The joy of lighting up is real. I smoked a pack a day for six years in my early 20s. I didn’t plan to become a smoker, but when you cross the line from repulsion to pleasure, you’re there. And it doesn’t take long.
I lit up for the first time at 18 around a girl I was interested in, who already smoked. She laughed at my initial awkwardness with smoking, how I held the cigarette with four fingers extended, not two.
Once I quit mooching off others and buying my own packs, cigarettes became a constant companion, a close friend. Smoking extended beyond the social settings where I started. I needed one after waking, one on my morning drive, one after class or during a work break, one after lunch, one on the way home from work, one when I got home, one before bed, plus numerous others scattered in between.
I wrote music, and the cigarettes fit perfectly with songwriting. I would write something I liked, then sit out on the front porch and think about the music, the lyrics, the mood, while I relaxed and puffed on a cigarette.
I decided to quit in 1997 after I kept waking up in the morning gagging. I developed a really terrible strangling feeling, which in retrospect, was a kind of blessing. Even as a non smoker, my sinus problems are bad, but while smoking, I couldn’t breathe well. I wore the smoker’s patch, which made me feel sick. I drove to work without smoking, quit smoking after meals and at breaks.
After I quit, it felt like a friend had died. I was angry. I was really depressed. I felt physically miserable. I put on 30 pounds within a year. It was a hard time.
Of course, my background as a smoker colors my feelings about smoking. The cigarette smoker is the easy target in politics these days, particularly on the matter of where he or she can light up. Some restrictions go too far. For instance, I think bars ought to be able to allow smoking if they want. No one under 21 can enter such an establishment. So, everyone there is mature enough to make his own decisions on whether to enter a smoky environment. Someone who goes into a pool hall at 11 p.m. knows they’re entering a room full of smokers. If that bar owner wants to cater his business to those smokers, I think he ought to have that right, provided he makes it clear that his business is a smoking establishment. Likewise, some folks want to ban smoking on sidewalks. And I think that is taking things way too far. Smokers should be allowed to smoke outside. If you see someone on a sidewalk smoking, stay away.
But I feel differently about other indoor public places, where people aren’t going specifically to smoke and drink. I don’t want to see cigarettes smoked inside anywhere other than an all-adult, predominately night-time establishment, such as a bar. Likewise, even when I smoked, I couldn’t stomach lighting up next to a kid. In fact, I would favor a citation issued for anyone who smokes in a car with a child. That is just morally wrong. Wait until you stop the car, and get out and smoke. There is no way to justify anything else.
There’s talk these days of sticking a $1 tax on all packs of cigarettes to raise money for the state. And I agree with that. I think tax increases and tax breaks should be tied to creating positive incentives in society and opposing negative ones.
If you smoke, you’re accepting a higher risk for medical calamities. Smoking leads to enormous health expenses for society. As a group, smokers shouldn’t be dismayed about footing more of the down payment on what they ultimately cost society. While a $1 increase wouldn’t eliminate smoking, it would cut down on the number of packs people will buy, which would lead to fewer cigarettes smoked, and ultimately a reduction in smoking-related health care costs. This would have the effect of raising more revenues for the state and reducing some expenses. It’s a sensible thing. Those opposing the tax say that all tax increases are bad, but what about one that simultaneously reduces costs?
Plus, if the packs of smokes cost $1 more, maybe fewer 18 year olds such as myself will light up with their friends, youthfully oblivious to the addictive fire they play with.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
Zach, I enjoy reading your columns . . . this one was no exception. It's refreshing to see somebody with this view who isn't so militant about smoking, but I totally disagree with the extra tax on cigarettes. I am a non-smoker, I have never even tried it. Not a single member of my family is a smoker. My dad, however, was a smoker, and died many years ago of lung cancer, so I am well aware of the health risks associated with lighting up.
Non-smoker, yes, but I am carrying around extra pounds. I am reasonably intelligent and realize that if I don't lose them by eating better and getting more exercise, it will impact my health in a negative way at some point, and there'll be no one to blame but me. If an extra $1 tax is to be imposed on a pack of cigarettes, why not also stick it on Little Debbie cakes, Ruffles, Big Macs and non-diet soft drinks? The list of retail items that are proven to be detrimental to one's health is very long, and extra tax on all of them could certainly turn the economy around.
I read this article and i know there are so many people who smoke and don't care about the risks and then there are some who smoke their whole lives and stay cancer free. I lost a sister in 2006 who lived 9 months after she was diagnosed that was the saddest months to see her deteriorate. I lost another sister the same way in 2009 the same way, and not only does it take a toll that person, but the caregivers as well. Nobody understands until they walk in their shoes or the shoes of their families. So yes if this tax will stop people from lighting up then go for it. I agree too that other things should be taxed higher as well.