Tuesday, February 20, 2007

And you, sir, are worse than Hitler!

I think it must be a bit of a disappointment to some of my readers that I don't make smoking the focus of more of my discussions here. Certainly my sidebar-bio-thing is suggestive of strong feelings on the matter. And, indeed, I'll confess to you now that not only do I smoke (pipe, cigar and cigarette), I consider smoking to be probably my definitive passion; when first I set cigarette to lips it was with me, as James Barrie observed of the introduction of tobacco to England, that I "woke up from a long sleep ... The glory of existence became a thing to speak of."

And so perhaps you'll understand why I am loath to talk about it very often: much more than being just baffled by the transparently irrational treatment given smoking and smokers by the powers that be and (increasingly) by popular opinion, I am bloody enraged by it. The anti-smoking movement is not just an affront to my intelligence, it is an attack on me personally.

The real kicker, though, is that even if I didn't feel so strongly about smoking (and I'd be a fool to think that I wasn't in a fairly small minority of people who do--even amongst smokers), the fact remains that no amount of dispassionate and neutrally reasoned argument could do my poor benighted habit any good anyway. Even by taking thought, as it were, neither I--nor anyone else for that matter--can add to Smoking's stature even one cubit. For while good arguments (with science sufficient to support them) exist in abundance to cast a reasonable doubt on this business of outlawing tobacco in all but name, they are helpless in the face of a rhetoric that has finally achieved the status of a fully religious and, indeed, transcendental dogma.

Tobacco companies that tempt cigarette addicts with advertisements are no better than preacher Jim Jones, who induced 900 followers to drink a cyanide-laced Flavor Aid in the infamous 1978 massacre, says a B.C. government brief to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Now never mind--if I can persuade you to do so (and I completely understand if you refuse)--the suggestion that 20% of the Canadian population is as incredibly, mind-numbingly stupid as the infamously, incredibly, mind-numbingly stupid Jonestown wackjobs who toasted their own futile and imminent ends with a glass of Cyanide-Aid. Never mind that. What do you make of this "cigarette addicts" business?

Since when have smokers ever been called "cigarette addicts"?!

This is what I'm talking about! ... I mean: where on God's toasty globe does one begin?

It is, of course, true that cigarettes are addictive; that smokers, as a rule, are addicted to nicotine. But to call them "cigarette addicts" seems to me to be slathering the bitter sauce on a bit thick, what? Absurdly thick, really. Caffeine is addictive, after all (and it contains carcinogens too) but do we ever speak in terms of "coffee addicts"? Or how about "food addicts"?

And why stop at ingestible consumables? If addiction is broadly defined as the "persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be physically, psychologically, or socially harmful" can we not--as KMG pointed out to me yesterday--talk about "gasoline addicts" then?


Yo, bud!

Heard you were trying to give up smoking.


What're you down to?

Including the drive to work?


Two thousand three hundred and fifty nine a day.

Sweet, man. Without?



You see: the problem with applying this hefty term "addict" to smokers is that it presumes a general softening of the meaning and use of the term that has not actually occurred, or (if it has) been commonly accepted. And there's a reason for this: if we are going to talk about "cigarette addicts" than we have to (have to!) talk about people who drink coffee habitually as "caffeine addicts", people who are at all overweight as "food addicts", and people who use a vehicle as an alternative to public transportation as "gasoline addicts". And dare I mention--in this commitedly Dionysian age--that we should also have to talk of anyone who imbibes on a routine basis as an "alcohol addict" ... But we don't do this--or we don't yet (but I would suggest that drinkers, fatties, and drivers have much to fear on the road anti-smoking zealots are taking us all down)--because this would be to risk confusing differences of kind with differences of degree. A person who drinks moderately, after all, is so far from being an alcoholic that his drinking can't even be said to factor into it.

