Thursday, 3 June 2010

Smoking is good for you

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to one of the owners of my favourite curry house in the restaurant's rear garden and offered him a cigarette. He is only an occasional smoker (a term almost exclusively used by smokers who prefer others to buy the cigarettes they smoke). On lighting the little vitamin stick he inhaled deeply and let out a contented sigh. It is the same sort of sigh I emit at the end of breakfast when I take my first ciggy of the day, only louder and longer because it was a rarer treat for him than it is for me. He did not collapse in a heap or start gibbering, he did not feel the need to steal to fund his next hit; he just sighed. He enjoyed the cigarette. As a smoker I find it impossible to describe the pleasure because it is just part of everyday life, but seeing my friend react as he did reminded me that smoking is a pleasure.

Anti-smokers plug two lines relentlessly. They tell us we only smoke because we are addicted and that smoking is bad for our health. The second might well be true, at least for some smokers, the first is undoubtedly and patently false. If it were the case that smoking is undertaken for no purpose than to feed a drug addiction, I find it impossible to see how it could be such a widespread habit. All over the world people smoke tobacco even though it is not a plant indigenous to their country. They do so despite it costing them money they can ill afford because it gives them something they did not have before. Addiction cannot develop from one taste alone, so even if they do become addicted over time, in the period before they are addicted they smoke solely because inhaling tobacco smoke gives them a pleasure they value at least as much as the money they spend to acquire cigarettes.

One can liken smoking to watching sport or films on television. You can get some for free but if you want more you have to pay. Your choice is to balance the pleasure you derive against the cost. If films don't really toot your flute you might not be prepared to pay anything more than the annual television tax because the number shown on non-subscription channels leaves you satisfied. If you find football and cricket utterly fascinating and can think of nothing better than to spend your evenings and weekends absorbing sporting encounters, you subscribe to Sky Sports 1, 2, 3, ESPN and anything else you can get pumped into your telly.

There is no objectivity about these things because they are matters of personal taste. Some opinionated prig can lecture you about how wasteful it is to spend so much time gawping at the idiot box but in doing so they merely expose their shallow-mindedness. They assume that because they don't do something themselves so others can't possibly get a benefit from it. They assume you to be incapable of forming your own judgment about what is valuable to you and how much you are prepared to pay for it. In short, they fail to realise that we are all different and have different tastes. If challenged to explain how you can justify the cost of numerous optional television channels your answer can only be that you enjoy it and consider it worth the money. No one is in a position to say you do not, cannot or should not enjoy the activity because it is your choice and your choice alone. If the price goes up you face a new choice, should you cut back so that your other bills can still be paid or should you continue the same subscription and make your wife go back on the game; it is the same balancing exercise - how much do you, an individual person, value the film or sports channels. Bert next door might take a different decision but that is neither here nor there, he is not you.

Smoking is also akin to drinking tea. Tea is consumed not just because it contains caffeine, indeed decaffeinated versions are available, it is drunk because ... well, why? The taste? That it is hot? That it is traditional? Frankly, it does not matter. If you want a cup of tea have a cup of tea, you know it will make life better for you even if others cannot stand the stuff. I doubt that any of us can really define the pleasure we get from a cup of tea other than by saying we like it. People might derive all sorts of pleasure, it really doesn't matter. They drink it because it gives them something at a cost they are prepared to pay even if they cannot identify the benefit with any precision.

We can be absolutely certain that people derive a benefit from smoking. The sigh in the garden of the curry house is proof of that as is the prevalence of smoking as a habit all over the world. The one certain downside is the cost. Every smoker has to balance the pleasure he gets against affordability. There is certainly some evidence that smoking can cause health problems for a small number of smokers and no smoker can know whether he or she is at risk. Provided we are informed of the risk we will take it into account alongside price when balancing whether the pleasure we derive is sufficient to justify continuation of the habit.

What is so extraordinary is that the risks are exaggerated enormously these days and some alleged risks are so statistically insignificant as to be pure invention. People know of these non-risks and believe them to be risks, yet still they judge that the pleasure they receive outweighs both cost and risk. If anything, that shows that the pleasure is far higher than any anti-smoking prig could possibly understand.

Yet still they tell us "it's no good for you". Sorry, Mr & Mrs Prig, you couldn't be more wrong. Smokers, like gogglers of movies and televised sport, judge for themselves what is good for them. On one side of the scale they place cost and alleged risk on the other side they place the pleasure they derive. You can measure cost in money but risk and pleasure are matters for individual assessment applying whatever measure any given individual cares to apply. Those who continue to smoke when ciggies are £6 and more a packet and so-called experts tell them they are killing themselves, their children, their friends, neighours and pets, explain by their conduct that smoking is very good for them indeed.

If you don't think it's good for you, don't do it. I haven't spent a single penny at a cinema for almost thirty years because I don't enjoy films sufficiently to be able to justify the cost - films are not good for me. During that time I have spent many thousands of pounds on cigars and cigarettes because I derive a pleasure from their consumption and feel the cost and risk involved are not so high that I cannot justify that expenditure to myself - smoking is good for me.


Mark Wadsworth said...


For many people, the mental health benefits of smoking far outweight the physical health 'costs'.

Stan said...

I'm not a cigarette smoker, but Mrs Stan is and she swears that smoking a cigarette is a great stress reliever. I'm a cigar smoker myself - not often, just two, three or four times a year - and I get a lot of pleasure from those few cigars. The fact that I can go months between each one suggests I am not addicted and that it is purely a pleasure. And yes, I think they do me good - I certainly feel more relaxed afterwards.

Chuckles said...

'Occasional Smoker'

Ah, as in 'someone who has given up buying'then?

Lightf00t said...

I've never smoked and never will. I hate the smell, and I hate to see girls smoking - it's very unattractive.

However, I've always disagreed with the smoking ban and of increasing taxes on ciggarettes. And that's because I'm sick of biggovernment telling people what to do.

Also, I agree with you that smoking gets pigeonholed as a health hazard for everyone, when all the evidence points to a minority of people who'll develop illness as a result of smoking. My chain-smoking, 87-yr old granny is one example of how smoking does one no harm whatsoever.

But I still hate it.

Anonymous said...

What many Puritans fail to mention/recognise is that in all cases of addiction it is in fact the pleasurable feelings which accompany an activity to which a person becomes addicted, rather than the substance/activity itself. Those are just the route into the desired sensation. It’s the pleasantly happy feeling that comes with being drunk, or the relaxation that comes with smoking tobacco, the satisfying release that comes from sex, the endorphin rush that comes from hard exercise, the sense of accomplishment that comes from work, and the various exciting highs and mellow lows that come from all number of illegal substances which hook some (but not all) people in too deep into certain activities. And because we are all different, we all have different levels of susceptibility to be addicted to different things. Hence the reason why one person can be addicted to one thing, but can take or leave another, whilst another person will be the complete opposite. The “addictive personality” is a pop-psychology-fabricated theory which has never been defined or officially recognised by the mental health establishment for this very reason.

Ergo, smoking must be enjoyable in the first place for it to be regarded as potentially “addictive” at all – hence the reason for the high failure rate of NRT. The nicotine’s there, but the pleasure ain’t. Indeed, those warnings on the packet saying “Smoking is highly addictive. Don’t start” are, effectively, saying “Smoking is highly enjoyable. Don’t start.” Which kind of sums up the anti-smoking movement’s whole attitude really, doesn’t it?

TheFatBigot said...

Nice point Mr Mous. And as you observe, the prevention of pleasure is at the heart of all puritanism.

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