Pity the Poor Cigarette Smoker

Shilo Zylbergold | Best Medicine
Pity the Poor Cigarette Smoker

image by: Kruscha

I never fit in. I am a true alternative. And I love being the outcast. That's my role in life, to be an outcast - Meat Loaf

The world has become a colder, harsher place for the once proud puffer as the bastions of second hand smoke prohibition, perhaps better described as “second mouth smoke,” have tightened the noose around his neck.

The descent to complete and total marginalization has been sudden and mercurial. Marlborough Man has had to ride down into the canyon, dismount, and watch helplessly while his noble steed has been trucked off to the pet food factory. Nowadays, a smoker has to walk at least a mile just so he is far enough away from any other living human before he is allowed to take a drag off his Camel.

Smoking used to be cool. It doesn’t seem like so long ago that smokers were on the top of the heap. Bogey smoked. Marlene smoked. Bette Davis would probably still be known as Ruth Dorkenheimer if it wasn’t for the smoke that constantly wafted out from between her lips. Any rock star or jazz musician worth his licks had a smoke dangling off the side of his mouth or burning a hole in the neck of his guitar. If you could find a musician who didn’t smoke, he probably played second triangle for the Poughkeepsie Central Library Marching Band (now that’s uncool).

So what happened? Lung cancer happened. Emphysema happened. Heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease happened.Rock stars didn’t look so sexy if they were hooked up to a ventilator.

Big Tobacco, aka the cigarette industry, struck back. All attempts to link smoking to any debilitating or deadly disease were debunked. An entire stable of lawyers, physicians, and scientific “experts” (on payroll, of course) were on hand to fight for the rights of individual smokers and attack every shred of empirical proof that smoking was bad for you and could very well kill you. (The tobacco scientists were presumably also charter members in the Flat Earth Society and the Geocentric League of America.)

Still, smokers were pretty much left alone to suffer whatever ill resulted from their own devices. If they wanted to get sick and die, well, that was their business. Then, along came second hand smoke and everything changed.

Suddenly, studies showed that smokers were not just harming themselves, but doing damage to everybody around them. Restrictions began to materialize on when and where smokers could light up. The airline industry, for instance, initially pussy-footed around by placing non-smokers in the rear section of its commercial flights (as if all passengers didn’t end up breathing the same air anyway). Eventually, the court of public opinion prevailed, and smokers were ordered to butt out completely while in the air (the alternative would have meant asking tobacco addicts to step out onto the wing if they needed to partake in a puff or two).

As a result, the smoker has become shunned by society and pushed farther and farther towards its dark recesses and outer fringes. He has become this era’s version of the unwashed, untouchable leper. Criminals and outcasts are considered higher up on the social ladder, it seems. If the pattern continues, it won’t be long before smokers will be asked to step aside to let vermin and bedbugs pass through.

Are there any solutions to alleviate the pain that smokers are suffering? Now that they have been forced out of offices, restaurants, lounges, and bars, is there some safe haven left open to them? Some argue that this is not society’s concern and that maybe we should just get rid of the problem by firing smokers out beyond earth’s gravitational field like some unwanted space garbage. Surely this is going to extremes and seems a waste of resources as well.

Another way to deal with the problem is to go the Bill Clinton route. You remember, when asked whether he had ever smoked marijuana, he admitted that he had done so but had never inhaled. Well, why not ask smokers to refrain from exhaling?

Sure, it sounds simplistic, but modern technology has delivered us to the age of the smokeless smoke. The “electronic nicotine delivery system” or “e-cig” is here! Developed in China (where else) and also referred to as nicotine inhalers, “vapes”, or e-puffs, these little gadgets claim to be able to deliver a nicotine fix without any of the normal risks associated with smoking. There is no fire, tar, carbon monoxide, or ash and especially no environmental pollution.

The e-cig looks like a cigarette but contains a battery powered atomiser which produces an inhalable vapour from a replaceable cartridge that is inserted into the device. The cartridges come in various concentrations of nicotine and the level of the addictive ingredient can be adjusted to meet the needs of the user. A typical description of the product is “a cylindrical stainless steel case, a power source (usually a built-in lithium batters), a smart e-chip, a heating device and a cartridge containing a liquid reservoir”. It even has an LED light that glows when the device is in use! Now that is cool.

The jury seems to be out on the safety of the e-cig. Some authorities warn that the product has not been fully tested or evaluated. Singapore and Thailand have banned the device while Health Canada has advised its citizens to avoid electronic smoking products because of the possible health risks involved.

Nevertheless, even at this early stage of development, the e-cig is being used by millions of people around the world and has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. Not missing a beat, Big Tobacco is getting in on the “ground-zero” floor by buying up the rights to newer inhaler prototypes that are even better at delivering the nicotine “hit” than the present Chinese models.

How long can it be before cigarette smokers are able to forego all hand held inhaling devices and get their fix right at “Control Centre”? You have to believe that lurking around the corner is the “iPipe” which allows you to download the fix to your nicotine craving directly from the iNic website through a USB port attached to your skull behind your right ear. Future apps include the iHigh site which gives you direct access to your favourite highs (everything from single malt scotch to methamphetamines and crack cocaine).

So cheer up, cigarette smokers, because your glory days are about to come around again. Modern technology is about to pull you back into the mainstream from the outer limits where you have been relegated in recent years. Your exile is over. Do me a favour though. Whatever device you happen to be using, make sure you don’t wave it in my face. You might just find yourself having an LED rammed down your throat.

Shilo Zylbergold lives on a small island somewhere in the southwest corner of British Columbia, Canada. He grows vegetables, teaches math, and is a columnist for a local paper. Send complaints to [email protected]

Shilo Zylbergold

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