With the very probable chance that we will see a Democratic presidential nominee who is a heavy smoker, it might pay to take a few moments to reassess the smoking sub-culture in America. The first installment of this reassessment considers the recent history of the American smoker. David Sedaris writes in the New Yorker about the trouble with “finishing” smoking. Quitting just doesn’t quite describe the experience.
In any case, what was once an accepted subculture has become something less than kosher in America. The smoker is a marked category; smoking is a statement. Tax-subsidized foundations run commercials that feel like after school specials with increasing sophistication. From “Don’t be a Dragon Lady” to the dramatic Truth Campaign (Really, this is it? This is the Truth with a big “T”? Smoking is bad for you?).
Here’s how Sedaris describes the cultural shift and the reason to revolt:
I didn’t much notice my fellow-smokers until the mid-eighties, when we began to be cordoned off. Now there were separate sections in waiting rooms and restaurants, and I’d often look around and evaluate what I’d come to think of as “my team.” At first, they seemed normal enough—regular people, but with cigarettes in their hands. Then the campaign began in earnest, and it seemed that if there were ten adults on my side of the room at least one of them was smoking through a hole in his throat.
“Still think it’s so cool?” the other side said. But coolness, for most of us, had nothing to do with it. It’s popular to believe that every smoker was brainwashed, sucked in by product placement and subliminal print ads. This argument comes in handy when you want to assign blame, but it discounts the fact that smoking is often wonderful. For people like me, people who twitched and jerked and cried out in tiny voices, cigarettes were a godsend. Not only that; they tasted good, especially the first one in the morning and the seven or eight that came immediately after it. By late afternoon, after a pack or so, I’d generally feel a heaviness in my lungs, especially in the nineteen-eighties, when I worked with hazardous chemicals. I should have worn a respirator, but it interfered with my smoking.