I have to admit this upfront—I smoke.
I know it can kill you, I know it’s bad. I know many people think it’s disgusting, and I know there are tons of inconsiderate smokers out there who don’t respect the fact that most people don’t want to be around smoking. I know it stinks. I know it can bring about a horrible death. I know the tobacco companies will stop at nothing to sell their products. The whole smoking thing in general just sucks.
I have smoked since I was fifteen. I have been smoking over half of my life now. I have never been a heavy smoker, and I have quit a few times, but I still smoke. I have about one or two a day, but I still smoke. I am intelligent, well educated, and successful and a good person—and I smoke.
I am from the East Coast, where many people still smoke. Many bars and restaurants still permit smoking, which you won’t find on the West Coast. I hate going out to bars there—I hate that smell you get from being in a smoky bar all night. I hate seeing my old friends practically chain smoke out there. I hate it that no one thinks twice about smoking out there. I hate it that no one ever said one negative word about smoking when I was growing up. I hate how easy it was for me to get cigarettes before I was of age.
But the one thing I hate the most is how non-smokers treat smokers.
With other vices—alcohol, drugs, food—people show a little reserve when speaking their minds. You don’t hear people going off publicly about obese people and how their diets can kill them, but people will talk about smokers like they have committed a crime. There are programs and hospitals where people can get help for their drug addictions, but no such support for smokers. I have heard people go off about smoking, when I know that they are battling alcoholism. Sure, many people consider alcoholism a disease, but every day, scientists are discovering signs that an addition to smoking is too.
So why is smoking more evil than anything else? And why is publicly and unreservedly demonizing smokers more socially acceptable?
I’m not stupid—I know smoking can and might kill you—but so can a lot of other things. Sure, some people find smoking disgusting, but have you ever been around an alcoholic who reeks of liquor in the morning and won’t take a shower? Have you ever seen a meth addict scratch at their skin until it becomes raw? Have you seen the teeth and skin of people battling eating disorders? Other vices can be every bit as disgusting as smoking, and other vices can cause death too.
I am shocked at some of the things I hear, from people I know and like, everyday. People don’t think twice about expressing their (often severe) opinion of smoking. I know that many people who are so opposed to smoking have had someone they love die from it. But that doesn’t make the public anti-smoking tirade OK. I know people who have died from problems related to obesity and diabetes, but I don’t go off on everyone in McDonald’s. I’ve seen people I love in the hospital, yellow—their stomachs swollen from alcohol. But, I don’t get nasty with everyone at the bar on Friday night.
I don’t know why people think it is OK to talk about smokers like they are the biggest and most evil fools on the planet. It isn’t fair. We all make our personal choices. I may smoke, but I exercise, eat healthy and organic, recycle, help old ladies off the bus, work with children, and do many other positive things. Even if you know someone who has died from smoking, it is not a license to attack every other smoker you meet. People are all entitled to live their own lives and make their own choices. If I am not smoking in your face or bothering you at all, then you have no right to treat me like I am the lowest form of humanity. There are disrespectful and respectful smokers, just like with everything else.
Smoking is addictive, and I would like to see some real help and support for people who want to quit. We give support to every other vice and don’t demonize the people along the way. People use alcohol as an excuse for everything these days—think of all the celebrities who screw up, enter rehab, emerge clean, and America cheers. Why not have that support for smokers who want to quit? If we can send people to the moon and map the humane genome, surely we can find a way to help people quit smoking.
In the meantime, all the judgmental non-smokers need to remember something—some people don’t want to quit. I don’t. I very much enjoy my cigarette at the end of the day. I have quit when I wanted to, and I have started again when I wanted to. I like to smoke, and I have every right to smoke and to not be treated like I am the devil for doing so.
You need to remember something else too—you don’t know what people do when they are not around you. It’s possible that the guy you met at the bar last night smokes, and it’s possible that you have coworkers that smoke. It’s possible you like a movie written by a smoker and it’s possible that your kid might smoke. With everything else, people pause before they speak, for fear of offending someone, but people really let loose about their anti-smoking beliefs, and I am here to say that it’s not OK to behave that way.
Smokers are not evil, and even if you hate the sin, you should never hate the sinner. Next time, think before you speak—smokers have every right to make their own choices, just like you do. There are millions of kind, talented, giving, and productive citizens who smoke—what makes you think you are in a position to judge anyone else?