In defence of smokers

So it’s Stoptober. National No Smoking Day, it seems, is not enough to fill smokers across the nation with self-loathing, misery and anger, and now we have an entire awareness month dedicated to highlighting the dangers of smoking, and urging those that do to just, y’know, quit already.

Smoking is nasty. It makes your clothes stink, your teeth yellow, your nails brittle and your wallet empty (but it does contribute £9.5 billion to the National Treasury – just sayin’!). There is not a single smoker alive that’s unaware of the dangers of smoking. Even those that have never been exposed to the scary ‘YOU’RE GONNA DIE’ campaigns know it – they can tell by the tightness in their chest when they wake up in the morning, or their shortness of breath climbing the stairs.

The smoking epidemic is not caused by a lack of understanding of its dangers, I promise you.

The reasons people start smoking are many and varied: peer pressure, curiosity, boredom… But I’ll tell you what, that first drag of a first-ever cigarette is the most horrendous thing in the world. Imagine every hangover you’ve ever had, packed into thirty seconds. And yet, people continue puffing away, despite the horrific feeling. And even when they’ve persevered for so long that it becomes pleasurable, they still experience that horrific feeling, albeit in a different form.

The feeling that they know they’re killing themselves, that they’re upsetting their loved ones and that they’re viewed as lepers by society. The feeling that they’re viewed as weak, stupid and ignorant. The feeling that they are utterly subservient to a tiny white stick which is genuinely ruining their lives, but are powerless to resist it.

But why? Just bung on a nicotine patch and grow some balls, right? Sure, for some people that works, and bloody good on ‘em, because beating nicotine addiction is harder than any non-smoker will ever know. But for most people, it goes way, way beyond simple chemical addiction.

For many people, smoking is a crutch. When life goes to balls, cigarettes are there to get you through. They offer a momentary respite from the hysterics of life, and make the smoker feel good, confident even – not in the act of smoking (glamorised in the ‘50s, for example), but in the calm and focus that the cigarette appears to bring.

For many people, smoking fills a void in their lives. In the same way that drink, drugs, sex and food can all be abused in order to cover cracks in the psyche, so too can cigarettes.

They are ‘friends’ that will never leave you, or let you down. They provide a warm, familiar embrace no matter what. They do, in part, define one’s identity; individuals that have smoked all their adult life may not know ‘who they are’ without them, or believe that they can’t cope without a cigarette to restore balance to their frantic, over-wrought minds.

And yet all the while, smokers are on the back foot, constantly slaving away to little white cancer sticks desperately trying to attain the mental balance that non-smokers already have, hating themselves more (even subconsciously) all the time for it.

I’m not trying to making smoking okay, because it isn’t. But there’s so much more to cigarette addiction that an ignorance of the health issues involved. And continually having that argument rammed home by non-smokers that have no idea of the factors at play makes smokers angry, defensive and stressed. And so the cycle continues.

* Note: I grew up hating my parents for being smokers, before becoming one myself in my late teens, so I’ve been on both sides of the fence.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “In defence of smokers

  1. Scheherezade

    As a recovering food addict and overweight person, I totally sympathise with this.

  2. Thank you- as a nurse I have to think of people’s health but as a psychiatric nurse I fully understand what it is for some people- and as an ex-smoker who has still not fully given up the cravings in times of stress- I know what it’s like!!

  3. Love this post. I quit once for about year. Then i picked it up again. Honestly, i only resent smoking because sometimes i crave it. I need it. When I’m upset or stressed, it helps. I don’t like that lack of control. Which is why i quit several times. Whats worse is i LIKE it. I like to smoke. But, i guess i take breaks to regain that control. I kept telling myself “I’m young” but i realized I’m 24 and I’m not that young anymore. I’m beginning to tire of the habit. I feel( in my mind and my heart, never felt this way before) the next time i take a break from smoking, it’ll be permanent. Just last week I ran out of ciggys and didnt go run off to the store like i normally would. It was days before i found myself outside buying a pack. I didn’t restrain myself or plan it that way, it just happened. I think one has to be ready to quit, not forced into it. I’m letting this play out naturally.

  4. I’ve always been really glad that I never started smoking, just because I know how much I’d struggle to stop. I have the same kind of issues trying to loose weight and having people explain to me how unhealthy eating badly is. It’s not about the knowledge!

    I do complain, when friends smoke when I’m around, but it’s not meant as an attack on smokers, just a reaction to the horrible smell I’m being subjected to. It’s absolutely nothing personal, I’m equally rude about the horrible smell caused by the coffee machine in the kitchen at work *shudder*. In return I used to put up with people complaining about the smell caused by my Red Bull habit (the one minor vice I actually seem to have managed to kick permanently)

    I really hate the ‘Mummy, please stop smoking, if you die I’ll be so sad’ type campains that seem to be running all over the place. Who decided that kind of guilt trip was going to be a helpful thing? I’m sure I’d just end up eating more crap if something like that was aimed at me! Idiots!

    • Actually, I’d love to see a “Grandma, please stop smoking around me so *I* don’t die” campaign. Seeing as how my DD has asthma, and my Mother refuses to stop smoking around her-to the point where she can only see her grand daughter in non-smoking places-I think the campaign just might open some people’s eyes.
      While I am sympathetic to the addiction side of the issue, I am not at all sympathetic to smokers who insist their right to smoke is more important that anyone else’s right to not breathe the results of their addiction. Kinda like the gauntlet that has to be run to get into any shopping mall in my area…smokers 3 deep because they have to have their addiction, and to hell with those coming in or out.

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