How Cigarettes Liberate The Adolescent

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As soon as we come into this world we’re consuming resources. If we hadn’t arrived, those resources could have benefited our parents, or our older siblings. But we’re here now. So we begin by draining nutrients from a mother’s breast. Later, at the dinner table, we’re reminded of how hard our parents worked to secure and prepare our food. If we don’t want to eat, they tell us of the kids going hungry in Africa, kids who would probably kill us for our food, if they could get their hands on us.

We must consume. So we over-consume out of guilt and end up obese. Or, we deny ourselves out of a sense of unworthiness and become anorexic. The only thing we can be certain of, in childhood, is that we cannot trust our own mouths or our own appetites. Because: to feel appropriately full and healthy is to have robbed the world of another’s share.

Our parents remind us daily of the sacrifices they made to keep us alive. We have so many things they didn’t have: computers and video games, cars with power-windows and anti-lock brakes, school-buses that pick us up right from the end of the driveway. Our parents struggle to survive, so we have no right to complain. It’s our fault they will never be wealthy, or at least not as wealthy as they would have been without us. We should think about that, when we don’t get our way. We should stand in the corner and count our blessings.

Everything we are given, as children, comes from a place of obligation. Our food, our clothing, our education and our toys — all freighted with resentment. We accept what we must because we have to. But we refuse as much as we can. This is the logic: if having, existing, and consuming has caused so much harm, then surely self-denial is the path to virtue.

And then, sometime around the age where we’re able to earn a bit of our own money, we discover cigarettes.

Sweet, smoky, self-contained cigarettes.

Here is a thing that does us no good, even as it feels good. Here is a pleasure we pay for on our own and consume in secret. Here’s a joy that costs no one else a thing. And here’s a way we can define our own existence as something separate from those who created and supported us. Here’s a symbol of breaking free. Here’s the first thing we can enjoy without guilt. Smoke. We don’t have to draw it from a mother’s breast or a father’s bank account. It could never benefit a starving kid in Africa.

For one minute at a time, we can have this pleasure. And we can have it without darkening the world around us.

That’s worth ten dollars a pack and more. That’s worth cancer.