Thursday, July 03, 2003


I confess. I've been a smoker for almost forty years. While it's not very cool anymore, and not very wise, it is a pleasure that I won't (or can't) give up. While this pleasure may be becoming unfashionable, smoking puts me in the mainstream of human behavior. Tobacco use has been a popular pastime everywhere on this planet, when it has been available for human consumption. And even though health authorities have claimed that it is dangerous, even deadly, for over four hundred years, it continues as a popular human activity even today. No less a personage than King James of England, in 1604, declared in his treatise A Counterblaste to Tobacco:
Smoking is a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.
In his treatise, James also noted that autopsies found smokers' "inward parts" were "infected with an oily kind of soot." James also said if he ever had the Devil to dinner, he'd offer him a pipe. With regards to second-hand smoke, James said, "The wife must either take up smoking or resolve to live in a perpetual stinking torment." As early as 1586, in Germany "De plantis epitome utilissima" offers one of the first cautions to the use of tobacco, calling it a "violent herb". And of course, since 1950 our own AMA has held that tobacco smoking was dangerous, since they found that cigarette smokers were twice as likely to get lung cancer than were non-smokers.

So, why do I smoke? Is it the pleasure, or the addiction? There is no doubt that I am addicted to the weed, but that can not completely explain why I smoke it. My addiction may explain why I smoke an entire pack of cigarettes right after I buy it, but does not explain why I buy a pack in the first place. So, understanding, as I do, that almost anything, done in moderation, is OK to do, how does one feed the pleasure while keeping the addiction at bay?

While pondering this question, it struck me that the biggest part of the problem was the 19 cigarettes left in the pack after I had smoked the first one... The one that had spurred me to buy the pack in the first place. There are not, in this country at least, packs of less than 20 available. In other countries I have seen 10-packs and 4-packs, and singles are available here and there, but not in my neighborhood. Then I discovered the modern roll-your-own movement. They reside online at Roll Your Own Magazine. The tobacco industry, aside from being the inventor of modern advertising, is ingenious in the enterprise of fulfilling demand for tobacco products. There are available today supplies that render a person such as myself able to fashion an (almost) perfect, filtered cigarette, light or full-flavor, from raw materials. After smoking this way for a few weeks, I have come to believe that it is possible that my problem has been solved.

With my little rolling device, a filter tube, and some tobacco I can, in a minute or two, fashion a cigarette that is satisfying in every way, without presenting me with a pack of nineteen cigarettes all begging to be smoked. In Confucian fashion I get to appreciate each tiny filament of tobacco, to feel and smell it, to pack it into the little rolling block, and finally to insert the tobacco into the filter tube. After a bit of tamping, the filter cigarette is ready to smoke. I have never enjoyed a cigarette as much as I do now. They taste better, and smell better. They should, as they are made from the finest, freshest tobacco. As a bonus, they cost less than a third of their previous price. But best of all, there are no extra cigarettes lying there, begging to be smoked. Each smoke is a little experience; a ritual of appreciation that I truly enjoy. I suppose that I could roll nineteen more if I felt like it, but so far, I haven't felt like it.

So now I smoke about five cigarettes a day, instead of twenty. I spend less than a half a dollar instead of five dollars. I might even live a little longer, since I smoke so much less. But, best of all, I do not have to give up one of life's little pleasures. Instead, it has become even more of a pleasure than it once was. And, with the money I am saving, I can put my sons through college.