In Defense of Smoking

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Smoking may not be right – but it is my right to smoke.


“Thanks for a country where nobody’s allowed to mind his own business.”

 – William S. Burroughs


I smoke cigarettes. And, yes, I know they’re bad for me.


Go ahead. I know what you’re going to ask. You’re aching to inquire why I regularly inhale noxious carcinogens into my lungs, knowing full well that with each puff I am slowly but surely killing myself. It’s all right. You got a question? I got an answer. Let’s see if they match.


If you catch me in a flippant mood, I’ll tell you that I smoke cigarettes because I don’t have the chutzpah to buy a gun. If we’re in a more academic setting, I’ll wax philosophical about the notion that modern civilization acts as an external secondary superego to the already-repressed id, creating in people an unsatisfied, white-knuckled longing for aggressive, unstable or even deadly behavior. If I’m feeling ironically evasive, I’ll tell you that James Dean, Humphrey Bogart and Jean-Paul Belmondo’s statuses as cultural icons would be somewhat maligned were they holding lollipops between their fingers in lieu of Luckies.


But, honestly, I smoke because I like it.


Because I can.


I’m a grown man and I enjoy the aroma of burning tobacco wafting into my nostrils and the rush of nicotine coursing pell-mell around my bloodstream. Smoking is my right. Smoking is my prerogative. As long as I am removed from those who don’t like it, smoking is my business and nobody else’s.


Unfortunately, if there’s one common characteristic in America, it’s our giant invasive noses, which we constantly find in places and situations where they don’t belong.


We, the International Brotherhood of the Black Lung, know full well non-smokers do not approve of what we do. We notice those dirty glares out the side of your eye. We hear your ham-handed imitation of a smoker’s hack. We try to accept our quarantined status in public places with grace and civility. It comes with a territory. Actually, many smokers, despite what you may have heard from the Public Service Announcements, would feel remorse if they knew they had unwittingly imposed the stench of their habit onto others. For the 3.5 minutes in takes to burn a coffin nail down to the filter, we mostly abide by a simple code – If you leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone.


But that doesn’t always happen


Recently, I was smoking outside when I suddenly felt a type of dread reserved for teenage scream queens and sickly gazelles on the Serengeti. I was being stalked.


A little boy, maybe five years old, plodded confidently towards me. He glanced over his shoulder at what must have been his parents, who remained on the sidewalk and gave him a thumbs-up. And then he recited what was obviously a memorized speech taught to him by his parents. I couldn’t tell you the specific wording of the speech – the nature of memory is more emotional than is exact. But I will say that I was made to feel unwelcome. Inferior. I was told, in so many words, that I was polluting the air, irrevocably dirtying the lungs of those around me and that was I generally malignant and foolish person for smoking – didn’t I know how harmful and disgusting cigarettes are?


Those of you who hope that this is a story about me terrorizing a small, precocious child will be disappointed. I didn’t scold the kid or threaten him. It’s not his fault that he was encouraged to invade someone else’s space. So I ignored him. Moreover, though it might seem reasonable to reprimand this boy’s parents for raising him to be a busybody, in reality, it would be hypocritical. I don’t want to be bothered for my nicotine habit. They probably don’t want some stranger telling them in very direct and profane terms how to raise their child.


But, still, it was an unwarranted violation. I was within the legal boundaries of where I can have a cigarette – 25 feet from an entrance. Though it’s not illegal to smoke on the sidewalk, I was attempting to be courteous and thus removed myself from the general human traffic. That kid approached me. I didn’t approach him. Essentially, his misguided parents sent that child right into the lion’s den, where his young lungs might suffer a few plumes of secondhand smoke. Perhaps his parents believe that the cause is so important it’s worth risking one’s health for. Poor little sprat. A few more years under that tutelage, and he might grow up to give his life for the cause.


But, the real issue here is not about my right to a mouth which tastes like an ashtray. I am concerned about my right to not be hassled.


As I’ve already stated, I’m more than aware of what a deadly and disgusting thing it is to smoke. I’m also aware that it makes people uncomfortable and that second-hand smoke is a bad thing. The State of Utah also knows this, which is why they enacted a Clean Air Act. They recognize that they cannot make me quit cigarettes, but they can set boundaries so that I don’t hurt or annoy anyone else in my vicinity. Essentially, the State of Utah has told all smokers, “As long as you are in these loosely designated areas, smoke all you want.” If smoking were really so out of control that it could completely ruin the lives of innocent non-smokers, it would be completely outlawed. But it’s not.


