I want to talk about something other than books today. Yes, I know. I haven’t posted anything in a week and a half. It’s been a rough week and a half.
I want to talk about pipe smoking. I want you to talk back.
In case you didn’t know, I enjoy smoking a pipe at the very most once a week. It’s an excellent past time for me. I love packing fresh tobacco into a bowl, lighting it up, and slowing down to watch the world speed on by like it’s late for something that doesn’t matter. It relaxes me and allows me to think and reflect clearly. It’s even more fun knowing I’m participating in a practically ancient tradition passed down from man to man, generation to generation, and I intend to pass it on to my son (should I ever have a son) when he’s old enough.
The issue with pipe smoking, however, is the long list of health risks and the resulting social stigmas that result from anyone who places something in their mouth that has a lit end to. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been virtually assaulted (sic) with lectures, school assemblies, TV commercials and episode plot, and textbook chapters on why smoking is absolutely horrible for you and you should never do it. I certainly do not intend to deny the risks associated with smoking; my grandmother passed away about 5 years ago from lung cancer, a result of her smoking cigarettes every day. It would be foolish to poo-poo medical experts who have really done their homework on this matter.
What I’m getting at here is more of the social stigma associated with smoking anything at all. It’s unwarranted and, frankly, childish. From what I remember about the onslaught of anti-smoking propaganda that flooded my life when I was younger (and still does) was, in addition to legitimate health risks, was the whole “be cool, don’t smoke” mentality. This whole idea got pounded into our heads that smokers were/are subhuman, that they were to be ostracized and ridiculed for being so stupid as to pick up a cigarette and light it. What’s more, this started from the time I was very young and continued up through high school. For the short period of time when I smoked in my senior year, I had a lot of angry friends who thought they were doing me a favor by getting angry with me and making me feel like less of a human for smoking. None of it made me quit; I owe that to my grandmother and her cancer diagnosis. This stigma is less associated with pipe smoking, though I still get the odd look from time to time, as if they were saying, “Why would you ever do that to your body?” and they go back to wolfing down their bacon cheeseburger.
What’s worse is that the government perpetuates the stigma and even goes so far as to regulate where one can smoke. To date, smoking in bars and restaurants in PA is banned unless you report low food sales, it’s banned in public completely in California, and many states are taking similar measures, making it harder and harder for anyone to smoke, well, anywhere. What makes me crazy is the government getting behind this whole thing, telling me it’s for my own good, more or less. How do they get to determine what’s for my own good?
Look, everyone knows the health risks associated with heavy smoking and, to some extent, even moderate cigar and pipe smoking (defined as 1-3 pipes a day by the American Cancer Society), but why the social aspect of it? Is it really something to be so terrified of that we should never be allowed to go to a cigar shop, buy a Monte Cristo, and enjoy it with friends every now and then? Despite the major lack of studies regarding the health risks of pipe smoking, should it be lumped in there with all other tobacco products? Isn’t it the individual right to smoke if you like, regardless of the risks?