It’s too late to turn back now. My last cigarette was more than a month ago. I proudly told my family and friends that I’m done smoking for life. Changing my mind now would be humiliating. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a published column about it for Christ’s sake. So here I am, a newly certified nonsmoker looking enviously through the window to see my carefree friends smoking just outside. However, I’ve found I’ve been accepted into a whole new group sitting right next to me, maliciously glaring at the “cancer pushers” puffing away outside.
Now that I’ve stopped smoking, I’m aware of the disgruntled expressions my friends hid from me while I had a cigarette in hand. They look down on smokers, seeing smoking as a weakness and a literal poison to society. Now, I want to draw a line here. I’m totally aware smoking is bad for your health. In fact, that’s why I stopped doing it. However, the antagonism I’ve seen in the last month as a nonsmoker seems to parallel the passions of crusaders.
“They’re just nasty,” one of my close friends said to me as we observed smokers outside. “Yellow teeth, horrible smell— just so annoying.”
It’s often ambiguous whether they’re speaking about the smoke or the smoker.
Despite their shockingly aggressive hostility, I’m tempted to agree with them. After all, watching smokers day after day doesn’t make quitting easier. Seeing my friends innocently bumming a cigarette at a party, never daring to buy their own pack, makes me think back to the time when my relationship to cigarettes was this casual.However, deep down, I know those days can never be returned to, at least not by me. I don’t feel the same romanticism or coolness I experienced when I initially started. My smoking episodes instead became quiet moments tucked away alone on my back porch or a quick smoke in my car before work.
Witnessing smokers in action brings nothing but discomfort to me now, so why shouldn’t I be against them? It’s an easy enough battle to win. We’ve already corralled smokers into a neat little corner: stay out of bars, 50 feet from a building, or children. The question used to be “Where can’t I smoke?” Now, especially on campus with designated smoking sections, it’s “Where can I?” But that’s what us nonsmokers are fighting for, right? Keep the lepers away from us.
Sure, there’s a logical argument: preventing secondhand smoke. Why should society suffer from the blighted decisions of smokers? Better to keep smokers away from the public. This column isn’t an attempt to dispute the dangers of secondhand smoke, but I will say that one study in the Heartland Institute found that even the victim most exposed to smoke only ingested about 0.03 cigarettes a day, or about 10 cigarettes a year. Oh, the humanity.
Since I was 16 years old, I’ve always felt pressure from people to quit smoking. Sure, they’ve usually come off as slightly pushy and invasive, but it never bothered me too much because I think they had my well-being in mind.However, the anti-smoking mania that seems to be absorbing those around me seems more like a war against the tobacco users of the world; a vendetta that paints smokers as morally irresponsible, even reprehensible.
It’s a growing trend, especially here in California. Look at the way smokers are portrayed in the media. Similarly to what Nick Naylor said in “Thank You for Smoking,” “These days, when someone smokes in the movies, they’re either a psychopath … or a European.” Sure, Don Draper is cool, but the stylish approach “Mad Men” takes on smoking is done out of ‘60s nostalgia more than reverence of cigarettes.
So, I’m just going to throw this out here, and I’m sure people who have been touched by lung cancer will very validly disagree: What if there’s a reason we—or really, you—pretend to be so bothered by secondhand smoke and those people coughing it into our decaying atmosphere?
We wish we were that person we can see outside through the window, carelessly puffing away, enjoying life while breathing in death. To us, they represent a temporary freedom we can’t enjoy. We’d like to go out there, casually bum a cigarette and not think of the repercussions, but we can’t seem to forget about our cancer-ridden grandfather, the promise we made to ourselves when we had our last cigarette or the thought of our mother wagging a very disappointed finger in our face when you come home smelling like an ashtray. It’s alright if you dislike smoking for good reasons, but at least let them eat cake. We’re not their mothers after all.