I think it’s important to concede a point before any discussion of smoking: smoking is fun. Anyone who tells you it isn’t either hasn’t tried it or doesn’t know what’s good. Smoking is fun and there’s no two ways about it. Whether you’re puffing on a pipe, toking on a big old cigar, sipping on a hookah or coughing out a lung with a cowboy-killer, it’s fun. This is not just nicotine talking and telling your body it’s fun. It’s something much deeper, if you really need to find grounding for it. But the grounding doesn’t matter. Nor does any of the after-the-fact developments in smoking, like the cultural significance or the socializing it usually leads to or anything else you want to tack on that’s secondary to the experience itself. Smoking is fun in and of itself. Putting smoke in your mouth and puffing it out is enjoyable.
If we’re to concede that point, we must also concede another point: smoking will seriously fuck you up. Anyone who ignores this, disregards this, or thinks that smoking will somehow be safe for them is an idiot. It does terrible things to your sense of taste, your cardiovascular endurance, etc. etc., and cancer. You smoke, you’re making your lungs black. You don’t inhale, you’re making your gums black and you’re going to eventually get some nasty-ass lip-cancer. This is a given. There is no scientific data I’m aware of that says anything about casual smokers versus habitual smokers, so I’m not going to say that smoking in moderation or smoking every now and then won’t seriously fuck you up because there’s no proof of it. As far as my understanding of carcinogens goes, each time you expose yourself to one it’s a crapshoot about whether or not it will act like a bowling-ball crashing through your nucleotides and turn your cells into zombies. So you probably won’t get horrible cancer if you don’t smoke too often, but there’s no way to be sure.
If these were the only two elements going into smoking, besides the cultural ones that only get started because certain strong parts of the population adopt smoking and then other weaker-willed portions follow them, then it wouldn’t make sense to me that smoking has become such a big success. Sure, the nicotine helps to make smoking stick, but after you beat that physical dependence (which happens relatively quickly) the remaining habit is really what keeps people going back to smoking. So why does the habit become so strong? The health concern and the progressive grossness of it should seem to take the fun out of it pretty quickly, or if not then it should be about as popular as riding your bike without your helmet on. That’s fun too, but most of the biking population still wears a helmet. That pattern doesn’t match up to smoking. Why?
Smoking is a lie, that’s why. It’s not a lie that you’re going to be alright or that smoking isn’t going to kill you. That’s just mendacious reasoning, and anyone who follows that kind of lie doesn’t admit our second concession, so they don’t get to be part of the conversation anymore. The lie isn’t something that you voice to yourself. The lie is in the experience. When you inhale smoke and it filters into your brain and your consciousness, what you experience is a complete and utter lie.
You experience a calmness at first from the action itself. You have to be calm, or you have to make yourself calm, in order to smoke. It doesn’t work otherwise. That, on its own, feels pretty good. Then, after a couple of drags, getting into the swing of it, you start to feel a bit of a head rush. It’s not disorienting or dizzying, but it feels different, swirly, and you’re in control. Your consciousness shifts gears. And this is where the lie happens. You feel different than you did a second before, not just emotionally but completely. In this different consciousness, you feel good. You feel powerful. You put yourself into this mindset, you revealed to yourself that you can step out of that last mindset and into this one, and you are still in control even though it’s something different. But you don’t think all those things, the lie isn’t the kind of thing that’s said or that could be contradicted. Your body tells them to you. You experience that truth. You can feel as helpless or as sad as you’ve ever felt, but you take a drag on a cigarette and you’ve got that power and that truth. Your feel it there.
But it’s all a lie. It’s a very convincing lie, and it’s such an attractive lie, but it’s a lie. It has to be a lie, because it goes away. A minute to five seconds after you hit that feeling, it’s gone, and you’re back to where you were before. You don’t ever tell yourself that you were just in a lie, but you know somehow that you were, there’s the same left-over feeling you get from telling a fib. But the lie was so pleasant that the left-over feeling doesn’t bother you much. You hardly notice it unless you’re looking for it. You’d probably rather find that lie again.
So I think the real root of smoking’s popularity is the lie. There are plenty of other elements that have helped to give smoking its staying power, but the definitive one is the lie. In the lie, with the lie, with that power to lie and the power from the lie, the health concerns and all the other concerns shift in the way that they have power over you. But that’s all over-rationalization and gobbledygook, I can’t really put the feeling and its effects and its consequences into the right words. It’s a wonderful lie, and the popularity of smoking is because of that lie. After all, what’s more popular than lying?