So, if I’m off in the distance smoking and you don’t like it, that’s absolutely fine. You don’t have to. But you also don’t have to walk all the way over to me and bother me just because my personal recipe for maxing and/or relaxing involves holding a small torch between my lips. You also don’t have to remind me that it’s going to kill me.


Because I’m also literate.


I can read the Surgeon General’s warning on tobacco use for myself and make a decision from there. You don’t have to make a scene, you don’t have to shake your head and cluck your tongue at me or anyone else who smokes.


You know what I think is stupid and annoying? The way about two-thirds of the young American male population sport a baseball hat. But if I started acting obnoxious, entitled and pouty every time some sweet bro had the bill of his Yankees cap at an angle designed to receive transmissions from outer space, I’d end up with a lot less free time and possibly a few less teeth.


You know what else is dangerous? Driving a car. In 2009, 33,808 people died in automobile accidents. But if I stood in a parking lot and reminded every motorist that the next time they turn their ignition it could be their last, a security guard would eventually be summoned to escort me off the premises for being a lunatic.


You know what else is a bad habit? Being morbidly obese. But we don’t outlaw eating double cheeseburgers or sitting in front of the computer all day. On the contrary, as long as people are within the bounds of the law and are not a direct danger to anyone else, we pretty much allow them to live as recklessly and act as stupidly as they wish. That level of personal accountability, which almost every citizen has by default, is of the best things about this country.


I am not an animal! I am a human being! So, until I approach you and exhale directly in your face, or stub my death stick out on your hamburger, please treat me respectfully. Please treat everyone respectfully, regardless of how disgusting, off-putting or generally offensive to your personal views and tastes they may be. Just because someone lives their life in a manner that you disagree with, it doesn’t mean that you should forget your manners.

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17 thoughts on “In Defense of Smoking

  1. I would generally encourage people to mind their own business, but since you brought it up…

    I don’t like sitting next to a smoker who has recently returned from a cigarette break any more than I liked sitting next to the kid in my physics class that didn’t seem to shower or wear deodorant.

    It’s your right to stink if you want to, but that doesn’t mean that you should, nor does it mean that it has no effect on me.

    Sorry, my objections are much less altruistic than a concern for your health, but they’re mine, and it’s my right to have them.

    1. Wow! What a little snot. Someone should report his parents to Child Protective Services for failure to teach their tot not to talk to strangers. This is PARTICULARLY dangerous to child safety when the parent is ENCOURAGING the kid to be snotty to an unknown person.

      The sad truth is that sanctimonious busybodies secretly believe that smokers are all law-abiding citizens who are intimidated by 5 year olds. There was a busybody suburbanite who told a man on a crowded, rush-hour subway to put his cigarette out. Not surprisingly, he pulled out a knife and stabbed her. I wonder if she would have opened her mouth had he been exposing himself?

      Your right to criticize ends with my ears. It’s air pollution. I advocate a law that prevents sanctimonious busybodies and busybody juniors from coming any closer than 25 feet from a smoker who is going about his lawful business.

  2. I would like to comment on the smoking article. It is my right to breath clean air. The 25 ft. away from entrances is not enough. I still have to breath that junk. Smoke travels far. I am very allergic to it. My tonsils have been removed because of it and now my adnoids swell up and I get sick. I should be able to breath wherever I go. I cannot open my windows at night without the neighbors smoke coming into the window and making me sick. My husband and I were in our hot tub out back but I had to go in because the neighbor lit up. Should I have to move or get sick every time a smoker moves by me. Why should my health and comforts be ruined because someone wants to pollute their body? We don’t let people commit suicide, so why do we let people kill themselves slowly and ruin peoples health by smoking? It is well known seconhand smoke is harmful. Please let me enjoy life also.

    1. You are right on the money. Second hand smoke is more dangerous and thus your smoking does affect everyone around you where your smoke blows. I should not have to search for clean air.

  3. I was so glad when the guy that smelled like cigarette smoke did not show up to class because every time he did, I would get sick.

  4. As a former smoker, I can absolutely empathize with you and agree with you that people should mind their own business. I’m tired of the “Nanny State” and “Sin taxes” which are imposed upon those who dare to indulge in something others consider a vice.

    When I quit smoking, I did it because I wanted to for myself, not because of the opinions of others who disapproved of my habit. As was my choice.