Now, what really gets my goat in all this is that while we don't, then, make a habit of talking about "alcohol addicts" for fear of blurring the considerable line dividing them from alcoholics, while we don't talk about "food addicts" for fear of downplaying the seriousness of gross obesity, we have no trouble talking about "cigarette addicts" when there is no such distinction (between moderate and abuser) even to be made. Which, I guess, on the surface might appear to support this ludicrous contention that all smokers, without exception, are "addicts". There are no moderate heroin users after all (exempting William Burroughs and Keith Richards obviously), there are only heroin addicts--and it is in the particular character of that drug that use is de facto abuse. But considered properly, considered according to the full context provided us by the examples of abuse by the only other people who have earned this title "addict", it becomes extremely clear that the only way to apply it to smokers is by hollowing the term out of all but its crudest meaning. Yes, smokers smoke. Every day and repeatedly. They also manage to lead sedentary lives, hold down jobs, raise kids. Indeed they manage to do these and a great deal else besides with powerfully little trouble for 10, 20, 30, 40, sometimes 50 years of smoking ... Suggest to someone in the throes of heroin addiction that he and a smoker have anything whatsoever in common and, I strongly suspect, he wouldn't be as likely to laugh in your face as to strike it.

But the term remains and, likely, will increase ad nauseum in popularity. How? Well, we're back to the whole "why" vs. "why not" thing that Selley was on about in the matter of mandatory helmets for tobogganers. It is far easier to ask the question "Why not call smokers 'cigarette addicts' given that they are, in fact, addicted to cigarettes?" then to ask "Why call smokers 'cigarette addicts' when the term 'addict' is only ever applied to persons whose livelihoods have been severely and immediately compromised, and often destroyed, by their addiction?"

... And the whole death thing only makes the "why not" question so much the easier course. Given that--and I wouldn't dream of trying to deny it--smoking (particularly heavy smoking, if I might be allowed to make such a qualification) causes death. But, again, I think a certain amount of reasonable perspective is lost when the context of these deaths is omitted.

The above cited Globe and Mail article describes cigarette smoking as a form of "mass suicide". (Actually, it suggests--as per the B.C. government's impending case against so-called "Big Tobacco"--that cigarette advertising (adverfuckingtising, for God's sake!) leads to a form of mass suicide ... But we'll leave that, if you don't mind.) Quoting the brief, it goes further:
Each cigarette smoked is an inherently harmful event, a fresh and legally recognized personal injury. It may be only one laceration in what will likely be death by ten thousand cuts, but it is a cut nonetheless.
Now, recognizing that this "death by ten thousand cuts" business was meant figuratively, it still provides an admirable spring board to illustrate my point about the importance of context:

While it may be that cigarette smoking causes death, that every cigarette smoked represents a fraction of what is to be an inevitably fatal collective blow, it needs to be borne in mind that this is still one of the slowest deaths imaginable. Indeed, I can't help thinking that "cigarette smoking" could come second only to "a long and healthy life" in any list of Least Expedient Forms of Suicide. The B.C. court brief talks about one of ten thousand cuts--which seems like a really small fraction too, doesn't it?--but when compared with the reality, the figure is revealed to be, in fact, quite large and ungainly. Grossly obese, even. To wit: the one person I know who died of lung cancer did so at the age of 60. She had been a two pack a day smoker since she was, roughly, 20. A fairly representative case, I think most would agree. So let's see here: at 50 cigarettes a day for 40 years that makes every cigarette she smoked one proverbial cut in the total 730,000 that it took to kill her. 730,000! (To be sure: at the one in 10,000 figure your average pack-a-day man would be dead in just over a year.)

So you see what I mean.

But, as I say, this argument, any argument, is worthless in the face of a widespread conviction that if we can just cut out smoking we will not only live longer lives but, likely, will live everlastingly ... Would only that I had something like a woman's right to choose to smoke; would that I could argue that my smoking was just one long bout of a jolly old therapeutic abortion.


NOTE: I should say--in case I gave a wrong impression--that this is not the first time I have discussed the whole smoking thing. I can think of three other times that I've written about it (though there might be others). They can be found here, here and here.