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Why do we smoke? A brief listing of reasons from around the world 

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It is quite noticeable that the act of smoking is embedded in Seattle’s identity, as it is in many places in the world. Packs of Newports on the ground, perfumed clouds from vapes, and the flicking of lighters are part of urban culture, despite anti-smoking law-making.

Until the late 1960s, smoking was considered classy, attractive, and even advertised as healthy, with doctors in cigarette commercials.  In 1971, cigarette ads were banned from national TV, promoting a shift in the way smoking was seen and portrayed by society. In the 2020s, lighting a cigarette among young Americans may be frowned upon in a progressive city such as Seattle, speaking from experience. Nowadays, the practice has been transformed with the rise of electronic cigarettes and vapes, presenting the youth with candy-colored, fruit-flavored nicotine dispensers, conserving the gratification of the act of “smoking,” even though they contain no smoke, but vapor. As a foreigner, I find it quite strange that these are legal, but flavored cigarettes are not. 

The Vapor Connection 2022 Disposable vapes, Elf Bar brand name.

Regarding the health wise differences between cigarettes and vaping, coming to a conclusion can be difficult, because different sources say different things. Some state that one is not better than the other at all, while others defend vaping, saying it poses much less hazards than traditional smoking.

Regardless of shape, form, morals or social coercion, smoking is a very ancient practice, with its roots dating back to ritualistic and ceremonial practices, and it continues to be embedded in human culture and personal identity. Tobacco use made its way to the whole world, and thus, the mass-produced cigarettes you find at the local corner store came to be. In our brave new fast-paced world, do we still look at smoking as a ritual? How has the practice changed, and what has it come to signify? In short, why do we smoke nowadays?

With these thoughts and questions in mind, I reached out to the r/Cigarettes community on Reddit, and got nearly two hundred responses and statements from smokers, former-smokers, and vapers. Answering either of my questions: “Why did you start smoking? Do you regret it?” or “What does smoking mean to you?”, Reddit users around the world shared with us their personal thoughts on the practice.

Kayvon Bumpus | The Seattle Collegian A nicotine user at Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood, next to a No Smoking sign.

Some bear no regrets, while still acknowledging possible health hazards:

“21, South Korea, started smoking at 11 or 12 years of age. First it was a one time thing for a couple of years. Until 16 I started smoking heavily due to the influence of friends and family. I love smoking and it will forever be a comfort thing,” says user Occulttwo.

Strugglingteen12005 says: “Started when I was 16, was on the construction site and was having a rough day, asked my coworker for a smoke. Never looked back. Don’t regret it. I know it’ll kill me, but I’m my own woman and I make my decisions. Enjoy every smoke I have.”

BBDippnRedneck states, “I don’t regret it at all. It’s a HUGE part of my life”; ArtFargunkel simply says “I like tobacco.”

Some started smoking, or still use it, as a coping mechanism:

User jeffreywinks shares that “I started smoking a lot more during the pandemic, as I work in an emergency room and was reallllly stressed when covid first hit. Here I am now still working there and pretty damn addicted but don’t see myself quitting soon as it has become something to look forward to.”

Heroin_papi_ explains that they “started smoking because it was the only thing that helped with opiate withdrawal. I could sleep after a smoke. Big improvement after four to five days of vomiting and primal terror. Mid teens is when I started. Switched to pure vape three years ago. I have a cigarette on very special occasions or with a client. Early twenties now.”

“21, Texas. Started when I was 18, liked it. It got me through a tough band I was in, the stress, starting a job, etc… There’s a cigarette waiting for me when my dad is in the hospital, and many to calm my nerves on the way to a gig. Frank Zappa put it best: ‘I think it’s food like anything else. Tobacco is just my favorite vegetable.’” (The-Only-Logan)

Others say they do regret it, even if partially:

“I started smoking cuz’ I really like a girl in my college and she was a smoker. I also had other problems at home and I guess the combo of both and her being so damn cute offering a cigarette was too much. After I realized I have no chances with her I stopped briefly but then I started working in a school and the stress made me wanna smoke again. Yes I regret it a lot especially for such a stupid reason. But I’m trying to quit now so I guess it ain’t that bad,” says habitrabbit0809; 

One Club for Creativity, Singapore Cancer Society Visual representation of tar inhaling as an ashtray, deterioration of lungs.

