We Smoke, and We’re Not Stupid

Thankfully, Justice Scalia stayed a stupid Louisiana holding, requiring tobacco companies to pay a quarter of a billion dollars (plus interest) to fund a 10-year smoking cessation program because — well, because, the tobacco companies “distorted the entire body of public knowledge” about the addictive effects of nicotine.  Thank you Justice Scalia.

Can you believe it?  The notion still gets perpetuated by the parasitic trial bar, and cozy courts, that we smokers just didn’t understand that smoking might be addictive!  Yes, we smoked one after another, and in due course did our coughing and hacking, but never imagined we were “addicted” — because the tobacco companies “distorted the entire body of public knowledge.”

This is embarrassing jurisprudence, and sad for the courts of Louisiana.  Any smoking human being alive today who insists tobacco companies “deceived” him or her is a liar and a tool of trial lawyers looking to make the “tens of millions of dollars” in attorney’s fees referenced by Justice Scalia.

Sixty years ago, there might have been a semblance of an argument.  Those ads with doctors happily smoking.  In hospitals.  While doing surgery.  Everybody smoked.  Everywhere.  It was the culture.  And no one noticed.  And by the way, second-hand smoke had no effect.

But now?  There are no places to smoke, except the sidewalk outside one’s home.  The demonization of cigarettes is fully 30 years old.  Every smoker has a ready apology; every smoker contends with shrill condemnation from friends and family; every smoker’s lifestyle is massively affected by the horror ascribed to smoking.

Putting aside whether it is cigarettes, or the death-insisting shrillness of anti-smokers, that actually kills smokers, it cannot be doubted that smokers have been “on notice” for decades that smoking might not be good for you.  To argue still, in stupid predatory class action lawsuits such as the one Justice Scalia slowed down, that tobacco companies are to blame for smokers determining to endure condemnation and ghettoization for the sake of a puff, is absurd.

We smoke!  We get it!  Might not be a net health positive! Tobacco companies merely supply the product, not the secret wiring of our brains that bids us do this thing.

And by the way, we like to smoke.  Obviously not because of advertising — there isn’t any anymore — except for advertizing about the horror of smoking.  Are you starting to understand?  We may be the last people who consume despite advertising rather than because of it.

Which reminds me why I like Louis Napoleon (1808-1873), Napoleon III, nephew and heir of Napoleon I.  He was the perfect embodiment of political science — the first elected president and the last monarch of France.  He was a man of vast ambitions, like his uncle, but accepted vast setbacks in stride.

He smoked 50 cigarettes a day.  He is supposed to have been quite the womanizer.  Yet he said, “it is usually the man who attacks. As for me, I defend myself, and I often capitulate.”

And when he was deposed in 1870, it is said, “as usual, he tranquilly lit a cigarette.”

Louis Napoleon’s reputation continues to suffer in no small part because of the obsessive excoriations of Victor Hugo — the most active, ambitious, and prodigious writer of the century.  Napoléon le Petit, Hugo called him, in an influential pamphlet.  It happens that Victor Hugo was what modern smokers would call a “fascist anti-smoker” and disallowed smoking anywhere around him.  Smoking, in his view, was a waste of time.

Hugo won the spin battle.  Yes, smokers have seen this dynamic play out repeatedly.  But Louis Napoleon did rebuild Paris for the betterment of the poor and working class.

In one of those quaint Paris cafes seven decades later sat the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre.  With friendly Nazis milling about, Sartre was a smoker and made much of it.  Being and Nothingness was not so much an austere philosophical tract as a sepia-hued, tobacco-smelling personal grunt.  Pipes belonged to Being, cigarettes to Nothingness.  The countability of cigarettes counted against them.

“The totality of my possessions,” Sartre writes, with intent to discredit bourgeois materialism, “reflects the totality of my being.  I am what I have.”  He cites his pen and his pipe as examples, but not his cigarettes.  Among so many other objections to this man, he is the first self-hating smoker.

As Simone de Beauvoir tells us, Sartre obstinately drank and smoked even as his life ebbed away, even as the cigarette kept dropping from his lips, even as his doctors told him his life depended on smoking less.  The doctors said you will lose your toes, then your feet, then your legs, unless you stop smoking.  And he stopped smoking, calling cigarettes disgusting, only to resume smoking fiercely again.

Louis Napoleon was an honorable smoker.  Jean Paul Sartre was not.  Neither would have been a proper plaintiff in a modern predatory tobacco lawsuit, and any smoker in such a lawsuit is a dishonorable smoker.


4 Responses to We Smoke, and We’re Not Stupid

  1. lb says:

    I knew a smoker; a smoker was a friend of mine; and you, my friend are no smoker!

  2. Roxy says:

    As a chain-smoking, drunken ex- gogo dancer from the ’60s (as I’m described by those who know me), I am in solid agreement with your essay.

    As a celebrity, I make no apologies for my smoking. In fact, anywhere I light up automatically becomes the smoking section. Smokers are clearly more interesting and attractive people – just ask any smoker who’s been trapped in a room full of non-smokers.

    As far as the reported adverse health issues, I have an ashtray on my exercise bike, next to the cupholder containing my glass of scotch. I believe that to be all the due diligence required of me. What more can I possibly do?

    Tobacco companies certainly owe me no reparations – if anything, I may owe them, since I shoplift a couple packs here and there.

    Keep up the good fight – and visit my blog if you so desire –


  3. Thanks Roxy. Love the blog!

  4. jeff veazey says:

    Ever notice how all of these righteous, indignant smoker rights articles are not written by people suffering the slow death of suffocation – totally feeble, unable to move enough to get out of their own waste and not caring because it’s nothing compared to the horrible pain that no pain killer can really alleviate. Fuck that asshole Scalia! He is a cancer on the law. Arrogant, rude, and off the map extreme, I cannot bring myself to use the word justice in front of his name.

    My mother became addicted at a time when the ads said smoking was good for you. In the end, the screeching and rattling from her lungs drove even the most loving family members from her bedside into the hall – the sound was so unbearable, her pain so intense. She had babies and delighted at the kicks, noticed when the ashtray balanced on her belly would bounce and send ashes flying. My mom was like you and Roxy, unyielding in defense of her right to shorten her life and make her children sick. In the beginning of the end, when she had all these wonderful grandchildren who loved her so much she finally had buyers regret. The time was too short. Heaving for breath she said to all of them, “Don’t you ever, ever, smoke a cigarette. It’s the worst thing I ever did. When I finally knew I should stop, I just couldn’t. So don’t you ever smoke, promise me, all of you. ” Each grandchild took the pledge and continues to honor it to this day. We didn’t sue anyone but smokers cost us taxpayers a lot of money. You guys are a drain on health care, causing the building of hospital infrastructure, over $200 million in tobacco subsidies in ’09, being a net negative to your insurance pool, and all sorts of trickle down costs we endure so you can smoke. Smoke if you wish but don’t expect anyone other than addicts to sympathize with your persecution.

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