Smoke Got in Their Brains

By Cyberquill 05/03/20127 Comments

Some time ago, the World Health Organization declared smoking to be the “number one cause of death and disability in the world.”

Now, whether the pitiful habit of sucking on a smoldering paper cylinder filled with chopped tobacco leaves and blowing noxious fumes through the landscape indeed resides at the very top of the Grim Reaper’s to-do list, or whether, in reality, it clocks in as item number three or five, is irrelevant.

Fact is, smoking does people in by the truckloads every day and causes unspeakable suffering in the often protracted runup to the terminal gate, not only for the patients themselves, but also to their friends and family members, who have unwittingly been given front row seats to witnessing the tragedy up close and personal in addition to being treated to a load of second-hand tar in their own respiratory tracts.

So what’s going on in the minds of people that smoke? Have they plunged into the throes of an addiction so insidious that their thinking caps have been incinerated beyond repair? And what exactly were those thinking caps doing in the process leading up to the rubicon?

Hard to imagine that only a handful of cigarettes—perhaps consumed for the purpose of sating some youthful curiosity about what smoking tastes and feels like or to guard against the future admonition “If you’ve never tried it, don’t judge it”—could have sufficed to impair a individual’s capacity to reason so severely as to induce him or her to actually adopt smoking as a habit, including the whole slew of imbecilic excuses commonly offered in the way of justifying it.

Like many others, the phenomenon of smoking once again proves the human brain’s spectacular knack for compartmentalization, i.e., for functioning splendidly in some areas while being hopelessly out to lunch in others, e.g., a NASA engineer lighting up at his design table, or Keith Richards with a cancer stick dangling from the corner of his mouth while knocking out nifty licks on his guitar.

Ever seen a smoker point at a passing car for the purpose of arguing, with a serious mien bordering on the comical, that our environment is toxic anyway, so what difference does it make if we smoke or not? Some of these people’s fogged-up brains can’t even grasp the simple concept of risk-compounding anymore. (Obviously, the more our environment is polluted through circumstances beyond our control, the more crucial it becomes to cut back on hazards within our circle of influence.)

Goes to show that smoke and logic don’t mix.

A former restaurant co-worker of mine once openly chastised me for being “rude” and “arrogant” because I would frequently skip the common “hello and how are you” routine and confine my personal interactions to work-related matters for the first hour or two of my shift. And then—guess what?—at the end of the night, this woman habitually plunked herself down at the bar, scanned the room to make sure all customers had left so she could now safely light up, and, with nonchalant unconcern for me or anyone else present who might object to performing our closing chores in a poisonous fog, she whipped the Camels and a lighter out of her apron, being either ignorant or deliberately dismissive of the fact that the anti-smoking laws had been passed not primarily to protect customers but to protect co-workers. The blinkered insolence of her behavior, of course, paled in comparison to mine. Say whatever you will about my laconic airs, but they ain’t carcinogenic.

Goes to show that smoke and consideration for others don’t mix, either.

The recklessness and indifference on display by smokers toward our world and society at large, in tandem with their reflexive tendency to plead innocent on these scores, boggles the mind:

Every time a person purchases a pack of smokes, he or she actively and knowingly supports, if not the, then at least one of the top causes of death and disability in the world—a cause of misery and suffering on par with, perhaps exceeding, the total death and injury wrought by all world wars and the world’s terrorist organizations combined. The exact extent of the damage may be difficult to calculate and hence debatable. There is no doubt, however, that the toll of tobacco consumption on humanity has been, and continues to be, horrific, and horrific at a level where haggling over the precise casualty figures makes no meaningful difference anymore.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be friends with a person who sends regular checks to Al Qaeda in order to subsidize more bombings leading to more injury and death. So why would I want to be friends with a person selfish and reckless enough to actively aid and abet an even bigger source of injury and death, and who does so for the sole sake of satisfying a personal craving, and a pretty ridiculous one at that?

So there you have a seemingly nice and loving and funny and intelligent individual, who then turns around, walks into a store, takes out her purse, and blithely subsidizes one of the top causes of death in the world as if she were guilty of nothing more egregious than taking a pair of pants out of her closet. I look at such people, and my jaw just drops. I mean, creepy doesn’t even begin to describe them.

Of course, smokers will defend their practice of funding death by arguing that there allegedly exists one momentous and dispositive difference between funding death via knowingly subsidizing a terrorist organization and funding death via knowingly subsidizing the tobacco industry: namely that people who smoke only do damage to themselves and do so by choice, whereas in the former case, death and injury is inflicted upon innocent bystanders who didn’t ask for it. So they’ll turn it into a personal freedom issue.

