I wish more people at Yale took smoke breaks.
No, I am not a misanthrope, wishing premature death upon my classmates, nor do I long for the aesthetic of DeNiro gangster movies. I realize smoking is horrible — 6 million deaths each year, with 80 percent of the disease burden falling on low and middle income countries. Who knows if my grandfather would have had a stroke last year if he hadn’t smoked since 1949. And don’t even get me started on the tobacco industry — outright lying to people around the world and suing countries trying to pass smoking regulation. Honestly, just ask my smoker friends — there is no one who professes life extension through smoking cessation as aggressively as I do.
Yet, as the stress and isolation of Yale hits me hard, I text friend after friend inviting them to meet up. And my heart sinks deeper as friend after friend politely lets me know how extremely busy they are. So I light up alone on the back porch of my Howe Street house — god, I miss smokers.
None of my Yale friends smoke. Yalies are too rational for this short-term indulgence. The truth has nothing to do with rationality and everything to do with incentives. In the U.S., smoking is a stigmatized lower class habit and so putting down the cigarette is just another Canada Goose patch Yale students proudly wear. The only real smokers left at Yale are international students and dining hall workers.
Going to high school in Bosnia and Herzegovina — a country that ranks 10th worldwide in cigarette consumption per capita — I made some of my best friends while smoking. As much as I know that my friends will regret their tobacco habit 40 years down the road, I think there are also considerable positive externalities to this addiction.
For one, I’ve never had a hard time asking my friends in Bosnia for five minutes of their time — they literally needed to smoke every half-hour, so they might as well do it with me.
Smoking makes for a perfect way to meet new people. From light to ash, a cigarette takes six minutes. There is no shame about being silent with another person because smoking itself gives you a good enough occupation. It is the perfect way to get out of a party mingle hell and have an actual conversation with someone. The closest thing to a smoke break at Yale are 30-minute dining hall meals, which you must plan literally weeks in advance.
There is something liberatingly nihilistic about knowing how harmful smoking is and lighting up anyway. The cigarette in my Slovak friend’s hand is a raised middle finger to the idea of progress and universal betterness we toil for, 14 hours a day.
Since, apart from my two-house mates who ritually pretend to take drags from a cigarette about every two months, I know no Yale smokers. It is hard for me to say whether smoking would make us kinder to each other. Even if it did, it probably would not compensate for all the strokes, cancer and erectile dysfunction that would come with smoking. It would also not justify the inherent deception involved in nicotine addiction — intensely pleasurable at first, but bland, necessary and somewhat deadly over time.
Setting up incentives so that fewer people smoke is a great achievement for the United States. Tobacco-free Yale is an excellent and important initiative and cost-free Nicotine Replacement Therapy under Yale Health coverage is surely a blessing for anyone trying to stop. But still, what would it be like here if we tried to chill out in less risky ways? I heard walks are pretty relaxing.
While Yale’s environment constructively discourages smoking, it unwillingly encourages overwork, perfectionism, low self-esteem and putting work ahead of friends. If only banning social climbing and status obsession was as easy as banning tobacco.
Mojmir Stehlik is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .