bar at halftime to catchup over a smoke, one on one. It is interesting the things that came up after they struck the first match. They talked over the moment when they first became friends, smoking behind their high school while skipping gym class. They had a good laugh, for they both recalled that the smell was always impossible to hide (“what was the point of that cologne, man”). They then pat each other on the shoulder and go back into the bar. This never would have happened without a cigarette.

It seems to me that many aspects of human life are being sold out for that which is more efficient. The time we spend alive has become the altar on which we sacrifice everything else. People often spend their whole life trying to live longer, be it healthy eating, vitamins, more insurance, or more exercise. But there comes a point when we miss the point. When we sacrifice all of life’s quality for the sake of life’s quantity, we leave many things behind which make life worth the living. Tobacco is one of those things. One need not smoke all the time to appreciate its value. In fact, it would seem that a complete resurgence of smoking would miss the point as well. If everyone started smoking again and mixed it in with their busy, organized lives, then they too would not find a reason to cherish a special moment with a friend or stranger in the course of their day. Moderation in this sense is necessary for one to fully appreciate the value of a smoke.

We all need some sort of avenue for friendship, conversation, and a reason to be outside, and if one does not smoke too much, the opportunity cost of those moments, in my estimation, outweighs any possible harm a smoke here and there could wring upon one’s health. A cigarette for social acclimation never hurt anyone. In fact, I think that I might go have a smoke right now,would you like to join me?