Because smoking is almost universally denigrated and I am a hopeless contrarian,[ref]Social anathemas like smoking instinctually make me look for ways to defend them. A similar impulse animated my CFL post.[/ref] I will extol the virtues of smoking tobacco.[ref]The health problems associated with smoking are many and obvious and, lest anyone should think otherwise, I am not advocating that anyone reading this picks up the habit. Nor am I trying to improve the lot of large tobacco corporations, who cannot be relocated to their special place in hell soon enough. Finally, mass-manufactured cigarettes are the ass-end of tobacco—much as Budweiser and its ilk can only be called “beer”—and can only technically and begrudgingly be included in this list.[/ref] [ref]Because you’re naturally wondering: I smoked cigarettes from the age of 16-19, after which I quit. I’ve been smoking hookah and pipe tobacco semi-regularly for the past four years.[/ref] Long footnoted qualifications aside, I want to draw some attention to a few virtues of smoking to contrast with its obvious vices.
The first virtue is that it gives one the regular opportunity to stop and think. In a relentlessly driving world that hardly ever pauses to catch its breath, smoking provides the regular opportunity to break from whatever you’re doing, change your scenery and, well, pause. Pause and reflect, perhaps, or maybe pause and think about nothing for a while. In any case, it’s a pause, which is virtue enough in and of itself.
And, in an increasingly isolated—if supposedly more “connected”—culture, smoking promotes sociality. Whether it’s the shared ritual of the hookah or the simple act of asking a colleague to join you for a smoke break, smoking is at its best a shared activity. I have few fond memories of my teenage years, but flirting with coworkers on snuck smoke breaks is one of them.
Smoking also give rhythm to life, introducing a cadence to your day, a way of marking time in a world where we march inexorably towards 24 hour everything. A way to start the day and end the day; to cap off a meal or making love, smoking gives structure to the time in our lives. It’s precisely the sudden absence of well-worn routine that makes quitting smoking so difficult for addicts who face much more than chemical withdrawal.
Finally, smoking can also be an aesthetic delight, especially the further one gets from mass-market cigarettes. Exploring the different varieties of tobacco and modes of smoking it can produce a lifetime of experimentation and enjoyment. And few things can compete with the simple pleasure of blowing a series of perfect smoke rings.
As already (foot)noted, none of this diminishes the fact that smoking comes with profound health risks, not only for yourself, but for those around you. Smoking can—and does—kill, and should not be blithely approached as just another hobby. But, particularly if one embraces the non-inhaling modes of tobacco smoking such as pipe or cigar, smoking has its virtues.