in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A fairwell to harms? (In praise of fags)

Yes yes, it’s really great that smoking is banned in bars, clubs and restaurants, blah blah blah. Think how much nicer it’ll be not to die… hang on a ‘sec. Okay then, how nice it will be not to die of cancer… well, that’ll probably still happen, but it’ll be in another part of you, caused by your addiction to plastics of one kind or another. Alright, but think about how nice it will be not to be stinky, have pongy clothes, and nasty ashtray breath. But knowing you… anyway, the point is, smoking is rubbish – granted. Harmful to you and those around you. But given the ban, I thought I’d remind everybody about all the good things smoking did for us. Well, I know it did some great things for me, I’ll vouch for that.

In the first place, smoking gets you talking to people. Think about everyone that’s important in your life. Well, unless they’re your Siamese Twin, you ‘met’ them, in one way or another. Chain smoking is not just one fag after another, it also ties you to the pack, and all the other people who are in it. Blow smoke circles, chain cigarettes, wear wedding rings – the ties that bind, the dies that cast (and vice versa).

A lot of my best friendships were made through smoking. Would we have met otherwise? In some cases, the answer is (undoubtedly) yes, but in others… imagine if (s)he wasn’t packing props – striking up that first skittish conversation would have been that much more difficult. How to begin, without striking a light?

Smokers are also generally more interesting people. They’re the risk-takers, the obsessives, the hedonists, the creatures of ‘fuck it, who cares, let’s…’ Rather than feeling smugly superior all the time, smokers prefer the ‘little pleasure’ of the cigarette’s warmth, and by sharing cigarettes with others, we all take part in the greater dying, conceding our frailty, our folly, and our need of a minor comfort. The cigarette is a ten minute metaphor for life.

Forget about the pathos, what about health? What do we know? Well, we know for certain that smoking can kill you, but there’s no way of knowing whether smoking will kill you. It could be Alzheimers, it could be a truck. The crack in your pipe, in the road, in your head. Or your heart might stop in the middle of the night, as happened to a friend’s brother, a 27 year old triathlete who never even drank coffee. Without a doubt, smoking wouldn’t have helped matters – but would it have made the decisive difference? Smoking might kill you, but will ‘not smoking’ save your life? And how can this be measured against the interesting life possibilities enacted by all those great people you met over all those years, and all the pleasure you got from smoking while you did?

At least smoking can be pleasurable – what fun is it getting strung out on stress? Work-related stress is just as big a health-risk (and makes you a miserable, unhappy, shit), but do you see the government cracking down on overtime? Nope, they encourage it. It’s all about ‘being flexible’ (which is just another way of saying, ‘bend over’). AWAs, Sunday trading (without penalty rates), the yearly revulsion of Christmas shopping – these things are all heartily encouraged. As are junk food, binge drinking and gambling. Basically, the government couldn’t give a half-arsed fuck about people’s health. Fat? Horny? Strung out? Excellent! As long as you’re scared of losing your job, keep doing the overtime, and consume the pain away. Your ‘flexibility’ is appreciated, team player. For many people, smoking is their fixed fix, the one reliable pleasure in a grey scene of joyless, shifting chores – and the bastards would grudge you that, too, sticking their horror-show pictures all over the packets.

Smokers’ behaviour is considered selfish, anti-social, unjustifiable – but will our kids, who are the ones set to deal with the environmental devastation of our unsustainable petro-chemical based consumer-culture, really put smoking at the top of the deck of hates and horrors? A lot of Australians supported our participation in a war with no justification, no clear, achievable objective, and no exit plan. Between sixty-six and seventy-three thousand civilians have been killed as a result. Who’s supporting the death-dealing, really? Fact is, the governments don’t care how many people die, as long as they’re the ones doing the killing. That’s the nub. Die for them and you're a hero. Cause your own death and you’re scum. And as a form of suicide, smoking represents one of the few real choices you will make during your life, one that wasn’t just a matter of going along and getting along with your family and peer group, especially now that they’ve all stopped and have now made you a pariah. Probably you started smoking because of peer pressure, or because you wanted to talk to boys/girls at the bus-stop. Most likely, you kept smoking because of habit and inertia (the two things that are most likely to kill you, or turn you into one of the undead). Maybe you keep doing it even though you don’t like it. Well then, you’re a bloody idiot. But if you really enjoy it, and you’re really, really willing to accept the consequences (and don't bullshit yourself, you’re probably not really) then keep right on puffing, Billy. It’s probably the thing you’re best at, or at least what you’ll be remembered for. You might even get away with it… but don’t hold your breath.

© Peter Chambers 2007

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PC is an animal of the antipodes believed to be related to a gibbon.