I recently realized that 20 years is too long to go without a smoke. For years, my curiosity had been quelled by the grotesque posters in high school, the harrowing public service announcements and the stern warnings of my parents, which included phrases like disease, permanent stench, financial ruin and certain homelessness. So I stayed the hell away from cigarettes. I was loath to even touch one. In my senior year of high school and freshman year at the University, when I was experimenting with different ways to infuriate my father, I never inhaled, lest I end up tongueless on the street warbling warnings like that cowboy on television.
But I always knew I was missing out on something.
People I respected smoked: friends, movie stars, literary heroes, Barack Obama. And is there really any better way to decipher the answers to life’s persistent questions than mulling them over with a pipe hanging out of your mouth?
I started with cigars. I smoked my first stogie at a party on East University Avenue last week. And I understood quickly why smokers balk at the country’s increasingly stringent antismoking laws. Standing on the porch in 23-degree weather, I tried to concentrate on my friend’s advice not to inhale or swallow the smoke but still puff enough to keep the cigar alight. Some people at the party were amused (looking at photographs later I realized why), a few were intrigued and more were put off. One person, not entirely sober, started voicing the likely contents of my obituary when I passed away from emphysema induced heart failure.
“She was a nice girl,” he said.
I didn’t embark on this exploration without any kind of medical supervision. I contacted University specialist Ovide Pomerleau, who told me that while he’d never heard of a non-smoker going on a smoking binge, the short-term health consequences could be disastrous – ranging from lung damage to heart palpitations from the excess nicotine. But wasn’t everyone else doing it? My lungs felt fine.
I bought a pipe two days later. I asked for the cheapest one, which turned out to cost $20. Before I could balk at the price, I saw that the bowl was shaped like the head of a pirate with a patch over his eye and a skull affixed to the center of his turban. My only remaining question was: Would one pipe enough?
I put the pipe on the counter along with a bag of pipe tobacco and some cigarettes. I must have flinched when I saw the tab, $43.07, because the cashier leaned forward and confided that “It’s not a cheap habit.”
And it’s not. According to the University Health Service website, on average, a smoker spends upward of $1,600 a year fuelling his vice. Then again, I spend about that much on coffee and clothing.
The life of a smoker isn’t an easy one. My weekend could have been better. I wanted to smoke the pipe while eating (or anywhere indoors), but the only restaurant I could think of that would let me was La Dolce Vita, and at about $15 a plate for desert, I knew I couldn’t support gourmand tendencies as well as pipe smoking. I ended up lighting up in my kitchen, trying to direct the plumes of smoke out the window.
It was difficult at first; just keeping the pipe alight was a struggle. But 32 matches later, I had managed to burn through five Player’s Navy Cut unfiltered cigarettes and a full bowl of tobacco.
I don’t plan on making a habit of pipe smoking, but I’m happy to have bought one. With smokers being forced out of bars and restaurants across the world, my $43 worth of donations to the tobacco industry at least supports a corporate killer with a tradition.
American heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. and Humphrey Bogart smoked, along with great authors, newsmen and politicians. Maybe smoking does knock off more Americans than AIDS, drug abuse, car accidents and crime, but how many does it give life to? I feel good to have been part of that culture even for a minute, though I suspect I looked more like a strung-out Britney Spears than Audrey Hepburn.
A minute, though, was enough.
As much as I’d love to look like Edward R. Murrow, I’m heeding the Surgeon General’s advice. I can see for myself that the smoker’s cough, the steep prices and the looming health crises are ruining many of my friends’ lives. I’m hanging up my pipe and extinguishing my cigar. But I can’t say for sure I won’t get an insuppressible craving for another unfiltered cigarette – and that burning, choked-up feeling.
After all, these things are addictive.
– Anne VanderMey is a LSA Junior and the editor of The Statement.