Smokers Are People Too ... Just Second-Class Ones

girls smokingI'm an ex-smoker ... it was six years this summer since my last cigarette. I pretty much qualify as a nonsmoker now. I hate the smell, I'm super-irritated when people just toss their cigarette butts everywhere, and I want to physically harm people who walk around in large crowds lazily dangling their smokes right at the level of my little kids' faces (when I did smoke, I always stepped out of the mooing crowds if I felt the need to light up).

As writer Kate Harding points out in a recent Salon piece, all the astonishment over the constant smoking on Mad Men must come from people who are either really young or have short memories. I remember ashtrays in the armrests of movie theater seats and smoking at the mall, not to mention a smoking policy in the handbook of my high school. In college, we made a ton of friends because both my roommate and I smoked, so everyone flocked to our dorm room as a de facto smoking lounge, which would probably get us thrown out of school now.


Harding calls anti-smoking crusaders "prissy scolds," and while I don't totally agree with that, I do agree that they did a good thing by pushing smoking so far to the margins that it became too socially unacceptable, not to mention way too inconvenient, for smokers to indulge their habits just about anywhere, as they used to. One thing she doesn't mention is the fact they've also made tobacco taxes so high that a pack of smokes costs upwards of $6 in my area now, and it's pretty much the last politically acceptable tax to hike.

Harding makes a good point that smokers are disproportionately working class and unemployed, and there's a certain degree of snobbery in demonizing smokers (which is different than wanting to enjoy relatively unpolluted air, I might add):

... the disgust displayed toward smokers is doubtless a handy veil for some folks' feelings about those people ... I'm not asking you to hold anybody's hand or stand near them while they smoke; I'm just asking you to remember that smokers are and were real human beings, not statistics or historical curiosities or faceless, reeking beasts wantonly polluting the good folks' air.

Her feelings are colored by the fact her mom died a smoker, certainly, and while I think her call for compassion is well-taken, I really don't have tons of sympathy for smokers. I'm one of those who believe if I could quit, anyone can quit. I mean yes, it's horrible, and the memory of how Trainspotting-esque those first few days were is mostly what stopped me from picking up the smokes again those first few years.

But the tools I used were relatively inexpensive: Wellbutrin (aka Zyban), which my insurance covered (and there's now a generic for it so it should be cheaper than it was when I used it), QuitNet (which is free), and much, much bitching and moaning. I also used the Commit lozenges, which I didn't find all that helpful, and QuitNet was recruiting volunteers for a study so I had access to free counseling. Most states have quit lines that offer free quitting help, as well. And according to QuitNet, I save a whopping $1,079 per year by not smoking, and I was never that heavy a smoker.

Making smoking socially unacceptable did help me quit, and seemed to have helped Harding. Hating on smokers, though (as do many people in the comments to Harding's story) ... well, when does such utter meanness become just as frowned upon?


Image via Valentin Ottone/Flickr

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