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.