Friday, December 17, 2010


For my parent's generation, smoking seemed glamorous and high-class.  Bogart could surely make a simple act like lighting a cigarette, seem sexy.  He later died of cancer of the esophagus.

Smoking is one of the most costly things you can do these days, and yet smoking rates are highest among the poor.  Wealthier folks tend to take care of themselves more and spend more time worrying about eating right, exercising, and living longer.  While once considered glamorous, smoking today is viewed as the ultimate white-trash activity.

What is odd about smoking is that teenagers still take it up, thinking they are being "rebels" when in fact they are being pawns of huge corporate conglomerates, who bait the snot out of them to get them to smoke.  One part of the smoking lawsuit settlements of the 1990's was a requirement that cigarette companies fund anti-smoking advertising campaigns.

The cigarette companies went out of their way to make the campaigns as dorky and preachy as possible, so that teens in particular would get the impression that people who are against smoking are uncool and nerds.  For teens, being told NOT to do something is all the more reason to do it.

It was like Nancy Reagan's "Just Say NO to Drugs!" program, which merely confirmed in the minds of teens that doing drugs was cool, and being anti-drug wasn't.

Smoking has worked its way down the food chain, though, and cigarette companies are losing customers - if not to death, then to social change.  Product Placement is the only "legitimate" way they can advertise anymore, so they make the most of it.  When movies that feature cigarettes prominently are released on DVD, they are accompanied by one of those dorky anti-smoking ads, which just draws more attention to the smoking in the movie and reinforces the normative cue that smoking is cool and being against smoking is dorky.

Once you are out of high school, however, smoking is not viewed as glamorous.  America has become a largely smoke-free country, and fewer and fewer places allow you to smoke anymore.  In the workplace, it is verboten, and the smokers often congregate in front of office buildings (or are relegated to the loading dock) for their "cigarette breaks".  And because of this, they are less productive, as they sit around bitching about work for hours, smoking.

If I was to run a company today, I would not hire smokers, period, if the law would allow it.  They are less productive, sloppy, and smell bad.

Nicotine does have an interesting effect on the brain, and smokers, in general, seem to be sloppier and in a hurry all the time.  Smokers are rarely careful workers, but always seem to be in a rush.  Nicotine does weird things to you, in terms of blood pressure and blood chemistry, which in turn do weird things to your brain, literally altering your thinking patterns.  As I noted in my previous posting about ATMs, it is usually smokers who run into the convenience store, waste $5 on ATM fees, to buy a pack of ciggies and $5 of gas for their jalopy.

Since the tide in the war on smoking has turned, few people defend the practice anymore, and when it comes to raising revenue, smokers are singled out for particular abuse - and most people feel they deserve it.  Taxes on a pack of cigarettes are staggering now - to the point where it is literally cheaper to smoke pot than cigarettes.  In some places, they are as high as $10 a pack.  For a product that provides no nutrition, health benefits, or even a "high", it seems like a horrible waste of money.

And of course, one reason people engage in cigarette smoking is because it is heavily addictive - particularly to certain personality types.  Teenagers start smoking to be "rebellious" - cigarettes are readily available, either purloined from a Mother's purse, or illicitly bought (or shoplifted) at a local convenience store, or bought from an older friend.  It is no big secret that the tobacco companies know all about this and indirectly market to teens.

And of course, the more adults say "Don't Smoke" the more teens want to do it.  Like sex, alcohol, and drugs, it is viewed as one of those forbidden adult vices that they want to learn all about and try out for themselves.  And of course, by smoking, they can kid themselves they are acting "adult" and "cool".

But in later years, these same people regret taking up the habit - and it is a habit, like heroin, that is hard to shake.  And in later, later years, as the cough out their lungs one chunk at a time, they really regret it.

Again, like so many other behaviors in our society that are bad for your finances, smoking affects the poor the most.  So, once again, poor people, who make little in the way of income, find ways to squander it as fast as possible.  ATM fees, rent-to-own furniture, payday loans, lottery tickets, buy-here pay-here used cars, pre-paid credit cards, and smoking - all raw deals that add nothing to your bottom line but squander what little money the poor make, in short order.

We all have choices in this world, and while quitting smoking is hard, it is not impossible to do.  If you are struggling with debt all the time and never seem to "get ahead" in life, and you also have an ashtray in front of you filled with cigarette butts, the answers to your problems are literally staring you in the face.

Yes, that is harsh advice, but it is the reality of it.  And unfortunately, people would rather take easy answers or blame their woes on unseen others.  Their own poor choices are not to blame for their setbacks in life.  No, no, it was those Wall Street Bankers, or those politicians, or those immigrants taking all the good jobs.

And unfortunately, easy answers sell.

UPDATE:  My Dad quit smoking in the 1950's when his Dad died of lung cancer at age 55 - five years before I was born.   They took out one of his lungs and then laid him in a hospital bed in my grandmother's apartment.   Like the old joke goes, once they took out one of his lungs, he cut his smoking in half.   He lingered like that for nearly a year, dying slowly and painfully.

Smoking - what's not to like?