Why I stopped buying cigarettes
It wasn’t for the health benefits or because I ‘know I should’
Bernard Black, in perhaps one of the most famous scenes of Black Books, said of smoking lots of fags and drinking lots of wine:
Well to be honest, after years of smoking and drinking, you do sometimes look at yourself and think — you know, just sometimes in between the first cigarette with coffee in the morning to that four-hundredth glass of cornershop piss at 3am — you do sometimes look at yourself and think… this is fantastic. I’m in heaven.
It sums up how I feel about smoking and drinking pretty nicely, even though I am fully aware of how bad smoking is for my physical and drink for my emotional health. The good thing about my own health is that it’s my choice whether I ruin it or not. And that’s why I would never quit smoking for those reasons — because I don’t have any responsibility to anyone but myself, and the joy I get from drinking and smoking far outweighs the guilt I feel for the state of my lungs and liver; and anyway, I can just do a bit of exercise and watch some Scrubs and I don’t feel depressed any more.
So why the hell have I stopped buying my own cigarettes? Well, for the same reason I don’t eat meat, and I’m trying to cut down on cheese and eggs, and I don’t buy plastic bags, and I switched our gas and leccy provider to Greenpeace energy: smoking is fucking bad for the environment.
This reason was the only reason — perhaps compounded by the fact that my teeth are looking real bad these days. I worked out a minimum amount of fags I smoke every year: about 3,500. That’s a conservative estimate based on roughly ten blems a day. True, there are days on which I’ll only chuff four or five snouts; but to balance that out, there are Friday evenings which bleed into Saturday mornings when I can comfortably polish off thirty burnos. The actual number per year is probably more like four bag, and I’ve been smoking about ten years. That’s forty fucking thousand fagarettes I’ve created that are either still lying in the gutter somewhere (it’s only recently I’ve been dogmatic about putting them in the bin) or, more likely, have been collected and burned or thrown into a landfill somewhere. Forty thousand is not an insignificant amount of butts, and I’m just one person — one person trying his absolute bestest to help the planet, not destroy the planet. So I’ve got no excuse.
(The astute among you may have noticed I write about all of this in the present tense not because I am still doing all of this, but because I genuinely love smoking, and I will probably always be a smoker. I know people will tell me that’s just because of the addiction which tells me I love smoking, but that’s not true — it’s only part of the reason why I like smoking. I also know that there are lots of people who used to love smoking and hate it since they have quit. True, I had a love-hate relationship with cigarettes, but most of the hate was based on expense and lack of safe spaces to light one up. Most of the love was because of, well, all of the good fucking shit that comes from smoking, of which more later.)
God damn is smoking bad for the environment. Four and a half trillion ronnies are disposed of each year — even if Damien Hirst gave a fuck any more, he couldn’t make a piece of art out of all of those durry butts. Those ciggies also often end up in our oceans and contain a hell of a lot of chemicals that don’t only cause you death!!1! but also aren’t very good for the wildlife in the water. And the process of tobacco farming is real bad, too, seeing as it contributes to vast deforestation (perhaps 600 million trees a year), wildfires due to discarded butts (which are surprisingly common), and an industry which releases about 16 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide pro year, that greenhouse gas us humans love to produce.
Yeah, yeah, I get that me quitting smoking isn’t going to solve this problem, and it’s not a particularly sexy reason to stop, if a sexy reason to give the fags up even exists. At least, it certainly isn’t as strong a pull factor as ‘in one year you’ll be at half the risk of heart disease’, which must be a pretty good feeling for those once-smokers who have now hit the twelve month mark. (Congratulations, by the way.) But climate change is in fact the most pressing problem we face in modern times, and actually, the negative effects of what we’re doing to the planet can be seen — consider recent fires in America and Australia, which have been pretty irrefutably linked to climate change.
But lord, am I gonna miss ’em. I don’t care what any of you say — smoking is cool. Let me rephrase that: smoking looks cool; whether the act itself is cool or not is up for debate, but probably anything that’s as environmentally shit as this can’t be considered cool. That’s the problem with these vices: they look great, and Jesus, do they feel great, but there’s always a trade off. The journey that cocaine takes, the beheadings that have to take place, so you can get your line? The torture of animals that goes into the making of a leather jacket? The vast amounts of water it takes to make one pair of Levi’s? And the damage the fucking tobacco industry does to the planet every day just so you can laze on the balcony on a sunny afternoon rorting tabs? All not worth it, regardless of how much wisdom is retained in a pack of smokes, whether ‘all you need to know about life is retained within those four walls’, regardless of how damn cool all those things look.
And I know, I know — the positives vastly outweigh the negatives. But why do clever people do stupid things? Bill Hicks referred to his addiction as a trade-off of vices: he didn’t drink, and he didn’t do drugs, but he smoked. Later in life he quit, of course (though not early enough to prevent the cancer that killed him), using it to promote his radical libertarian agenda to the dismay of many of his fans. Christopher Hitchens, in referring to his burning the candle at both ends (which, as he wrote, ‘often gives a lovely light’), said puffing helped elongate and improve conversations, staved off the inevitable boredom of people, and in one interview conceded ‘I don’t want to live forever’. Well, he does have a point — who wants to live forever? He most beautifully, if partially inaccurately, described what smoking was like while describing the process of quitting smoking:
It’s the most perfect addiction… If you aren’t hungry it’ll give you an appetite if you smoke; if you are hungry and there isn’t any food in the immediate future you can dull your pain of hunger by smoking; it wakes you up if you’re tired, it makes you sleepy if you’re not tired, it helps you go to bed; it’s the perfect self-administered micro-drug, and it’s the little glowing friend that never lets you down. In fact, come to think of it, I can’t think why I gave the shit up. But you have to, because all the time it’s being your best friend, it’s being your worst enemy.
Moliere supposedly wrote ‘whoever lives without tobacco doesn’t deserve to live’, which kind of defeats the point of quitting if you’re doing it for health reasons. It does indeed seem to be a common attribute of writers: pictures of all of your famous penmen and -women with a killing stick protruding from in between two or two other fingers abound. Steinbeck, Brecht, Wilde, Eliot, Thomas, Orwell, Hale, even Rowling. (Somehow I doubt the TB-stricken Brontë sisters smoked, though I may be mistaken.) Which makes it all the harder to quit, because smoking feels — however wrongly — like an essential part of being a writer. I suppose, though, a more important part of being a writer is having a world in which to write — and those big tobacco companies certainly aren’t bothered about that aspect of the entire business. So anyone reading this, let me know if you find a CO2-neutral cigarette company; I’ll come running with stacks of paper money. Until then, I won’t be buying any more cigarettes — but I might still scab one off you every now and then.