Well, that’s a doozy of an argument. Once again, it demonstrates how reality-impaired smokers’ minds truly are when it comes to to viewing their habit in a light tinged with anything resembling rationality. This, most likely, can be chalked off as a side effect of smoke having risen to their heads and crippling neural connections necessary for discerning analysis. (To be fair, we must acknowledge that smokers are terrified of rationality when it comes to assessing their habit; after all, being rational about it can lead to one—and only one—conclusion, to wit that they must quit ASAP; but then, alas, they’d be deprived of their fix. Needless to say, all junkies go nuts at the prospect of losing out their fix, prompting them to come up with the most preposterous rationalizations to continue.)

First of all, why do most dopey youngsters start smoking to begin with? Obviously, because they’ve seen adults do it, and they want to act like grownups. So this obtunded argument that smoking only affects “oneself” flies out the window right there. Unless you live on a deserted island by yourself or with your puff buddies—as I wish all smokers would—whether you like it or not, you serve as an example for children and teenagers, some of whom will model their habits after yours. And if they see you purchase cigarettes and walk around fuming like the Marlboro Man, they’ll go, “Ah, that’s cool, that’s what I’ll do, and then I’ll be an adult, too.”

Therefore, the act of smoking itself invariably perpetuates this deadly habit (a) by subsidizing the industry and (b) by serving as an example to kids and adolescents and inducing them to follow suit.

Second, many kids grow up with parents who smoke, and that’s really taking the cake as far as parental irresponsibility. A parent’s example function aside, if the kid has any genetic proclivity toward cancer, emphysema, or any other medical condition commonly associated with smoking—and there’s no way to know whether he does or not—he may already be on course for an early death by the time he leaves home, simply on account of all the second-hand smoke inadvertently inhaled during his formative years, even if he’ll never light up himself; not to mention a potential genetic proclivity for nicotine addiction, in which case he might be a full-fledged addict by age 12, simply from breathing the air in the house.

Third, in any country with a socialized or partially socialized health care system, society at large is paying for everyone’s medical bills. So that’s another nail in the benighted argument that wrecking our bodies is no one business but our own.

Lastly, and this never ceases to amaze me, many people consider themselves loving and caring, yet they engage in self-destructive habits, usually justified by some sort of flapdoodly philosophy along the lines of it being much better to live a shorter life and enjoy it rather than a long and boring one, manifestly oblivious to, or otherwise not caring one whit about, knowingly increasing the likelihood that one day their so-called loved ones will have to bear witness to their premature physical deterioration, illness, and death, brought on or accelerated by their lifestyle choices, a painful process that can last years—how loving and caring and non-reckless is it to up the chances for putting those close to you through such an experience?

Obviously, there are no guarantees in life, and sickness can strike at any time no matter how well we take care of ourselves. But this in no way absolves us of our responsibility to take into account the odds in favor of certain outcomes and refrain from behaviors most likely to secure disastrous ones, at least assuming we wish to pass the laugh test when insisting we truly care about those around us, a test we’ll flunk badly if we simultaneously take active steps towards inflicting upon them the potentially avoidable agony of having to see us bedridden with an oxygen tube up our noses one day.

Confusing odds with outliers by invoking the chain-smoking grandfather who died in a rock-climbing accident at age 98 versus the health nut who succumbed to a stroke at 35, once again, suggests a mind whose capacity to reason has gone up in smoke.

What goes for smoking, of course, also applies to other deplorable practices, such as the consumption of alcoholic beverages—perhaps with the exception of the occasional glass of wine—and recreational drugs of any kind.

I can only speak for myself, and I’ll try to put this as diplomatically as I can, accompanied by as tolerant an attitude as I can effect, but folks who are either “buzzed” or trippin’ or who’ve got smoke coming out of their ears simply aren’t my favorite kind to associate with on a personal level.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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  • Richard

    It is sometimes argued here that smoking bans raise issues of freedom.

    Say smoking caused no expense or harm to others. Do you favour legal bans?

    Short of Government control, do you favour expensive campaigns to stop people smoking?

    Or is your post confined to a critism of how some people feel and think?

    • Cyberquill

      My post is confined to a criticism of how quite a lot of people behave.  Of course, behavior often springs from our thoughts and feelings, i.e., from a place of “who we are,” and thus criticizing conduct could be regarded as a form of invalidation.  

