Rarely have I spent a day out of the house without coming across a smoker. The surgeon general’s warning on the cigarette cartons mean nothing to them. The electronic billboards that count smoking deaths per year are overlooked. It doesn’t scare them when they are informed that every cigarette they smoke takes approximately 12 minutes from their lives. People have become complacent as a result of our culture’s ignorance and defiance.
In 1960, philosopher Ayn Rand delivered a lecture at Yale University about the “modern world.” She said, “What you are seeing today is the neurotic anxiety of an entire culture. People do not want to find any answers to avert their danger: all they want, all they are looking for, is only some excuse to yell: ‘I couldn’t help it!’”
I believe this explains the mindset of a smoker today, who, when asked why he doesn’t quit, replies with “it’s too hard” or “I’m already addicted.” Granted, that’s probably true, but instead of asking himself “what is required of me to quit?” he asks, “can I do it?” and then becomes crippled by his own uncertainty. Observe the unsuccessful quitter, whose every success only augments his anxiety and whose every failure confirms his belief that he will never be able to quit. It’s his mentality, not his inability to quit that keeps him addicted.
But the real question is, why do people—especially adults—start smoking when they are fully aware of the many detrimental health effects of smoking and of the difficulty quitters experience?
One of the most common reasons among teenage girls today is that they want to lose weight. This is understandable because the illnesses that smoking can potentially cause, like cancer or lung diseases, do propel weight loss, but who really wants to lose weight that way?
Others smoke because they think smoking is relaxing, because their friends smoke, or just because it gives them something to do. Smoking isn’t relaxing. In fact, it makes the heart beat considerably faster. Hanging around friends that smoke is a detriment in and of itself. The best way to deal with smoking friends is to ask them not to smoke in your presence. Also, having nothing to do is no reason to damage your lungs either. Try reading.
On May 31, 2007, NPR interviewed Lloyd Johnston, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan with 32 years of experience, who said “the decline in teen smoking seems to be about over.”
Cigarette ads targeting teenagers illustrate smokers as cool and hip, sophisticated and elegant, or attractive and sexy. Luckily, the government has passed laws limiting where and how tobacco companies are allowed to advertise in order to prevent young kids from smoking.
I decided to ask the smokers themselves—teens and adults—how they started smoking. They replied with various answers from “The first time, I just wanted to try it” to “all my friends smoked so I felt out of place being the only one without a cigarette.”
One girl replied with “I’m only a social smoker and I usually only smoke when I’m drunk.”
These excuses weren’t good enough. No excuse is good enough. The best way to avoid social traps or unwarranted cravings is to come up with reasons for why smoking is unacceptable and stick to them. The internet provides many resourceful websites that can help you choose which negative effects of smoking stick out to you the most.
From experience, I have found that coming up with responses to uncomfortable social situations with friends who smoke is very helpful. For example, you could reply with “smoking makes me cough” or “I have to stay in shape and I can’t breathe too well when I smoke.” Anyone who doesn’t accept your replies isn’t your friend.
We all know people who smoke, whether they are friends or family members or co-workers. This doesn’t mean that they are “bad people” or “immoral people” either. Smoking has nothing to do with morality, but it has everything to do with health. Let them know what you think or even try to help them quit. If they resist, let it go.
For smokers and non-smokers, just remember that staying smoke-free will give you more of everything you really want: more money in your wallet, more energy, better performance, healthier physique, good skin, and ultimately, more life.