Saturday, January 04, 2014

On Not Smoking.

First, let me direct you to this article, by which this post is inspired. Read it at your leisure, but the lengthy quote below is where my focus lies:

On the other side of the spectrum is the electronic cigarette, or “E-Cig,” also known as The Stupidest Thing Ever. It’s the fake tits of tobacco, satisfying only the most basic, surface urge, your nicotine fix, while flaunting its inorganic, uninspired, cold technology. If you like Windows 98, you’ll love your e-cig. You shan’t be begrudged for using an electronic cigarette to quit smoking, along with other nicotine replacement options (word is that the lozenges are the best bet beyond patches and gum), but as a tobacco substitute, it represents the antithesis of what smoking stands for. Electronic options are devoid of commitment, danger and, as any smoker would agree, satisfaction. There is nothing laconic about an electronic cigarette, nothing romantic, other than the likelihood that it’ll kill you more slowly and give you more time to get romantic. But that’ll be lost on you because nobody wants to sleep with a person who smokes an electronic cigarette; just ask Stephen Dorff. One of the great skills that nerds have bestowed on our current culture is an ability to suss out authenticity and subsequently shame anything fake into oblivion. Go ahead and apply this to electronic cigarettes if you think there’s anything useful there. By smoking your e-cig, you are effectively telling the world that you’ve given up on the lifestyle of a roguish addict, and replaced him with a soulless junkie. You’ve gone from heroin to methadone. You went from Keith Richards to Charlie Sheen, squandering your relevance with attention. A similar perspective can be given to clove cigarettes, beedis and a hookah, with a space-time continuum issue that simply doesn’t apply to us. Are you kicking it in Morocco in the Fifties with Paul Bowles? Is that hookah filled with dope and not just tobacco? No? If you’re not a 12-year-old with eyeliner in a Sisters of Mercy shirt, brothel creepers and preyed upon by a dirty uncle, put away the Djarums, kid.

 I had my first cigarette when I was 12 years old. Hanging out one day after school, a friend and I found an entire unopened carton of Belmonts hidden (ostensibly) in a bush. My friend claimed the carton and said he'd give it to his old man, who didn't smoke but often gifted cigarettes to his friends who did. I was cool with that, but I asked him to open a pack and give me just one. For scientific purposes, naturally.

I think I kept that lone cigarette in my desk drawer for a few days until curiosity got the better of me. I absconded a book of matches that my folks would keep around the house for lighting fireworks -- or candles when the power would occasionally go out -- from some kitchen cupboard or another, and went outside, to the side of my house, to satisfy my curiosity.

My first drag didn't take; the cigarette was only half lit. But with the sucking power of someone trying to drink a thick milkshake, I inhaled my second drag and was hit with a buckshot of smoke in my mouth, throat, and lungs. I think I puffed the cigarette a few more times before hastily putting it out and going back inside, feeling alternately like the world's most daring 12-year-old and its guiltiest deliquent.

Twenty-three years later, as I think (quite fondly, to be completely honest) about that day, I am reminded that my decision to try smoking was solely my own. It wasn't due to peer pressure or influenced in any way by anyone close to me. No one in my immediate family smoked. Perhaps if they had I would have been less likely to try it, or so I'm often anecdotally informed by friends and acquaintances whose parents smoked and who never assumed the habit.

If there was one impetus besides my own curiosity, it was Hollywood films. I state that not as condemnation but as fact. Smoking looked cool. To me, it still does. From Bogart to Brando to Bond, the laconic statement made by a protagonist blowing out a puff of thick white smoke looked like a corporeal exclamation point, an identifier which gave license to an actor's authenticity.

Is that glamorization? I suppose it is seen as such, though I doubt that was the original intent. Humphrey Bogart smokes all the time in Casablanca because in 1942 everyone smoked all the time. Now that we know better, smoking has decreased and is so rarely seen in movies these days. In fact, special interest groups have gone so far as to lobby the MPAA to give an R rating to any film that contains cigarette smoking. It's nice to see priorities in order.

Although I didn't become a regular smoker at twelve, I continued to smoke throughout my so-called formative years and eventually became addicted to nicotine, despite the Canadian government's increasing taxes applied to tobacco products. When I came to Korea in 2000 at the age of twenty-two, I found that a pack of cigarettes here was as cheap as a candy bar back home, and thus a new renaissance was born.

However... Never, as much as I enjoyed smoking, did I ever consider it part of a culture or sub-culture. There is no exclusivity to smoking. It's not unique or rebellious. Jack Kerouac and the Beats smoked? Well, so did mothers whose children were born with deformities. Smoking is something people do; it isn't something people live. I feel likewise about coffee. I love a strong black coffee a few days a week, but trying to romanticize a cup of liquid is dumb. It's coffee, it perks you up, get over it. Stop hanging around Starbucks with your laptop and go to a petting zoo or something.

As independently as I decided to start smoking at twelve, two months ago I similarly decided to stop smoking tobacco and try an electronic cigarette. Why? Because I have a beautiful daughter whom I don't want to consider me irresponsible in my health, for one. Two, because regardless of how young I feel or think I look, age and the toll smoking has taken on me might not be recognizable now, but perhaps might be in a few years when it's too late. And three, because you are not the boss of me.

It's been two weeks since I've started smoking an e-cigarette, and I genuinely enjoy it more than "analog" cigarettes. Is it harmless? Probably not, but pick your poison. Is it cool?

Like I fucking care.


Tracy Hardy said...

It’s always good to hear about people who can kick the habit, just like that. It's true that most smokers start out because of what they see on TV or in ads when they were young, and that it was considered as a status symbol for some groups. I agree that shouldn't be the case; you smoke if you want to, or choose not to and not feel like you're not part of a group or somethings. Anyway, your daughter must’ve felt really happy when you decided to quit. And I hope you've completely kick the habit by now, or at least on your way to very low nicotine levels. Cheers!

Tracy Hardy @ The Fix Vapor Cafe

Lucia Malone said...

Wow! Quitting tobacco smoking is really an achievement. Diverting smoking to vaping is really a good idea. We can never say that e-cigarettes are harmless, but they are safer than tobacco. No doubt you feel better with vaping. Plus, your daughter will be happy for the move that you've done. Hahaha! Thanks for sharing that, Harrison! Kudos and all the best to you!

Lucia Malone @ Carolina Vapor Mill