      As a practical matter, however, I apply a belief/feeling-conduct distinction. So while I will take the liberty to criticize conduct, such as smoking, which, in my estimation, negatively impacts myself or others, I will not tell a person who claims to crave a cigarette to not crave one. 

      Lots of things raise issues of freedom. Being prohibited from walking around naked in public raises issues of freedom. In fact, every law in existence raises issues of freedom, for what is a law other than a means to restrict freedom, either by mandating or prohibiting certain conduct? 

      Of course, the line between acceptable restrictions of freedom, i.e., restrictions are compensated for by providing countervailing benefits to society at large, and unacceptable restrictions, i.e., that accomplish nothing other than to annoy some people and help establish a police state, is a subjective one. 

      But when it comes to conduct so hazardous, inconsiderate, and reckless as is smoking for all the reasons I’ve outlined in my post, drawing the line is a no-brainer. 

      Would I favor smoking bans if smoking were just reeky and hence annoying but not dangerous, perhaps even beneficial to health, like the consumption of garlic? 

      Maybe not. I don’t know. Let’s consider the following scenario: 

      A person who’s all in a snit about smoking bans restricting his freedom sits in a cafe or on a park bench, immersed in a book. I take a seat next to him with a blaring ghetto blaster pressed to my ear, blessing my surroundings with sonorous gangster rap. In all likelihood, how would that person value my freedom to contaminate the environment with the sounds of my choice? 

      Specifically, how would he like it if, following his suggestion that I ought to be considerate enough to use headphones as not everybody might appreciate my kind of music, I cockily replied that if he had a problem with my conduct, he was free to change parks or cafes?

      • Richard

        Your approach is reasonable.

        I particularly like how you relate noise pollution.

      • Schematwit

        Erm… some good points made… As a non smoker who has seen the suffering inflicted to these er…brainless idiots at first hand… Oh have we mentioned addiction anywhere?… I got lost in the generalisations. Maybe that’s a good word -‘addiction’ .
        It’s a small stone thrown at the base of your towering stack of arguments but balance is key.

        • Cyberquill

          More often than not, addiction only comes into play after the patient elected to start a  destructive habit that is well-known for causing addiction. 

          See, unless a person makes a conscious decision to try a knowingly addictive substance a few times, he won’t know whether he’ll be an addict for the rest of their lives or whether he’ll be one of the lucky ones who’ll be able to quit easily. 

          Therefore, anyone who begins such a habit is playing Russian roulette. And that’s a pretty moronic game to play, even for a teenager. 

          • Schematwit

            Thats another good point. I know many moronic teenagers who do moronic things since a vital part of the brain that deals with consequences in not yet in flux.

            Without wanting to state the obvious, addiction has biological as well as neurological foundations in some people, which is information that might escape youngsters who are tempted to light up.
            I suppose we have to be accountable for our teenage choices ( leaving circumstance aside to accommodate your reference to roulette).

            As you mentioned there are many who have a good idea of the clandestine consequences of smoking and will continue to smoke.

            But here’s what erks me a bit..
            “The recklessness and indifference on display by smokers toward our world and society at large, in tandem with their reflexive tendency to plead innocent on these scores, boggles the mind:”

            In context of bad manners
            ( in defence of the good mannered smokers, not all are guilty of intoxicating others) I understand your frustrations.

            There are a number of developing countries with their lack of education of tobacco that make up some of the truckloads. Tobacco taxation and finance is a murky business by all accounts. Its not common knowledge in every country what it finances indirectly.
            A decent hard working nurse may also indirectly fund a drone that drops into a friendly neighbourhood somewhere out of sight. They might not know it nor have a choice.
            There are many products on shelves that are bad endorsement choices in some way- Fast food burgers and forest destruction for instance or petrol.
            It’s simplistic to look at a nice lady (maybe even a nurse) in a shop and discredit them as creep for their conduct without looking at detail in a broader context.

            I’m afraid I don’t share the same attitude that smokers( in general) have a blind spot/ grey matter ‘compartmentalisation’ call it what you will.
            If you have considered a cancer victim who has “inflicted immeasurable suffering on themselves on other around them” but still needs to light up with a shortened timeline already facing them, it seems absurd sure.
            But there are stronger chemical hence neurological forces at work here than ignorance and weak will.
            A genuine victim for a decision made circumstantially in adolescence perhaps but don’t chastise them or brand them insane/ creepy/ whatever…rather pity them and post them a decent informative idea on how to break a difficult cycle.

            • Cyberquill

              You sound like a Type 9 on the Enneagram. 

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