“My grandad had just died and I was looking for something to help me cope. The buzz was pretty mental at 12/13 I guess. Massively regret it.” (MaxWolf’746)

“started smoking cigs when I decided to stop with weed, 100% regret it,” says WonderfulAd1117; 

“…I only regret the financial aspect. Cigs, vape, RYO whatever, they’re all an unneeded cost. The health stuff will probably be a regret later, if I’m being honest, but the moments I’ve had smoking and conversations whilst smoking… and ooooh, coffee with a morning cig. Those things make me regret nothing.” (BuxxxIn666) 

For many, smoking symbolizes sentimental value similar to that of a friend. “My relationship with cigarettes isn’t a shallow one; it’s based on friendship and family. I can’t imagine how many cigarettes accompanied me during my loneliness. Non smokers never understand and will never do.” (CFDjedi)

Others criticize the apparent hypocrisy of other drug users who frown upon cigarettes. “I’d rather be a smoker who can’t make it up two flights of stairs without breathing heavily than a pathetic sniffling cocaine addict like some of my non-smoking friends have become.” (profoundog)

Mentioning vapes, people had mixed opinions: “I mainly vape now, though I’m sure it’s not safer by any means.” (BuxxxIn666); “I’ll quit soon and switch to vapes. They dry my lips up, and feel nasty against the throat, but they don’t screw up my lungs as badly.” (PolymerLilac); “I don’t regret smoking for 15 years. But I do regret vaping for six months.” (OneLefticle)

Dr Mayank Shukla, Asthma and Sleep Institute Young people vaping.

“Just wish I started vaping instead of smoking cigs” (Relative_Situation83); “It’s true that I’d love to switch to vaping though, I once discovered that it really helps with abstinence and it’s so much tastier, but I don’t have the money so it is what it is!” (catcatcatttttttttt)

Some explain the practice with their worldviews. “Just a hobby. It’s like football, makes you feel happy for a few minutes before returning to this monstrosity of a world.” (Healthy_Addition_630)

Overall, we smoke for a plethora of reasons, but they may all be boiled down to the same motives that drive us to engage in any action that, essentially, makes us feel pleasant. Even if the feeling is derived from simply not feeling bad, even if just for an instant. To me, every person engages in coping methods and mechanisms to deal with, simply, the human condition and the pace of daily life. Of course, each person has their own challenges, which are never comparable to those of another. 

Australian cigarette packs, which display strong images of possible smoking consequences.
Getty Images/Ryan Pierce, 2016

Most smokers are aware of the possible consequences of their actions, just as every person is aware of their own choices and possible outcomes. It comes down to a personal decision, and shouldn’t particularly be frowned upon, from my perspective.

As put by user JHWildman12, “Smoking is the only thing standing between me and a life sentence a lot of days. It’s those five mins of peace and quiet outdoors enjoying a cigarette before I go back in to begrudgingly deal with whatever horseshit god is throwing at me on any given day that honestly really gets me through it.”

User Due-Ad-409 gave an existential perspective, “Smoking is also a strange poetry. It’s killing me slowly, but I feel more alive? It’s a weird, absurd contradiction in the weird, absurd contradiction of life.” 

There is a Brazilian rock song called Vida Passageira (Temporary Life) that says “…it’s like a cigarette commercial, that the truth is forgotten with the gulps, a dream hard to wake up from…” That sentence can be applied as a comparison to just about any human activity, if you think about it. Perhaps the continuous use of any drugs might not be simply pure hedonism. Or, indeed, it may be that sometimes, a cigar really is just a cigar. 

Nicotine use, like any drug use, is fundamentally an addiction. The fleeting nature of certain pleasurable practices, or sometimes coping mechanisms, appear in many other patterns and vices. This is also recognizable on the greater scale – life’s ephemerality. Humankind’s highest curse, and greatest blessing. 

As pointed out by user PolymerLilac, Oscar Wilde once wrote in his work The Picture of Dorian Gray, “You must have a cigarette. A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?” 

We must not forget, however, that it is a fact that both any kind of smoking or vaping directly damages one’s health. Some risks are a decrease in lung capacity, shortness of breath, drying and swelling of the vocal folds, rapid aging appearance, and, of course, great increase in the probability of heart disease and several types of cancer. As said before, any smoker or vaper should be aware of such facts, and act accordingly to their own conscious decision. 

Content Editor at Seattle Collegian

Sophia is an international student from Brazil, who recently moved to Seattle to pursue her higher education. Music, writing, and Science are her broadest and greatest passions. Sophia is a young classical singer, as well as an internationally published author with her book Primeira Pessoa. Despite being highly artistic and emotional, she bears great love for the Natural Sciences, and has the desire to pursue a Physics & Astronomy later in life. At the moment, she works for both the Seattle Collegian and the M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery. Within all forms of writing, she believes the greatest role of the writer is to bring forth the truth, the honesty, and the humanity that echoes within each one of us. Journalism, while Art, is for her a portrait of the fraternity of the Earth, in the broadest possible way.

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