Column By Don Coppock

   It disgusted me in Greece, I found myself unable to breathe in clubs in Berlin, and people indulged in Taiwan. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve bumped into people sucking on cigarettes. The little terrorists are all around us. Still, I was surprised when I was out playing basketball with some Thai friends,  I noticed toxic tendrils of smoke enveloping me, and an unmistakable foul stench.  I looked over to the sidelines, and to my disappointment, observed  guys waiting to play puffing indolently on cigarettes.

   Young men…athletes…on further investigation I discovered an estimated 23% of the Thais smoke, compared to under 20% in the US. Why?

   I’ll be honest, smoking disgusts me, and I confess I consider smokers self-centered, short-sighted, inconsiderate and willfully ignorant.  What good is all the knowledge humanity has amassed if people completely ignore it? The acts itself disgusts me, the odor disgusts me, the affect it has on the environment disgusts me, and the fact it can also damage anyone who comes in the smoker’s sphere disgusts me. With that in mind, I’ve always found it curious why anyone would want to advertise to the world they are complete idiots by lighting up? Couldn’t they just wear a sign or maybe have a shirt printed? It seems like it would be less expensive.

Warning messages on a pack of cigarettes in Egypt.

   Maybe they could promote themselves by wearing an ‘I don’t believe in Facts’ shirt, or carry a sign saying ‘I support Cancer’, perhaps tattoo ‘Doofus’ on their foreheads. Not that they’d really need to. Because most civilized people know as soon as you choose to suck on a cigarette that you’re…well…limited…

   My Dad was a heavy smoker. I grew up to the sound of his labored breathing along with the ragged phlegmatic coughing familiar to all long term smokers, and his snoring was so loud the walls of our house reverberated. I would toss and turn in the next room until I could endure it no longer , and I often woke him up mid-snore in the dead of night. If I couldn’t sleep I sure as hell wasn’t going to let him slide. I’ll wager the neighbors were grateful as well.

   ‘Dad…Dad…,’ I’d complain, shaking him until he groggily came to, ‘You’re snoring too loud.’ He would mumble a sleepy apology and immediately slip back into the depths, resuming his deafening assault. In his defense, he took up the habit in his youth before the mountains of evidence regarding its harmful effects were available, before warnings on labels, before it became common knowledge that smoking was lethal.  So he had an excuse. It took its in inevitable toll, and he died too soon of a heart attack at age 69, which was perhaps a blessing; cancer is painfully slower.

   Now smoking is recognized as the leading cause of preventable death in the world. It causes respiratory problems, heart attacks, cancer, birth defects, impotence, infertility, cardiovascular problems and pulmonary disease, along with a wide variety of other health issues that ultimately drive up health care costs for everyone. And the kicker is these problems aren’t confined to the smoker. Everyone around them suffers. Of course everyone knows this…you’d have to be stupid not to. Yet in spite of these incontrovertible truths people continue to pick up the habit. People continue to celebrate ignorance by smoking.

   Sure, I recognize, we all need vices. Gotta have those habits.

   It’s curious how humans replicate others in order to establish individuality, but that’s what we do. We mimic others in an attempt to establish an identity.  I mean, why the hell else would anyone pick up a cigarette these days? Yet somehow smoking has managed to maintain its rebel image in spite of the fact an estimated 46 million Americans smoke…yeah…46 million ‘rebels’.

   Cigarettes kill, pollute and just plain stink. They permeate clothes, seep into walls, eventually finding their way into hair, blood and skin until one becomes a walking tribute advertising the damage smoking can do, only instead of being paid, the smoker pays the cigarette companies for the privilege of advertising while contaminating everything around them.

   But don’t take my word for it.  Ask any smoker. Even the most enthusiastic smoker will usually concede they’re fools. ‘Don’t start, kid,’ they’ll council in a hoarse world-weary voice, as though they’re imparting some sacred invaluable wisdom, even while unconsciously lighting up. Apparently the warning on the label is too confusing.

   Now, I consider myself a pretty tolerant guy, an Aleister Crowley ‘Do what thou wilt and let that be the whole of the law’ kind of guy. Drink til you puke, snort drugs till your head explodes and/or perform unnatural sex acts with a willing partner of any persuasion. No, I don’t recommend it or endorse it, but I don’t give a damn as long as you do it in the confines of your own habitat and it doesn’t affect your neighbors.

   But come on…don’t be a complete idiot. Go ahead…kill yourself if you haven’t the imagination to go on. But don’t kill us.  I understand…we need our habits but there are plenty of other less lethal behavioral quirks to choose from. How about biting your fingernails, cracking your knuckles, twiddling your thumbs or twirling your hair? Form an unhealthy attachment to your cell phone (except when driving), live for Facebook, guzzle Red Bull or consume gallons of coffee. Hey, maybe you could even take up chewing tobacco. An estimated 7.6 million Americans partake, so it must have some allure. Sure, it tastes like crap and  kills you, but you still get that great unfiltered tobacco flavor without dragging the rest of us with you. Do something that doesn’t negatively impact everyone who has the misfortune of crossing your fetid path.

   Hell, even picking your nose or farting in enclosed public places beats smoking.

   Every once in a while I hear someone complain about smoker’s rights – they don’t like the fact they’re segregated and discriminated against – and I have to laugh at their audacity. What rights? They lost those rights as soon as it was recognized they conflicted with the rights of others. Somewhere, somehow some people have gotten the impression it’s acceptable to smoke, that it’s okay to convert clean air into a rancid toxic cloud and then cough it out into our mutual space, polluting  food, clothes and lungs. But it’s not. It’s not okay.

   Killing yourself is fine, even recommended at times, but your rights cease as soon as you begin killing those around you. Yes, I know, it remains legal. Apparently you can’t declare ignorance illegal. You can’t be arrested for stupidity, it seems. But if it were up to me I’d clear the jails of drug users and fill them up with smokers.

   Regrettably it’s not, so I can only politely ask that if you have to smoke, get the hell out of my airspace…and take that noxious cloud with you.