RODRIGUEZ-TORRENT: A smoker’s confession

I’ll agree that there are people who smoke irresponsibly, and I personally will never sit down next to a non-smoker and light up.

But here’s the problem with Nell Meosky’s op-ed (“A call against smoking”). The implicit assumption underlying the dogmatic anti-smoking position of most of my peers — many whom have never read a rigorous study on the effects of smoking and who see eventual addiction as unavoidable — is that smoking has no legitimate benefits. Smoking is, they feel, a wasteful activity for the “cool,” the rebellious and the stupid.

This is a product of our highly effective education curriculum. Starting in elementary school, we are also told that the only reason people start smoking is because of Peer Pressure (which, we all know, is Bad). We learn that smokers are really just hurting themselves, because smoking is actually Not Cool, and in fact even makes you smell bad. (Which, as they start telling young men in middle school, girls don’t like! So beware.) The irony that peer pressure has clearly become one of the strongest (and, I’d say, perfectly legitimate) tools in the anti-smoking campaign is apparently lost on the designers of the relevant educational material.

I started smoking last year. No one encouraged me to do it. I started, and continue, simply because I judge the risks to be worth the rewards. I have found smoking to be a social facilitator, the objects and the act creating a momentary bond between friends and strangers alike. During conversation, smoking also gives me something to do with my hands and teeth and eyes, a perennial conundrum of the socially awkward.

It is also physically enjoyable; smoking can feel calming and even slightly euphoric, especially when one smokes only rarely as I do. And, for me, smoking has become nostalgic; it reminds me of my time in Beijing, of wedding parties and crowded trains and spring nights on the balcony of my 5’ x 8’ apartment.

I, too, am a product of the American educational system. I, too, found myself nearly immobilized by completely unreasonable terror that I felt as I approached the glass counter to buy my first pack. Why, I had to ask myself, is this act so qualitatively different than any of the other risks I take, or ways I hurt myself, on a regular basis?

The answer is that it’s not. I’ll hazard a guess that Meosky, the author of Monday’s column, wouldn’t be so uncompromising in her disdain of drinking, eating too much pie or spending a summer doing research in Chad — but which of these potpourri of activities is not risky or directly harmful to one’s body?

As Paracelsus once famously said, “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.” One has to consider the dosage as well as the substance; frequency-weighted risk and the possibility of addiction should of course be included in an individual’s risk-reward calculus — and often are.

But the scorn so often heaped on smokers — many of whom understand the risks, have made that calculation, and still choose to smoke — betrays a double standard and a close-mindedness that reflects the success of anti-smoking propaganda campaigns and the failure of a staggering number of highly intelligent, undeniably educated Yalies to critically re-examine their own premises and prejudices.

Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at


  • redman

    You don’t seem to realize that after you smoke, and you sit down next to someone, you still stink of smoke.

  • River_Tam

    Let’s be clear – even beyond the obvious difference (secondhand pie never killed anyone), smoking is far more harmful AND addictive to your body than casual drinking, overeating pie, or traveling to a 3rd world country.

  • The Anti-Yale

    *I started, and continue, simply because I judge the risks to be worth the reward*

    Forgive me for being anecdotal. I know it bores your data-addicted, data-driven generation.

    Both my parents died of cigarette smoking: My mother at 73 after 118 days fully conscious on a respirator after heart surgery, a respirator from which she could not be successfully weaned because her lungs were too weak from 50 years of smoking; My father at 78, from a pulmonary embolism, after having given up smoking 9 years before when he had a heart attack.

    Both my parents were on their feet and active until a few weeks before their deaths and had smoked a combined total of 100 years. They insisted they smoked because they “enjoyed it.”

    Who am I to judge.

  • wtf

    “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

    Don’t ruin my lungs just because you don’t care about yours. I’m sick of having to hold my breath every time I walk by a smoker.

  • Yale12

    How can you go to Yale and be so unbelievably stupid?

  • MsMoneypenny

    I used to smoke and I do miss it. Miss being able to smoke in CCL- yes, you actually could! Only reason I quit was because they became prohibitively expensive. Living in a city, you’re going to get exposed to these pollutants whether you’re near smokers or not. I used to test people- when someone passed me, I took out a cigarette- and didn’t light it! Still they’d be doing this fake cough in front of me.

  • RexMottram08

    Smoking…. still healhier than John Merriman’s lectures.

  • jamesdakrn

    I prefer marijuana to cigs any day, but I don’t like the crusade against smoking here at Yale.

  • LouieLouie

    Smoking is no longer an individual decision; it’s proven that second-hand smoke can kill non-smokers, cause ashma in young children who are subjected to it and just plain pollute the air that is already suffering from so many other pollutants they are too numerous to list.
    Why would anyone take a tube filled with tobacco, light it and inhale the smoke? Why not chew on fireplace embers? Because, what fireplace embers do not have is the addictive power of nicotine.
    RJ Reynolds, one of the largest companies in the US does not care about your health. They’ll put ghastly pictures on the packs of cigarettes with warnings in bold letters “BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH” and say that they are responsible corporate citizens but they will also add extra nicotine to the cigarettes to ensure that you’ll be back for more. Smokers are just pawns in the ever-growing corporate greed game. To hell with good health, less pollution and the joys of living in a smoke free environment…who cares as long as I make billions of dollars off the backs of ignorant US citizens and the world at large. Visit any country outside of the US and notice the amount of smokers you see. RJ is global…how trendy!
    Not too mention the huge burden smokers put on our health care system. There will be consequences to your smoking; in some way as you age, it will negatively affect your health.