Sunday, January 23, 2005

Oh, the evils

Each cigarette of my chosen brand delivers 0.6mg of nicotine into my body. Gallaher’s website lists 4 ingredients added to tobacco; it also has a page on nicotine addiction which is filled with qualifiers, prevarication, avoidance, and an amount of fudge which would make a child clap its hands.

Addiction is a tricky conversation–piece for many. Forest, the UK’s smokers’ rights group, says that nicotine isn’t addictive — or, at least, that smokers aren’t addicted to nicotine. They can quit, therefore there’s no addiction. Right? Wrong. Addiction as a dictionary definition isn’t really that useful a thing to discuss; better to judge whether or not the chemical manipulation of cigarette ingredients by tobacco companies makes the enjoyment of a cigarette chemically exceptional — and exceptional enough to strongly encourage having another, and strongly discourage stopping.

Another problem is that there’s a lot of bullshit on both sides of the smoking argument. Organisations like Ash (anti–smoking), while clearly on the ball that smoking is bad for you, tend to supplement their source material with manipulative presentation and exhort governments to violate the civil rights of smokers. Organisations like Forest, which are pro–smokers’ rights, are often honest about the health effects of smoking on smokers, but also often strangely say that smoking isn’t an addiction but a habit, and that there are no health worries about passive smoking. Presumably this is to bolster their “it’s not scientifically apocalyptic, therefore you needn’t ban it” attitude.

I’m not going to spend more time on all this; a few quick google searches give you an endless resource.

But, I think that: smokers have a right to smoke unless it is completely outlawed; passive smoking is not always significantly harmful by any means; it is highly unpleasant to most non–smokers; tobacco companies are the devil incarnate; well–intentioned friends and family can seriously become unintentional demons incarnate in their often well–intentioned but hamfisted efforts to get someone to stop; smoking is highly pleasureable but not just chemically:

If alcohol is queen, then tobacco is her consort. It’s a fond companion for all occasions, a loyal friend through fair weather and foul. People smoke to celebrate a happy moment, or to hide a bitter regret. Whether you’re alone or with friends, it’s a joy for all the senses. What lovelier sight is there than that double row of white cigarettes, lined up like soldiers on parade and wrapped in silver paper? I love to touch the pack in my pocket, open it, savour the feel of the cigarette between my fingers, the paper on my lips, the taste of tobacco on my tongue. I love to watch the flame spurt up, love to watch it come closer and closer, filling me with its warmth. … Tobacco and alcohol, delicious fathers of abiding friendships and fertile reveries.
—Luis Buñuel

And yes, I agree with all that. Fervently. Giving up cigarettes, for me, is going to be a matter not of being a total non–smoker or a light smoker. It is going to be a matter of being an occasional smoker. Why? For the same reason I’d not give up drinking champagne, eating wild mushrooms or buying very expensive books. But why, then, am I crapping myself at the prospect of quitting my regular smoking? Because it’s breaking an addiction. I’ve tried to find material online about the health effects of enjoying 10 fine cigars a year, and I can’t, but I’m fervently hoping I can break the addiction, and be like the people I know who enjoy a single cigar (perhaps with some good port or even tokay) every few weeks.

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