For the record, I’m biased. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life, and while the years have taught me to ‘never say never’, I never will. It’s vile, repugnant, and dirty. A waste of time and money. If you’re pouring cold beverages, though, I’ll be right over. But I digress. This piece is about smoking. Or not.
When Jean Nicot set sail from France to Portugal in 1559, it was to broker a marriage between a 6-year-old princess and a 5-year-old king. He returned home with tobacco plants in tow, introducing them as medicine and instantly succeeding in getting the French court hooked. Before long, more-or-less the whole upper echelon of French society was clamouring for the plant, making Nicot famous overnight. If Jean was at your party, it was the place to be. In his honour, the plant was named Nicotina, and the good times rolled. Rolled cigarettes, that is. But it didn’t go without opposition, even that early in the game. England’s King James I was an early outspoken adversary, writing about tobacco’s peculiar effects & contradictions in his manifesto, A Counterblaste to Tobacco. And in 1606, Dr. Eleazar Duncon lambasted the substance’s growing popularity among young people by referring to it as youthsbane.
“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” – The Wolf Man, 1941.
It seems that dastardly nicotine was a willing bedfellow with controversy, reported health problems, and an alternate craving/loathing by its own users, pretty much from the get-go. And what did it do? What, are you kidding? It’s a drug. It stuck around, baby! Anything that bad’s got to be good, and vice-versa. Given that you’re reading this via This Is Horror, we could run with the previous Wolf Man reference and explore the Jekyll/Hyde-like ramifications of a thing so addictive that it’s essentially led human beings who fully understand the consequences of its use knowingly down the path of self-destruction, slow erosion of health, and painful premature death. We could go all broad strokes and discuss how certain predatory serial killers, such as John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer, shared smokes with their victims before chloroforming or drugging them into a stupor and systematically raping, torturing, and murdering them. Does smoking lead to serial killing? No, of course not. But is nicotine itself a serial killer? Trickier to say no.
Let’s just quickly use American statistics, since the writer’s over here then, shall we? It’ll paint the picture by the numbers and you can apply it to your own demographic: 1-in-5 nationwide deaths is caused by cigarette smoking and based on current smoking trends, an estimated 25 million people will die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses, 5 million of those being under 18. As for non-smokers – y’know, the folks who just happen to regularly be nearby, like family and friends – 46,000 annual deaths from heart disease can be directly attributed to secondhand smoke. Those sound like pretty shitty ratios to me. The China National Tobacco Corporation is the world’s biggest tobacco company, in a country that single-handedly represents about 30% of the globe’s total cigarette use. And in 2011, the Philip Morris Company made over 31 billion dollars profit – basically from your illnesses and the deaths of your loved ones.
“After years of denial and deception, the Philip Morris Company has admitted that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases. This formal acknowledgment comes far too late, but still we must all welcome it. It can be the beginning of clearing the air.” – Bill Clinton
So, the anti-smoking bandwagon is chock full of smart do-gooders, sensible intellectuals, and heroes in white hats then? Not exactly. Nazi Germany was notoriously anti-tobacco. Following the Great Depression, Hitler regarded his former smoking habit as a foolish waste of money. Later, he’d spin the sentiment into his increasingly menacing nationalist rhetoric, claiming that cigarette smoking was to blame for killing good German men, and on the flip side of the coin, German women who smoked would grow old quicker, lose their looks, and be rendered unfit as wives and mothers. The Nazi Party’s Werner Huttig publicly stated that a smoking mother’s breast milk contained nicotine, a claim that modern science now verifies as true. Understandably, you may not want to align yourself with the Aryan goon brigade, but you may not want to take that next drag either. Maybe the numbers don’t lie. Maybe the stakes are just too high. Maybe it’s time to think about…quitting.
“Even after your last cigarette is long gone, you have an aura of stench that constantly emanates from your body and clothing…The next time somebody coughs when you walk by, don’t assume it’s ‘fake’. You stink.” – Duane Alan Hahn
Sounds like horror to me. Happy No Smoking Day, everyone. To hell with those cancer sticks, throw ’em in the disposal…now that I think about it, remember those cigarette girls who used to trot around the bar with their box of goods? Foxy. Toss the packs, keep the dealers. How about Wolf Man pops?