The Tragedy of Smoking – Part II
One of my smoker patients said to me, ‘The pleasure of smoking may be an illusion, but it’s a very nice illusion!’
It is really? It’s no illusion, and certainly would not be nice, if you contracted a smoking-induced disease.
Yet it’s extraordinary the lengths to which smokers will go to justify their smoking. Here’s what some of them told me recently:
- It’s fun, and I love the drug
- I enjoy the taste…when sitting with a book and cat and nice music
- I wouldn’t have smoked…if I had been taught coping strategies by my parents
- Smoking is a very enjoyable part of life
What these good people assert they have got out of inhaling poisonous tobacco fumes for years on end, is fun and something loveable, an enjoyable taste, a coping strategy, and enjoyment, respectively.
But what, exactly, is enjoyable about smoking? Is the taste so marvellous you need to have tobacco smoke passing over your tongue to tickle your taste buds hundreds of times every day? Why can’t the person who smokes with a book, cat, and music, not enjoy this delightful situation without smoking? (It’s not very enjoyable for the poor cat, I imagine.) And how does smoking enable you to cope?
Enjoyment aside, all smokers have serious problems:
—putting their health at risk
—are much of the time in a drugged state (altered mental state) with nicotine immediately after having smoked
—repeatedly suffer nicotine withdrawal which makes them want the next cigarette
—waste a ridiculous amount of money which literally goes up in smoke
All this happens because, dozens or even hundreds of times every day, they inhale into their lungs poisonous tobacco fumes—and continue to do so for years, decades, or even the rest of their lives. This is abnormal behaviour. And the reason smokers do this is because they are suffering from drug (nicotine) addiction, which means they find themselves in the unfortunate situation of being unable to quit. They may rationalise this by saying they enjoy smoking—the ‘I can’t stop and therefore I don’t want to stop’ syndrome.
It is difficult for smokers to face these uncomfortable truths so they try to explain their behaviour by proffering reasons such as those mentioned above. But if one engages in a non-judgemental discussion with smokers who then weigh these alleged benefits against the serious risks and drawbacks of smoking, it’s unarguable that no one in their right mind would smoke.
We can find on the internet accounts of people who confess—or sometimes it seems like a boast—that after fifteen or thirty or fifty years of daily poisoning themselves with tobacco smoke they’ve managed to quit. Some of these smokers have only quit in the sense of having transferred their nicotine addiction to a different way of putting this chemical into their bodies, by switching to e-cigarettes.
Of course, it’s better to quit later than never (or to transfer one’s addiction to vaping—if you can call vaping a form of quitting, even though it may turn out not to be any safer than smoking), but the important question is: why did these former smokers continue for so long in the first place?
This is the tragedy of smoking. If someone smoked for, say, six months and then realised it wasn’t doing them any good, so they sought and found a way of quitting, that would be something to mention as a cautionary tale, but the fact that many people smoke for decades before quitting, if they do, is a tragedy.
It is all the more shocking because cigarettes are everywhere on open sale, thus ensuring a steady supply of new teenage smokers who will form the next generation of decades-long nicotine addicts to replace older smokers who quit or die.
This is not only a tragedy: it’s a scandal that needs to be recognised by governments and dealt with by banning cigarettes.
Text and photo © Gabriel Symonds