People who smoke are not evil.


(Image of a Mayan priest smoking from Wikipedia.)

I’ve been thinking about a different but still dying-related subject lately.

Over the last fifteen years or so I’ve watched with dismay as the denigration of people who smoke escalated into a kind of national past time. I’ve occasionally even heard them described in terms so derogatory that it put me forcibly in mind of parallel language used by hate groups, and this from the mouths of people who sincerely, deeply abhor discrimination and prejudice.

That caliber of conversation can be very seductive and feel so good and right and even funny to those engaging in it, but in reality it’s not terribly helpful to anyone who’s actually trying to quit.  I think we’d all be better off if that part of the discussion took a more constructive direction.

I’d like to mention here that there is no such thing as a smoker.  (Well, there is, but it’s a piece of equipment that dries meat.)  There are human beings who smoke, which are two completely different things that we need to separate in our minds and then deal with accordingly.  It’s perfectly appropriate to condemn tobacco use and the dealers who market and peddle the poison and make fortunes off of the misery they create, as well as the incredible trail of destruction that smoking leaves in its wake.  But it’s misguided and counterproductive to condemn the living, breathing, struggling human beings who have been caught by the addiction.

Here are a few stats from the Division of Periodontology at the University of Minnesota (smoking wreaks havoc on gums, too) that might help explain:

Tobacco is as addictive as heroin (as a mood & behavior altering agent). 

  • Nicotine is:
    • 1000 X more potent than alcohol
    • 10-100 X more potent than barbiturates
    • 5-10 X more potent than cocaine or morphine  

Pressures to relapse are both behaviorally & pharmacologically triggered.

(A pit stop at their website to peruse withdrawal symptoms might also yield interesting fruit in terms of understanding how incredibly hard it can be to stop smoking.)

Please believe me when I tell you that nicotine addiction is a powerful, powerful enemy and it can require an almost superhuman effort to escape from the dingy, coughing, stinking prison it can create in a person’s life. I speak from experience.  In tobacco products, nicotine often behaves like a pusher or a pimp, seductive at first and promising all kinds of good things, then insidious, relentless and, finally, horribly abusive.  Some people can smoke occasionally without getting snared but for the millions of us who can’t, the addiction is dangerous, degrading, and eventually deadly.

After thirty some odd years of failed attempts I was finally able to quit.  I sincerely believe it’s for good this time (nine years now) although I’ve learned not to be complacent because cigarette cravings can spring back to life after years of dormancy with a viciousness that has overwhelmed my defenses more than once.

But I wasn’t able to finally quit because I was surrounded by strangers who were gazing at me with loathing, or whispering snide comments, or making me the butt of cruel and demeaning jokes.  Quite to the contrary in fact.  That kind of treatment was hurtful and humiliating and far from acting as a deterrent it tended to drive me back to the very real and powerful, if costly, relief that nicotine provides.

What did help were the people in my life who saw me as a flawed and smelly but still somehow beautiful human being worth loving in spite of my habit.  Ultimately, I had to enter the trenches and fight my demons alone, numerous times, just like every other addict does.  But the fact that I had people in my corner rooting for me and telling me they believed I was worth fighting for made all the difference in the world in my finally succeeding.

I hope that’s something you’ll consider if you find yourself looking at someone with a cigarette and feeling the urge to flippantly judge or condemn them.  Try and separate the tobacco from the human being if you can and then hate the one and find value in the other.  Of course, set whatever boundaries you need to where the smoke is concerned, but try and do it with respect and encouragement instead of contempt.  I honestly believe that will ultimately be of more benefit to everyone.

Here are some great tips for those who want to support someone they love to quit smoking:

Helping a Smoker Quit: Do’s and Don’t

10 Things Not to Do if You Want Someone to Stop Smoking

And for anyone trying to quit smoking and looking for support here are a couple of places where you might start:

Nicotine Anonymous

Resources for Quitting Smoking (full of hotlines)


11 responses

    • My grandfather was the same way and NONE of his children would touch a cigarette with a ten foot pole, but me and three out of four out of my siblings had to fight off the habit eventually. I never smoked around my kids but they both started smoking eventually anyway. (One still does but at least she wants to quit.) Clearly, self medicating runs in the family.

  1. I do not like smoke, but I agree that people are not often fairly summed up with a single word, like smoker. What troubles me is how we tax the hell out of those who smoke, have a history of paying agricultural subsidies to tobacco growers, use the money to fund other objectives, then complain when their health issues cost us money. People who smoke are not the only people with issues.

  2. Well, your cigarette post has grabbed my attention and here’s the story about my smoking history that has popped in my head:

    I quit smoking in 1970. According to a couple doctors, the occasional nagging small cough I have today is related to the heavy smoking I did for 21 years before that.

    I began smoking when I was 19 because I thought it was “cool” – I really did. It was especially cool, I figured, to “light up” right after making love, propped up bare chested against two or three fluffed pillows imagining myself looking like Clark Cable with my satisfied long blond-haired Veronca Lake look-alike mate snuggled up beside me with the silk sheet pulled tightly across her gorgeous breasts. . . . . . .

    Well, it was never quite like that . . . except in my fantasies about the connection between “lighting up” a cigarette right after having “lit up” a perfect lover.

    My affair with cigarettes went down- or was it up- hill from there to a period in my late 20’s – early 30’s when I consistently smoked two to three packs a day . . . and coughed a lot and got an ulcer . . . which took me to a doctor who told me flat out that my smoking was causing “an extra bucket of acid or so” to get poured into my stomach with every few cigarettes I smoked. Well, I thought about that for a while . . . and then decided doctors didn’t know everything, but I did limit myself to a pack a day and gave “lighting up” in bed after you know what . . ..

    Fast forward to 1970. On my one-year old daughter ‘s birthday, my wife Renata asked me if I wanted to see Kindree grow up. “Well, of course.” Dumb question, I thought, after which Renata said softly, “Well then, you might think about giving up your habit.” Habit? What habit?

    A week or two later, I was watching the grown-up detective TV show, “Kojak,” and saw the mature middle aged skin-headed Kojak sucking on a lollipop as his way of trying to quit smoking. Mmmm, I murmured. Maybe I’ll give that a try. The next day, I bought a couple dozen lollipops and for the next many months, every time I thought about a cigarette, I stuck a lollipop in my mouth and hoped I looked as good Kojak doing it. Not that I never wanted another cigarette again, but to this day, I’ve never again smoked one. I do have one regret: I never thanked Kojak – or my daughter – for the gift they gave me.

  3. Have you noticed that the people who are most harsh against smokers are usually ex-smokers themselves? It is as if they suffered giving it up and insist on others suffering too. I just feel lucky I never smoked. I don’t know why. I think it was luck.

    • You’re SO fortunate to have never smoked! I think little children should be started on cartoons where animated cigarettes and cigars and chewing tobacco are all the villains and idiots, and that schools should take over from there and link cigarettes with pedophiles and kidnappers, etc.. Tobacco companies have spent decades programming our subconscious to try and make us think these things are sexy and cool, I think a little reverse programming would be a good thing.

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