October 1, 2011

Smoke Signals: Are Cigarettes Really as Bad as They Say? ~ Sara Lindsey

Could it really be that difficult to figure out? 

You’d think it’d be easy to pick up a pack of cigarettes, smoke one, look at the brown filter and take an educated guess at what could be going on. It was white before smoking, so what happened? What could have possibly made the end of this cigarette dirty, and what could be going into my body?

The awful truth is that it is hard to figure out, in the same way as it’s hard to see that fast food is bad for you when you’ve got beautiful “real” people featured in pictures with a sexy sauce-dripping burger or casually enjoying a smoke. They’re usually seen either laughing with their friends or staring into the camera; half scrutinizing you, half asking you to bed.

I’m not sure how I feel about smoking, to be honest. Yes, I do believe it’s extremely unhealthy, and typically done to appease a particular crowd. There are very few people I know who go the Margot Tenenbaum route with a pack, and if they do it’s due to an overwhelming need to have a cinematic life, which I can’t argue with. I just hope it’s a phase. However, for those who like to smoke socially (which is almost anyone who smokes, whether they’re a “smoker” or not), there is a certain charm in becoming one of the Bande a Part.

It’s easy to disregard your health when you still have plenty of it to counter the negative side effects of smoking. Dry eyes and skin are probably the worst of it when you’re young…or so it seems. Everything else slips by. When I was younger, I could eat a box of donuts and wake up fresh as a daisy. I eat one before bed now and I’m the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man by the morning. Like this, it’s easy to allow things to happen that you know aren’t helping you or keeping you healthy, because it’s not damaging your immediate life. In fact, it’s making it better. You gain the romantic aspect of a rebellious life (several costumes to choose from- beatnik, supermodel, bohemian, businessperson, etc.), you get a cool crowd to hang out with, and you look awesome.

But, for how long is this reason enough to essentially damage your body?

What do you do when you wake up and notice that your reflection actually does look kind of sallow? Or that there are a few lines where there weren’t before? Or that your digestion is becoming less and less reliable?

Something that always angered me when lighting up (oh, did I mention that I smoke on occasion?) is the instant reaction that most friends, and friends of friends have. Like clockwork, the banter begins about cancer! A relative who died! The environment! And probably some other random downer comment, which was managed to somehow get tied back to smoking cigarettes. I know all of this, I’m aware of the health risks. Why is it that it’s perfectly okay to bludgeon a smoker for their choices when people can giggle with their friends about how “bad” they’re being sharing a box of oreos or tub of ice cream? We could talk about, oh I dunno, refined sugars, bovine growth hormones, bleached flour, high fructose corn syrup, or an entire grocery list of things you probably can’t pronounce. But that’s different, right? It’s not bad for you in the way a cigarette is bad for you, right?


I can’t exactly take peoples worries about health too seriously when they themselves blindly subscribe to activities that are just as risky. I started becoming very cautious about refined sugar a few years ago and was faced with a grouchy crowd of friends. The outbursts were shocking, though in retrospect, it all makes sense. To casually drop something that other people are addicted to will not be handled well. In fact, the chemicals aren’t the only thing that people become addicted to. It’s the lifestyle.

I once had a friend who was addicted to cigarettes and she wanted to stop smoking. She associated the habit with social events, and wanted to keep being the life of the party, the popular kooky one who got wasted and said funny things that were relayed the next morning. I once asked her why she didn’t just stop smoking, and she, looking quite hurt, said “because I’m addicted.” I pointed out that if nobody else in the world were smoking, she probably would feel a lot less inclined to do it. She might even forget about it all together. Addictions are chemical responses generated by our bodies, but which chemicals? Are they the stimulants that are in substances like tobacco, or are they the chemicals are bodies let off when we feel happy, or accepted?

Smoking is an easy way to outwardly express your edginess, carelessness, sexiness, or loneliness. Asking someone to stop this performance is to ask them to look at themselves. It’s not so easy for most, and it’s typically why people smoke in public places, or in groups of people.

It seems that smoking is less dangerous to your physical health as it is to your mental health. To become attached to a method of personal expression such as this will eventually catch up to your body, but unfortunately it can callus your mind much sooner. You can see it in yourself, but most people don’t like to. Seeing how mean or cool or hot you look with one in your mouth can be entertaining, but to truly witness the changes that take place when addicted to anything isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Is a passive habit worth risking your higher self? 

Somewhere you know that what you’re doing is foolish and unhealthy, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to stop someone. I’m still casually smoking. Why that is I can’t entirely rationalize. I think it’s partially due to an enjoyment I get out of fitting into several different ways of living. I can be healthy and smoke, which makes social crossover easy and fun. I also like the tingly rush I get in my body from inhaling. However, I don’t like the way I appear or feel. It isn’t noticeable, but I can see it because it’s me. I could see it even if I were blind. I know that my smoking days are coming to a close, and I won’t mourn the loss when it does arrive, just as I never felt like I was “missing out” when I stopped partying after high school.

My hope for society when it comes to smoking is that it will be something for people to enjoy if they feel drawn to it, and eventually let it go once they realize what the hell they’re actually doing. Unfortunately it isn’t that easy for people, so there is a strong bias against starting at all. However, to those who already smoke, this isn’t exactly a welcomed reaction. If you smoke, don’t be scared to stop. If you don’t, then be kind to those who do. The last thing the world needs is more bridges being burned. After all, there’s already enough smoke.


 Sara Lindsey graduated from the Maharishi University of Management with a degree in Communication & Media with an Emphasis in Writing, since there was sadly no Journalism major. Some of her past and current interests include but are not limited to: yoga, raw food, as much travel as possible, Swedish electro-pop, dijon mustard, reading comics, and riding her bike. Sara was born in Morocco, has lived throughout the US, and is a new resident to Boulder, Colorado.

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