Thursday, December 6, 2012

From My Dead Cold Fingers

"They can ban smoking on campus when they pry my cigarettes from my DEAD cold fingers!"

I said this in exasperation when I heard that there were people on campus trying to put forth a campus-wide smoking ban. First let me say that I understand why people would want the ban. Smoking smells bad, it's a toxic air pollutant, and there are more than just a few smokers who regard the "15 feet from the building" rule with apathy and to an extent bitterness. The hostility felt towards smoking is not without merit. Smoking is a lethal habit that has taken the lives of family, friends, co-workers, employers, employees, partners, celebrities, thinkers, and so on. It doesn't just kill people, rather it maims them to the point where death might be preferable. For someone who doesn't smoke, it may be really hard to understand why smoking is still around. In Chicago, the average cost of a pack of cigarettes is around $10 and may see another price spike if the tax increase proposal goes through. With all these negative consequences of smoking, I suppose it may sound insane to be a smoker.

As a smoker of three years, I have seen the hostility of those who hate smoking and I have seen the apathy of smokers who have little respect for the rules and the people who hate smoking. It's a passive-aggressive game between lobbyists for the rights of those who don't smoke and the smokers who don't appreciate being treated like second-class citizens. That may sound like a strong statement to be making, but once I explain this a little more I think it will become more clear.

Every morning when I get up I can usually go about two hours before I really need my first cigarette of the day. From the last half of October through the end of March I have to get fully dressed and throw on a coat, hat, and possibly gloves just to have this one cigarette. I stand outside and shiver, sometimes even cursing loudly if it's a bitterly cold morning. I stand in dirt and mud because standing much closer to the door- where the sidewalk is- will likely incur the wrath of someone living on the first floor of my apartment complex. In between classes I have to hurry outdoors to get a cigarette in before my next class and I may not even get that if I have to use the bathroom or drop something off at an office. Walking to and from Shimer, I get these looks from mothers and fathers who are with their kids... They're praying on the inside that their kid will never end up to be like me... A smoker. Friends, acquaintances, and even people I don't really know have no problem telling me that I smell like smoke. They remind me that's how awful the smell is, as if I wasn't aware, but in their defense I can't smell it anymore and actually enjoy the fragrance from my own cigarette. Maybe because I'm a nice guy or because I'm inculcated with guilt, I feel bad whenever someone mentions this to me. I sometimes want to leave the room to alleviate their suffering, but when that's a classroom I can't readily do that. Occasionally I'll find a place to hang my outdoor wear so as to minimize the smell.

There is of course the people who want to try to "help" me quit. I once tried to monopolize on this by starting a campaign that if someone caught me smoking they would get a dollar. Eventually I just found other places to smoke without getting caught, or caught less frequently, and when I upped the reward people made some pointed criticisms that I had inadvertently shifted the responsibility of quitting onto those who spot me. When I tell people that I'm a smoker they will actually follow my statement up with, "you should quit smoking". In my mind I'm thinking something to the effect of, "no shit, Sherlock". I try to explain to them that smoking is more addictive than heroine, how much of social life is centered around the fact that I smoke, and cite all the times and ways I've tried to quit smoking. John Cheese from Cracked wrote a great article about the problems smokers face when trying to quit called, "5 Lessons You Only Learn Through Quitting Smoking". People don't realize that telling me to quit is insulting. It's like holding the carrot on a stick in front of my face. On a bad day I have a hard time calming myself down enough to avoid an altercation.

The problem with the ban is that it won't make people stop smoking. It will just further incite hostility between smokers and non-smokers. So far the requests non-smokers have turned into legislative action have not been terribly unreasonable. As much as I hate standing outside in the cold freezing my extremities off, it's not an unreasonable request to ask smokers to take their smoking outside where the stench and pollution are less likely to harm non-smokers. This ban would solidify the feeling smokers have that the rest of the population hates us, the people who smoke. They don't care if we spend our free time volunteering, if we're really good with kids, if we care about the poor, if we're pro-gay rights, or anything like that. All that matters is that we're smokers and that is reason enough to hate us. They hate us because they hate smoking, but the distinction between disgust of smoking has not been made separate from the people who smoke.

Now that I have cooly and calmly explained the problem, I have only one more thing to add...

Peace that surpasses all understanding (hopefully this doesn't come to violence),

Smoking with match picture courtesy of Bernhard Classen/Alamy

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