Thursday, April 11, 2013

Once upon a time, I was a smoker

When the history of the contemporary world is studied by future wide-eyed eccentrics who for some reason choose to focus on an era when humanity's sense of itself was arguably the most conflicted, there will undoubtedly be a collective gasp of breath at the sheer indiscretion with which so many people chose to poison themselves with a small white paper tube stuffed with all manner of vegetable and chemical matter known to cause prolonged and painful deaths.
But what these poor students will never know is the fleeting sense of unalloyed abandon implicit in the act of actually putting paper to lip and drawing on a heady whiff of freedom that flew in the face of reason, individual responsibility and a sense of communion with a discredited wider world made up of bleeding heart evangelicals who nobody in their right minds would want in any way to be associated with, anyway.
I was a smoker for fifteen years, and I remember the exact ambiance when I had my first cigarette as, I suspect, I will remember the exact circumstances in which I smoked my last cigarette recently. People choose to start and stop smoking for a variety of reasons, most of which are interesting only to themselves, but the emotions surrounding the severing of ties with a hitherto lifelong and loyal companion that made relatively few demands on time, money and thought compared to a lot of other less lethal vices, are, I'm sure, common to all ex-smokers. There is first a keen sense of loss, followed by a steeling of the will, followed by a morose nostalgia for the once-intimate taste, and eventually gratification - at escaping an addiction that you once thought you would take to the grave with you.
That the time has come to ban a 7000-year old unhealthy custom is self-evident. What is not self-evident is that when that time comes there will be a sudden explosion of goodwill, health and prosperity across classes of people who have for long been so disenfranchised, disenchanted and dispirited that they once relied on a product that guaranteed one a minute of quiet self-absorbed reflection that no one could take away from them.

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