The Enchantments of Smoking

Carrie again...I think Dr. Kleinman dozed off a bit. But we will persevere. Only this time, we're gonna take a trip down a different path--down deep into the psyche, or whatever it is that makes us tick. I started smoking back in college, about 15 years ago. I knew that smoking was not good for me, just like alcohol. But that didn't stop me from drinking Boone's Farm and puffing on a cigarette in the driveway of my sorority house. I was curious; I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Plus I thought of all the black and white movies where Lauren Bacall and Audrey Hepburn smoked for dramatic effect and posed with martini glasses. But what was it that made we want to come back to a place that made me cough, caused my eyes to water, and created a foul stench in my hair? Furthermore, what made me want to stay? (And don't say addiction--there's more to it than that!) Two Sundays ago, the public radio show "To the Best of Our Knowledge" interviewed several people who revealed how they fell in love with cigarettes AND some of whom are campaigning on the behalf of smoking. I wish I could find a podcast of this show and direct you too it, but my searching skills on the internet are just a tad bit lazy. I took notes of the show, which are a little messy, and most of it I'm recalling from memory. So forgive me--I maybe just slightly more accurate than the data on WMD's in Iraq. Anyway, this post is dedicated to the highlights of that show, as well as to those who aren't afraid to speak out and say, "Leave me alone. I want to enjoy my cigarette."

The Allure of Smoking
Jim Flemming interviewed the author, Richard Klein, about his book "Cigarettes Are Sublime." Calling upon the great philosopher, Immanuel Kant, Klein (as the title of the book suggests) associates the Sublime with the pleasures of smoking. All truly great things start off with a dark moment and then there is a release--the Sublime. Doesn't it seem that all adult pleasures begin like this? Your first taste of alcohol burned your throat and nostrils, but soon came a blanket of warmth that tickled your insides and blossomed a grin. The awkwardness of your first time, whether it was in the back seat of a car or in a fancy hotel on your wedding night, soon dissolved into notes sung by a choir of golden angels.

Other interviewees commented on the poetic appeal of the cigarette. Stopping to smoke a cigarette creates a break in the day for one to reflect. It provides a glimmer of transcendence. There's the romantic side of the cigarette, often used as an accessory in movie scenes to create a certain je ne sais quoi. Oui? The jetting smoke from the mouth of a seductress creates a veil between her and the leading man, tempting him to take a peek.

"Where was your first cigarette?" There were some interesting responses to this question. One girl had her first cigarette at home with her babysitter. I guess having the teenager down the block may not be the most suitable choice for tucking your kids in at night. One guy had his first cigarette during a Boy Scout camping trip. Which merit badge did he get for that? Of course, there is the infamous slumber party, where many rites of passage are conducted. Mine was at a New Orleans style cafe eating beignets and trying to look cool, while coughing up a lung. I had a nice euphoric feeling after I stopped choking--maybe because I couldn't breathe.

"Which is your favorite cigarette?" The morning cigarette or the start-of-the day cigarette was the most common answer. In the afternoon with a beer or cocktail - the combo deal you get at the neighborhood bar - was the most appealing to several. One fellow's favorite cigarette occurs at 2 in the afternoon coupled with a shot of espresso. He described the pairing as kissing cousins. "It's just so wrong, but it feels so right." Finally a few lucky puffers preferred the post-coital cigarette. They didn't say if cousins were involved, however.

Risk vs. Reward was a traveling note in the background music of this show. The pleasure and comfort supplied by a cigarette went to battle against its side effects. There are choices we all make everyday that have consequences. Whether it's the chocolate eclair for breakfast, the happy hour cocktail, or jaywalking, there's a risk that it will catch up with you sometime.

A Call for Stories
Hearing my fellow smokers tell their stories brought me closer to them, and I realized that we are a similar mix of breed, and it's not one that should make us hang our heads down and blow smoke the other way. They too fell for the enchantments of cigarettes. That we can see beauty in the same form of expression and release creates a layer of kinship among us. And when it comes to kinship, we share like a family in that we exchange stories and our history--in this case, our history with smoking. It looks like Dr. Kleinman may be hard to wake up. So I need some help over here with populating this blog. Judging by the traffic numbers, this little story book about the good and evils of smoking has a returning audience of about four, one of whom is me. So maybe one of you three would like to tell us a story about your relationship with smoking. I think it would be a cathartic experience for you--maybe one of acceptance where you see white lanterns swinging in a dark comforting background.

To be shy is to deny the world the warmth of your light. Email me your gift of story at (carrie) @ (healthline) dot (com) or give us a peek by leaving a comment. You can do it anonymously, or we can put your name in big white lights. Please, anybody..

Other posts by Carrie:

  • 24 Hours Smoke Free
  • "Cold Turkey" is for the Birds
  • Read the Fine Print
  • As the Smoke Clears

  • It should be known that in no way is Carrie a medical professional (far from it). The contents of this post and any others by Carrie do not represent the views, policies, goals, or opinions of Healthline Networks, Inc., its employees (except for Carrie) or affiliates. Thank you! And have a smoke free day!
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    About the Author

    MA, MAppSci, PhD

    Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.