The longer you smoke, the more I’ll complain

By Mark Hopkins

I’m a big fan of pubs. Y’know, the kind where you can just chill in a partially-lit corner at a table with people you barely know. Where you can discuss issues that are only profoundly importantly when there’s a beer in front of you (preferably Corona, because Guinness is too dark, Molson is pig swill, etc.) while trying desperately to come up with something charming to say to the exotically beautiful waitress the next time she comes by. I really enjoy that kind of pub.

The universe has a sense of humour, though. Every good thing has a downside.

Raspberry pie is tasty, but it makes your teeth rot. Dogs are cute, but they crap on the stairs. Sex is fun, but it’s messy. The downside to a pub is the suffocating, claustrophobic haze of smoke. I come out of these places with an itch in my lungs, smelling as if I’d smoked two packs by myself. It’s fucking disgusting–and it’s my own damn fault.

I go into a pub knowing full well it’s gonna be full of smokers. That doesn’t stop me from going, nor does it stop me from getting pissed off. Shouldn’t I be allowed to enjoy a quiet drink with my friends without the benefit of an oxygen mask?

So what do I do about it? I complain. Endlessly.

"Smoking’s bad for you, y’know," I point out helpfully. "You really shouldn’t smoke." The response I get is usually sarcastic ("Oh my God, it’s bad for me? My eyes have been opened!"), apathetic ("Meh."), even acquiescent ("Yeah, I know, I’m trying to quit.") But nobody has ever, as a result of my nagging, put out their cigarette and thrown their pack into the garbage. Nobody.

I know what I should do, I should quite seriously say: "Look, I care about you and I don’t want you to smoke. It makes me very uncomfortable, and it makes me worry about you." That way, I’m not just being a bitchy non-smoker; I’m actually showing that I have some emotional investment in the situation. But if I’m gonna expose myself like that I need some kind of response and I don’t expect I’d get one.

In my experience, most smokers over the age of 18 have tried to quit. They don’t really want to keep smoking, and they’ve got good reasons to quit, but they never do. They’re addicted and beyond that, they’re comfortable.

When they’re having a beer, it’s nice to have a cigarette. When they’re reading a book, it’s nice to have a cigarette. After sex, it’s nice to have a cigarette. It’s way easier for them to keep smoking than it is to go through withdrawal and cravings.

With that in mind, what hope do I have of making a smoker quit? I’d be perfectly willing to sit down and discuss my concerns, I’d even be willing to act as a sponsor, an accomplice in quitting. But if they’re not truly motivated to quit, the whole effort just seems pointless.

When I bitch about smoking, it’s not because I’m angry. It’s because I feel helpless. I don’t want to see my friends get lung cancer. Hell, I don’t want to see anyone get lung cancer. But if they’re too set in their ways to quit, then what can I do about it?

These days, I hear about cigarette price hikes, I hear about smoking being banned on patios and I’m utterly thrilled. It means we’re getting closer to the day I can walk out of a pub without the sweet stench of cigarette smoke clinging to me.

Unfortunately, until that happens, I still have to watch people throwing their health away with cigarettes and I’m still utterly unable to do anything about it. And that’s why, for as long as people keep smoking, I’ll keep bitching about it.

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