You’re out on a busy sidewalk, and you’re craving a dart. You pull out your pack. That’s when you begin to notice the looks. People are giving you stink eyes as you place that white cylinder of sweet, sweet nicotine in your mouth. You pull out your Bic from your pocket, bring it up to your mouth, and light the end of your cigarette. As you inhale, you’re filled with a pleasant warmness. How long has it been since your last cigarette? Twenty minutes? Almost an hour? It’s been forever, and the relief is enough to send you to the moon.
However, the good vibes are soon killed as a passerby obnoxiously begins coughing in exaggerated hacks and wheezes. “That’s disgusting,” someone says. “Put that out.” “Quit polluting my air.” “Smoking is gross,” someone says without being asked. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” “You stink.”
I became a smoker when I was 16, and I’ve lived with smoker-shaming ever since. I have been the victim of intolerance and discrimination, all because I fail to meet society’s expectations of the perfect pair of lungs. I have been subjected to being called names. Worse, I’ve been denied access to all kinds of places including restaurants, bars, airplanes, schools, and churches. I’ve been told not to come back until I “put out that cigarette,” as if it’s that easy. I’ve been dumped because I’m a smoker. “You’re a really nice guy,” said a long-term girlfriend of mine, “but I can’t get past you smoking.” She told me I had to pick between her and cigarettes, as if that was a choice I could make.
“Just quit,” people say. “Put down the pack.” “Exercise and eat right.” It doesn’t matter how much I work out or what I eat. I can’t stop being a smoker. I have a disorder. This disorder is a disease, a disease for which there is no cure. Some people will provide anecdotes about how they used to be smokers yet they were able to quit. Well, that’s great for you, but that’s not how my body works. It doesn’t matter what I try. I’ve read books, listened to tapes, and tried all kinds of New Age methods to no longer be a smoker. None of them work.
Nobody should ever be ashamed of being a smoker. Being a smoker is not an indication of who you are as a person. It has nothing to do with being healthy or unhealthy. It is no indication of poor life choices or a lack of self-worth. Just because someone doesn’t fit your definition of “healthy” does not mean they deserve the discrimination that so many smokers suffer.
My habit does not conform to modern-day society’s expectations of “sexy.” Being smoke-free is what it’s all about. It’s about shedding that extra pound of cigarettes away and starving yourself until you’re completely smoke-free. It’s about constantly maintaining a set of pink, clean lungs, day after day.
Smoker-shaming hurts smokers. Your words cut deep. We don’t like being called “disgusting,” “unhealthy,” or “stinky” just because we’re carrying a few extra packs. We are berated on a constant basis, and it isn’t fair. Many of us did not choose to be smokers. Some of us became smokers due to depression or anxiety. Many of us chain-smoke as a coping mechanism for the abuse we’ve suffered. It’s a vicious cycle. Even my parents subjected me to their own brand of smoker-shaming. My father would shake his head and tell me how disappointed he was in me. My mother kept trying to send me to programs and camps, telling me how handsome I could be if I could just drop smoking.
My habit does not affect you. If the sight of my habit disgusts you, then simply look away. If the smell of my habit bothers you, then stop breathing. Nobody is forcing you to do that. You, however, are trying to force me with hate speech and passive-aggressive behavior. You force me outside in the cold while the rest of you remain inside in comfort. You don’t let me carpool with you, telling me there isn’t enough space for me and my habit. You sit at least two chairs away from me on the bus or at the movies, saying you’re overwhelmed by my stench, and that you’re afraid of dying from “second-hand smoke.”
Society is more than content to ridicule, ostracize, and discriminate against smokers. Smoker-shaming is prevalent, and it’s time it ends. To this end, I propose a beginning: the beginning of the smoker-acceptance movement. It’s time people learn to stop judging others based on the nature of their habit, the length of their cigarettes, or the size of their packs. We smokers are just as healthy, competent, and sexy as everyone else. It’s time we make our stand.
Thank you for reading. Goodnight…and good luck.