On the World No Tobacco Day today, I would like to republish something I wrote on May 3 last year. Before I do that, a couple of observations about any habit that is injurious to health, especially anyone or any organization that opposes a bad habit or harmful habit by citing certain statistics. Since it is the World No Tobacco Day today, let me quote from what the World Health Organization (WHO) says about tobacco: “Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year, of which more than 600 000 are non-smokers dying from breathing second-hand smoke. For World No Tobacco Day 2014, we are calling on countries to raise taxes on tobacco.”
I am not here to dispute the obvious dangers of smoking and consuming tobacco. I have never smoked or consumed tobacco in my life. I have never tasted a drop of alcohol other than in cough syrups. So I hardly need that advice. However, I have a problem with the way these objections are constructed. When the WHO or any other institution says a particular habit kills so many people, they almost make it sound as if without that habit they would have lived forever. We all die. Only the nature of the cause of death changes. It is a matter of detail. It is not as if the six million, who die because of tobacco, would have been immortal otherwise. It is true that smokers do not lead a healthy life. Their lungs rattle when they breathe or cough. They look prematurely old. They look eternally fatigued. They have a peculiar odor about them. All of that makes for terrible aesthetics, not to mention terrible health. That said, there is no denying the cool factor of the act of smoking. That’s what I wrote about in the piece below and tried to establish in the video above.
Of course, tobacco is death and avoid it at all costs. But then, so is life. I remain unresolved in so much as it means telling full-grown adults with a reasonably working brain what to do with their lives. Smoke or chew tobacco by all means but be prepared to stink and die earlier than you might. You can always make that choice. Now the piece:
I have never smoked although I have been irremediably attracted to the whole ritual of smoking.
When you strike a match its potassium chlorate and sulfur tip lights up as if rebelling against years of being kept unignited. Then you bring the flaming matchstick to the cigarette dangling from your mouth unsure whether it should stay wedged between your lips or yield to the gravitational pull and fall. It is that in-between stage of falling and not falling that accentuates the appeal.
Then you finally light the cigarette and take the first, long breath in. A second or so later smoke comes languorously out of your mouth and nose as if blessing the world with its fading existence. There is undeniable cool to the whole action if done seamlessly. It is the aftermath of smoking that is far from cool.
It is funny how for someone who has never smoked a cigarette I can perform a rather convincing act of a seasoned smoker. The amount of time I spend thinking about smoking is equally disturbing. I call it contemplative smoking.
For me, the ritual ends in a flourish as you flick half-smoked cigarette in the air using the index finger and thumb. The trajectory had to be perfect. Otherwise it dilutes the cool factor.
I have tried to analyzed this utterly useless fixation and come to the conclusion that it is the lure of the elemental that does it for me. The fire in the flame, the sulfurous odor of a burning match, the unpredictable movement of the smoke and finally the flicking in the air of the cigarette, together they all make it one of my favorite acts. It is weird I have never succumbed to the temptation. The closest I have come is what the video above shows.
There is a distinct difference in the body language of a male smoker and a female smoker. More often than not a male smoker smokes as if he is doing the cigarette a favor. He may look upset that the cigarette does not demonstrate sufficient gratitude at having been chosen to be burnt out of existence. In contrast, a female smoker mostly shows genuine enjoyment. There is a certain delicateness to the way a female smoker holds her cigarette. Even the cigarette looks eager to be trapped between those slightly parting luscious lips. As usual I am indulging in an overzealous deconstruction of an ordinary act. But you get the point, the point being that I like the whole visual of smoking.