The temptation of tobacco
Quitting a year later was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. I had my fun, enjoyed my five minute buzzes—the dirty little secret about cigarettes that somehow never gets told—and had grown tired of the pain in my throat, the financial drain, the cravings, wearing a coat that reeked of old smoke, and three fingers of my right hand that always smelled like tobacco no matter how hard I washed them.
So I quit. On May 17, I smoked what I swore was my last cigarette for three months and embarked on a few weeks of withdrawal. It kept me up at night. It had me staring at drug stores, wishing that I could walk in and buy a pack of Marlboro Reds. But I stuck with it, and I eventually got over my addiction. My friends were pleased, and the smokers who had tried and failed to quit were particularly impressed.
It’s been over six months since I inhaled my last cancerous cloud of smoke, but I’m still not entirely over it. I think about smoking every day. I can’t walk past Forsyth without feeling a twinge of sadness over having given up that vice, and I don’t know how long it will be until I’m unfazed. Perhaps I’m weaker than most, but it would be easy to slip into my old habits.
Non-smokers don’t fully understand how terrible the tobacco industry is. The archaic image of rich businessmen profiting off a 50 percent mortality rate has been so drilled into our minds that it is difficult to raise emotions on the issue. Non-smokers, if they care about the plight of their smoking brethren, are more likely to view them with derision than with pity. My friends were always unconcerned by my smoking and have similar feelings toward a friend who has taken up dipping. Though this is a highly effective means of burning holes in one’s lip and contracting mouth cancer, I feel like the only one who has made any serious effort to convince him to stop.
Tobacco is a terrible product. It is addictive, stigmatized, has undesirable short-term effects, and decades down the road, has the unfortunate tendency to cause death. The morality of marketing it to the American public aside, it should be banned outright. I take to the hard Right on nearly every economic issue from health care to tax cuts, but if it were my decision, tobacco would be illegal tomorrow.
Most smokers begin when they’re young, and every addict I’ve talked to who recognizes their addiction regrets the decision. None of us considered the consequences of even a year of smoking. I still remember standing in front of Beaumont, jokingly explaining to someone that by the time cancer became a reality in my life—as I claimed I knew it would, despite never really believing this—there would be a magic pill to deal with the inconvenience.
It may well be the smoker’s choice to go to the grave at an early age, but I have yet to meet the person who intelligently weighed the pros and cons of tobacco before proceeding to addict himself. Most smokers at the outset impulsively shove the long-term consequences to the backs of their minds, but if tobacco enjoyed the same legal status and availability as other controlled substances, it would not be nearly as prolific. I, at least, would never have become as involved with it as I did.
Tobacco is unique among addictive drugs in that not only does it make the user chemically dependent but also causes premature death. Smokers do not make informed decisions when they adopt the drug, carelessly ignoring every factor other than immediate gratification. Its illegality would be to the advantage of millions; the benefits of a short buzz dwindle in comparison to the health hazards. Had tobacco been illegal when I started smoking, I never would have begun. The version of me that spent much of the summer all but locking himself in his room to avoid temptation would have appreciated the decision.