Smoking Makes Me Feel Epic Nov11

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Smoking Makes Me Feel Epic

I used to smoke Marlboro Reds, still to my mind the best tasting cigarette out there. I can remember opening a second box once because I was enjoying them so much, though that didn’t happen often. I might have got through as many as thirty that day. As a rule though, I smoked about ten in a day. Part of me misses that old self, before the intolerance.

I envy heavy smokers. I imagine they are the least bored, most creative of people, and because they persist with it while the rest of us – ex-smokers and non-smokers – judge them as ignorant or irresponsible or maybe simply a bit too cavalier, they effectively tell us, “I don’t care what you think.” It’s this tendency some people have to not care (or at least not to care in any demonstrable way) that I think helps to explain the continuing appeal of smoking.

Smoking is a way to stick two fingers up at the world but it can also be a means for those with low self-esteem to fit in. I remember watching an acquaintance pretend to inhale a cigarette. He was an accomplished athlete and relied on that for popularity but his need for acceptance occasionally grew enough for him to bum a fag. I disliked the practice of pretending to smoke and still do today. Smoking is dangerous and ill-advised; that’s the whole point. It’s not like having one last drink in the pub even though you’ve had enough already or eating too much on Christmas day. Smoking is a way to express things all too often discouraged in us: defiance; rebelliousness; nonchalance; rage; disregard for one’s own well-being; fascination with death. It’s not unfortunate that it’s bloody unhealthy and can kill you: few things that shares their purpose with smoking are ever safe and healthy except perhaps veganism but then that’s healthy; nobody smokes because it’s healthy or ethical.

And yet many people I’ve met who are genuinely decent and compassionate, who are gentle and principled and are likely to have chained themselves to a tree or protested in the street are smokers. There’s a difficult paradox to get over in how they’ll despair because of how MNCs and corrupt governments are poisoning the world and light a cigarette while they tell you why you should feel bad for your consumer choices. I was glad therefore to have read in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” about research conducted into the mindsets and genetics of smokers. It didn’t surprise me to read that smokers tend to be risk-takers, easily bored, honest, creative, unreliable, impulsive, expressive, extroverted. There is it seems a kind of smoker personality. This is what campaigners may not realise: appealing to our fears of getting cancer or heart disease doesn’t work so effectively with people whose genetic code predisposes them toward taking risks and being impulsive.

I know smokers who frequently get colds and flus and sore throats, far more often than I, and attribute it to smoking and still smoke even while they’re sick. I watch as they finish their last cigarette and pat themselves down in search of that other box they bought that morning in anticipation of just this eventuality of paucity. It impresses me; I’m fascinated by how they don’t seem to care that cigarettes can make you feel deathly. I couldn’t retain any useful sense of the stupidity of smoking when I found myself bumming a fag off a girl I was into and getting one, her long, adorned fingers removing it quickly, with minimum fuss, albeit a Marlboro Light.

That’s when I learned that, like everything – even smoking – there are ways to do it with style. Some, mostly women smokers, manage to do it so that you can’t judge them too harshly or at all. But how do they absolve themselves? Again, I need to refer to Gladwell: “Smoking was never cool. Smokers are cool.” He’s wrong. There was a time when smoking was cool whether we can stand that fact or not. It may not be cool now. But he’s right too. People we think are cool tend to smoke. This is not the same as saying that smoking will make you cool. A cool person can stop smoking and still be cool but it doesn’t matter what an uncool person does: they’re just not cool.

For cool read epic.

How does one smoke with style? You have to have style to begin with. Watch someone without style smoke and all you can see is the cancer and the hospital bed, tubes and drips. Those with style are just expressing themselves. They’ll do other things in a similar fashion. Those who crave the respectability of one with style will smoke in order to emulate their idols but they are not the Elect. This does not stop them trying, and they try, hard. Girls unable to handle high heels walking like newborn giraffes; fellas wearing hoodies over shirts in niteclubs; people screaming “Where are you?” into their phones in the street; young bucks who say “F***ing” in lieu of an adjective; people who think saying “F***” makes their story funny; people who think shouting makes it right. There are myriad ways to be uncool. We forgive these people nothing.

If you’re cool, you can smoke without seeming wanton. You can sanitise it. This is one reason people still smoke; there are enough people who are natural advertisers of the art to keep the pretenders trying.  Everyone wants to have style and be cool. Not everyone can manage it. Consciously attempting it is already a defeat.

I once asked a friend why he thinks he smokes:  “Smoking makes me feel epic,” he said. I suppose his answer at least was stylish, kind of.

 R.H.