Nicotine Diaries [Entry No. 1]

Date: 7 October 2014

Status: Fine, I think

Topic: What’s the big deal?

Right, one week in…where to begin?

Family is usually a good place to start. Mine’s no different from many in that one side is diametrically opposed to smoking as a lifestyle, while the other can’t really fathom a lifestyle without it. Both of my parents are doctors with no real history of smoking or concept of it as anything other than a very unhealthy — some might even say deadly — way for people to try and look cool.

Okay, I’m glad I started with family, because that’s a perfect segue.

My father is one cool motherfucker. I mean, he’s lame in that at once special and generic “Dad” way, viz., crazy loving with his children, questionable sense of humor, often politically incorrect, loves disco; but that’s all pretty standard. Make no mistake, Pops is classically, timelessly, black-and-white film star cool — more so than I could ever be — so when he told me as a kid that smoking never really makes you so, I believed him.

And still do, at that. I’ve always maintained that some people look incredibly attractive with a cigarette in their hand, while others look categorically foolish, deeply uncool. So when I say that I didn’t pick up smoking for any of the usual reasons, I would hope you’ll believe me. I wasn’t peer pressured, intoxicated, or even propositioned. In fact, for most of my life, I was just as staunchly against this habit for my friends as my parents were, are, for me.

The reason I started smoking — and it’s taken me until now to realize this — is that I had, have, a deep-seated need to behave in such a way that is physically and emotionally self-destructive. I fully acknowledge the cliché angst of that statement, but that doesn’t change the truth behind it. And if you think about it in earnest, I think the same could be true of many (if not most) young smokers.

We have, since Reader’s Digest’s historic publication in 1952, known for scientific, empirically proven fact that smoking is directly correlated to lung cancer, emphysema, and a laundry list of other debilitating afflictions, both pulmonary and otherwise. Cigarette packs are branded with a Surgeon General’s warning (or much more graphic, disturbing words/imagery, in other countries). To put it succinctly, if you are a legal American smoker in 2014, you know full well the dangers of being so.

Yet still we do it, and not in small numbers. In 2012 the CDC reported that 18.1% of Americans over the age of eighteen are daily smokers (42.7% of which had made an attempt to quit in the last year), which isn’t as outrageously high as it was in, say, the early 20th century; but it’s also not quite low enough for those living in the early 21st century, who have real, proven knowledge of the devastating effects that smoking can, does, result in.

In so far as my own habit is concerned, it started — as it does for many — at a point in my life when I was cultivating profound self-loathing, and so found real (if ill-advised) solace in the tangible, habitual act of causing harm to my own body. That probably won’t make sense to some of you, at least not logically, but I’d bet you it makes a lot of sense to people for whom self-mutilation or suicide isn’t an option, who decide in turn that the only satisfactory way of hurting themselves constantly and immediately is to do what music, film, and television has taught us is a quick, easy, and cool escape from life’s problems.

Wait, and you’re telling me I get to look like a badass while I’m doing it, too?”

Small wonder, then, that we indulge in the more than occasional dance with death — if only “socially” or “drunkenly” (which latter condition, I might add, is when we often engage in our poorest, most self-destructive decision making). Too, it’s worth making note of the fact that smokers (daily or not) are never left simply “wanting” a cigarette, but “needing” one. This should act as pretty compelling evidence for the chemical addiction that cigarettes impose, but it goes deeper than that, I think.

to be continued

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