Do Something New: Smoke A Cigarette

Smoking causes, can cause, or can contribute to: Lung cancer, macular degeneration, stroke, cataracts, throat cancer, periodontitis, coronary heart disease, vascular disease, leukemia, stomach cancer, liver cancer, ectopic pregnancy, colorectal cancer, erectile dysfunction, and about a bajillion other health problems. That, combined with the copious amount of cultural messaging I got through public service announcements and school programs about the dangers of smoking, is probably the most prominent reason I’ve always turned down cigarettes.

But it’s also expensive. I glanced over the cigarette wall at the drug store yesterday – $12 a pack? And then vice tax on top of it? No, sir. I do not have the money for a habit like that. And the smell sticks to everything, and while, personally, I think that cigarette smoke smells great, that’s only while someone is smoking. Afterward it gets stale and starts to smell like burnt plant ass. Then there’s the fact that I live in Chicago, and the idea of having such a violent urge to smoke that I’d be willing to stand out in negative-degree weather, 15 feet from any public building entrance, just sounds horrible.

And yet so many people do it! I’ve never understood why. When I started attending my alma mater, I was 23 years old, and I was dumbfounded by the number of 18-year-olds who were smoking cigarettes. Surely, they must have received the same anti-smoking propaganda I did, right? In my sixth grade science class, some med students came to show us an actual tar-covered lung. There was no way I was going to pick up the habit after seeing that.

But I refuse to think that this is just peer pressure, youthful rebellion, or sexualization via like cultural images of smoking as cool (James Dean, etc.). I’d at least like to believe that human beings are not so other-influenced that the top reason they’d put themselves at risk of all of the above medical conditions is just to make their friends happy or their parents angry or to look impressive. I have to imagine that there’s something personally satisfying about smoking cigarettes, the same way there’s something personally satisfying about consuming any kind of drug.

So I had my fiancé bum a cigarette off of one of his coworkers (because I’m not buying a $12 pack for one cigarette). It was a Parliament, which I guess is a really good brand(?). I don’t know; it’s all tobacco to me. We sat on our deck, and I tried to light it – and failed, because I wasn’t aware that you had to breathe in at the same time that you lit it in order for it to then stay lit (pro tip). I also failed at my first few drags, because the only thing I’ve ever smoked before is pot, and with pot you hold it instead of just breathing it.

But I got the hang of it! Michael told me that I’d feel a “buzz,” which is a cryptic word that to me only has meaning as far as alcohol and bees go. But once I started going, I definitely felt a kind of buzz, if that’s what you want to call lightheadedness. I assume that once your body gets addicted to nicotine, the lightheadedness comes with a sort of soothing rush, too, but I’m not there yet.

I’ll say this: I prefer cigarettes to pot. Pot was unpleasant. Michael questioned this, and I told him that pot seems to do more novel things to your brain, chemically speaking, and I didn’t particularly like those novel things, so two attempts at smoking pot was well more than enough for me. Cigarettes? Eh, if people think that pot has a draw, I can see where cigarettes have a draw.

Now, though, I’m just left with questions about cigarettes. Like, how good is the buzz once you get addicted? And, as with alcohol, can you smoke every once in a while and not get addicted, but still enjoy the buzz? I don’t think I’ll try to answer either of those questions with first-hand experience, of course. But I’m curious to know.

And at least now I know why people smoke. There’s something fun about watching the cigarette turn to ash, and the breathe in-breathe out-wait-repeat cycle, like all repetitive behaviors, is calming in and of itself. It tastes pretty good – better than pot by a long shot, although I’m sure brand matters – and the buzz is all right. I won’t be so harsh on cigarette smokers from here on, but also, I think, for myself, that I’d rather stick to gin.


[Image via Shutterstock]
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