I am a smoker

I hate you, too.

Published February 8, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Smoker! The word connotes danger, scorching good looks, searing wit, burning rubber, smoldering passion, barbecued pork!

And yet, despite these and other benefits, smokers are under a great deal of pressure, both social and financial, to quit. Soon, the poorest of us may be forced to sell our organs (albeit at cut-rate prices) to be able to afford our habit, and the richer among us will have to charter barges into international waters to be allowed to indulge it. Eventually, we may be buried in Ohio landfills along with New York's garbage.

For many, especially in California, this will be cause for celebration. Already, anti-smoking activists have succeeded in creating that most anomalous of establishments, the non-smoking bar. While many claim to support this development, it has only resulted in ridding bars of decent conversationalists and filling them instead with people who fondly abbreviate muscle groups. While many smokers are glad for the chance to escape this, we are still faced, once safely on the street, with the issue of what to do with our left hands. This will remain problematic until smokers unite to repeal the no drinking on sidewalks law.

Perhaps even more egregious than being forced to exit buildings in order to do it (we're not really outdoorsy types), is being asked, "Why do you smoke?" ad tedium. People who ask this don't really want to know. Never, as far as I can remember, has an answer been required of me. People don't so much pose the question as smack us with it -- as if the very word could send us flying into paroxysms of shame and renunciation. The answer is implied in the tone of the question: You're weak. You're stupid. I hate you.

Well, I hate you, too. But since you ask, I smoke because it's pure inspiration packed into three inches of paper. Because it's the pause that refreshes. Because it's a complicated pleasure and I like them that way.

I smoke because most buildings don't allow pets. Because, in a pinch, a lit cigarette can be a discreet yet effective weapon. Because God is dead. Because I'm a sucker for a dromedary. Because living and breathing are not the same thing. Because in the event of another world war, you'll always be able to trade cigarettes for soap in France. Because it's a good excuse to leave the table when the conversation turns to the stock market. Because parachuting is ostentatious.

I smoke because every patriarchal society needs a scapegoat. Because so many people Rollerblade with impunity. Because longevity is overrated. Because every silver lining has a cloud. Because everyone should have a hobby. Because persecution makes a tribe scrappy, resourceful and smart. Because there's a (surprise) epiphany in every pack. Because nothing is truly worthwhile that is not worth dying for. Because I'd rather crave nicotine than fascism.

I smoke because I adore being lectured. Because we owe it to the Indians. Because cigarettes keep me company without getting on my nerves. Because half the point of having a vice is pissing off the virtuous.

I smoke cause it makes me smarter. Because the smoke acts as a moat. Because everybody hates a quitter. Because efforts by the state to censure pleasure should always be regarded with extreme suspicion. Because even health has been commodified.

I smoke because it's the only thing that separates us from animals. Because the mind of an addict resists colonization. Because it goes so well with alcohol. Because someone has to do it.

And even after I (reluctantly) quit, I will always think of myself as a smoker. I will mourn smoking as if it were a lost dog. I'll be a smoky sympathizer. I'll find ways to let other smokers know that, secretly, I'm one of them. I'll envy them. I'll sniff them indecorously. They'll understand.

By Carina Chocano

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

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