Stick this in yer pipe and smoke it

By Ruth Davenport

Another week, another controversy, another leg to hump. This time, City Council is contemplating a bylaw that would drive smokers from the embrace of friendly havens to the less accommodating outdoors. Predictably, radio morning shows have been awash with smokers grumbling about the prospect of having to risk hypothermia to engage in their cancerous pastime. Ah, sweet logic.

There’s no point going over the pros and cons of a smoking ban. We’ve heard it before and I’m confident that everyone has already established their position on this subject. I’m more interested in another aspect of the great smoking debate.

Among the various anti-ban arguments I’ve heard from smokers, there has been one unifying theme: that smoking is their right, their liberty and their choice.

I’m having a little problem getting past that "choice" thing, for one very simple reason: smoking is addictive. Based on what I’ve been told by addicts of various substances, the only choice you ever really make regarding an addiction is to start one. Otherwise, the indulgence of said addiction is merely giving in to physiological compulsion.

Let’s assume this to be correct for the moment. Let’s assume that smokers "choose" to continue to smoke because they just can’t stop. This begs the obvious question: how do you start smoking?

Statistics tell us that nearly 90 per cent of new smokers fall somewhere between the ages of 11 and 20 years of age. Please be honest for a moment: during adolescence, did you make any choices regarding the experimental or forbidden with your eyes wide open? I can only speak for myself, but I know my first drink and my first puff from a cigarette were not well informed, carefully considered decisions. These were impulsive acts, prompted by curiosity and the desire to impress or to fit in. I’ve heard countless tales from smokers who use cigarettes as a crutch for low self-esteem, an act of rebellion, a break from convention; anything but a deliberate move to self-denigration. Anything but a choice.

Considering the possibility that a smoker may not have made a genuine choice to start smoking, it seems reasonable to say that a smoker doesn’t really make the choice to keep smoking. All indications point to the fact that smoking is a wickedly hard habit to kick–and many a smoker has been known to say sadly that it’s a habit they’d stop if only they could. It does seem possible that lighting the cigarette is easier than dealing with the anguish of withdrawal, but that doesn’t strike me as a choice made so much as a choice not made.

It is indeed every man and woman’s right to smoke if they so desire and I’m not contesting that. I am questioning the assertion that it’s a choice made fresh every day, that every cigarette is considered and the consequences of consuming it are recognized and accepted anew before lighting up. I do wonder how many smokers, under duress of a smoking ban, would examine the motives behind their now very inconvenient habit and say honestly that they started smoking out of earnest desire and that they continue to smoke because they want to, not because they need to.

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