    As for all those people who dislike the smell of smokers, what about those people who stink because they don’t have good personal hygiene or who drench themselves in unpleasant (to me) perfumed products which sometimes irritate my respiratory passages? Guess what? I have to put up with it, or move away from them. That’s just how it is. I’m not about to try to pass some stupid law to ban fragrances or require everyone to shower daily.

    Because that would be stupid, right?

  5. If you need/want to smoke, why do you choose to do so around others?

    You have plenty of expectations of everyone except for yourself. You succeed in playing the victim.

    This is a very poor debate of what I personally consider to be a non issue.

    Coming from someone that used to smoke 2 packs a day, I never had a problem respecting an individual’s right to clean air. I was always aware and conscious of others, so that my smoke did not carry over (unless I was around other smokers).

    I always smoked out of the way if at all possible- that means, in my car, behind my house, anyplace empty!

    I’m quite sure you can find some area to carry out your habit to your satisfaction and still respect that most people prefer to keep their good health.

    BTW- Have you forgotten all about asthma, lung cancer, COPD, oral cancer….all diseases that should set in about the time you…

  6. I’ve been a smoker for 56 years, that’s roughly 1/2 million cigarettes. I never spend a day in hospital and at 69 I remain in good health. Most of my life I’ve smoked without the anti-smoker BS that has poisoned society. I’m not about to bend over like some whipped mule because a minority of sub-humans have been given something socially acceptable to hate. They got it backwards, I don’t want anti-smokers anywhere near me, I can smell the stench of their hate a mile away.

  7. And how many people have you succeeded in giving cancer from your second hand smoke…..guess you’ll never know.

    I’ve never met a long term smoker that was in good health-only in denial…but of course I forgot… are obviously the exception 😉

    Choosing to stay oblivious to the facts, of how smoking impairs ones health shows such ignorance.

  8. Skylar Hayes wrote. “And how many people have you succeeded in giving cancer from your second hand smoke…..guess you’ll never know.”

    Quite an accusation coming from someone who downed 2 pks a day. But don’t feel too guilty about the carnage you left in your wake, you only have anti-smoking junk survey studies to base your judgement.

    “I’ve never met a long term smoker that was in good health-only in denial…but of course I forgot… are obviously the exception”

    Want to meet more in denial smokers who lived to be over 100?,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=561db8cd46de9228&biw=1280&bih=5

  9. Smokers want the right to smoke in segregation without harassment. Anti-smokers want that right removed? Anti-smokers want the right to harass smokers? I’m not clear as to what, if any, can be argued with the request. The anti-smokers arguments have been avoiding the original argument. If a smoker stays clear of a non-smoker and the non-smoker stays clear of the smoker then second hand smoke and undesired smell is avoided. People can smell as they wish and any conditions that may inhibit someone from the general public is a problem of their own, not the general public. If the anti-smoker wants to not smell smoke or receive second hand smoke then it would be best to avoid the smoker. The dilemma we have is no law prevents anti-smokers from provoking smokers but there are laws that prevent smokers from polluting inclosed spaces. Who is the one going out of their way to injure who?

  10. Great article, but you forgot to use a good allegory, like driving a car. Find two men, put each of them in sealed rooms of equal size. Then give one man a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, then give the other man a car. Give them the task of using each item for as long as possible (smoking versus leaving the car running). Guess who dies first.

    If you guessed car, you’re a winner.

  11. What you should have done is walked over to the parents, and vigorously beaten them about the head and chest. If they so strongly believe SHS is dangerous, they should not have allowed their child to move closer to the source. BTW, according to the study done by the WHO, the only statistically significant number was a decrease in the risk of lung cancer among the children of smokers.

  12. I was 100% with you until you started talking about car accidents being dangerous….

    “in the United States alone deaths from cigarettes are “greater than the number of deaths form alcohol use, motor vehicle accidents, suicides, AIDS, homicides, illegal drugs, and fires combined” (Wolfson, 1)”

    The only argument one has to smoke is their on free will and I am adamantly in favor of that. While not being a regular smoker, i do treat myself every once and a while but i never let myself smoke too much because i used to be riddled with addiction. That being said, there is no such argument to defend that cigarettes are not dangerous. They are, deal with it. I don’t care what you tell yourself to help you sleep at night but don’t skew the facts. Cigarettes also contribute to 6 percent of worldwide deaths which is only second to hunger.

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