By Michael Field
Smoking is bad for you. Everyone knows this, yet millions of people continue to risk their health by getting their fix of tar and nicotine. You’ve seen them around campus or camped outside the doors of bars and restaurants. I’ve never smoked, but I’ve always had a sort of morbid curiosity about it. What does it taste like? Do you ever get used to that smell?
I certainly can’t stand the smell now. When smokers were banned from the inside public spaces, I was ecstatic. I would no longer come home from bars reeking of smoke – a smell that never seemed to leave my clothes. Still, I felt bad for smokers. It didn’t seem quite fair that they were suddenly forced outside, into the role of a pariah.
Despite my distaste for cigarettes, I’ve still been curious about smoking. Why? I’m a “fidgeter.” I always have to be doing something with my hands or tapping my feet. If you’ve been in class with me, you’ve seen me twirling my pen or clicking it against the desk. The only time when my hands are still is when I’m walking between classes. Do I put my hands in my pockets? Swing my arms or hold them awkwardly to my sides? Smoking would fix this. I could spread a fog of nicotine in my wake as I made the trek to College Hall.
There is a reason why I haven’t tried smoking, though. I feel that once I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop. Not because of the addictiveness of nicotine, but because I simply wouldn’t want to give up habit.
But lately it has been a lot harder to resist, and I blame it all on Mad Men.
For those of you who have been living in a cave for the past four years, Mad Men is a show about advertising executives in New York in the early 1960s. Nearly every shot of the show is filled with people smoking and drinking. It is a fantastic show, but while watching it, I cannot help but feel an urge for a cigarette and scotch. I already like scotch, so that particular want wasn’t unexpected, but the craving for a cigarette was new.
Watching people smoke in nearly every scene makes smoking seem attractive. I’ve seen James Dean make cigarettes look cool, Humphrey Bogart make them look mysterious, and Audrey Hepburn make them sexy, but none of them ever made me want to smoke like Don Draper and the cast of Mad Men.
I never thought television or movies would make me want to do something like this. I thought it was ridiculous when, in 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) expanded their rules on smoking in movies, leading to stricter ratings on movies that feature smoking. As a result, fewer movies since have featured even small glimpses of people smoking, and movies that do feature smoking are more often rated R. I was sure no one watched someone smoking in movies and then decided to smoke.
I began to think: what’s the harm in trying a cigarette? I mean, I know all the health risks and cigarettes are expensive (although really no more so than drinking), so what could be the harm in trying just one?
But then I thought of all the bad experiences I’ve had with smoking, like almost coughing up a lung at the concert where I got stuck next to a smoker or the woman in the subway rolling noxious smelling cigarettes. I thought about yellow teeth and yellow fingertips, of throat cancer, lung cancer, mouth cancer, and of voice boxes. I thought, ‘Why smoke?’ Maybe there’s no harm in trying a cigarette, but there’s really no benefit in just one, either. One cigarette isn’t going to relieve stress or give me something to do when walking. I’d have to actually take up smoking, and that’s just something I’m not willing to do.
So the struggle will continue. I’ll continue watching Mad Men and feeling these desires to smoke, but I think I’ve found a solution: I’ll just drown them in an extra tall glass of scotch.