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 firstname.lastname@example.org.