Social smoking won’t kill you; if it does, oh well.

While certain classes of smoking are encouraged in California, one surprising stigma I’ve noticed is that of the cigarette smoker. I’m guessing attributable to Los Angeles’ comparatively healthy mindset, it seems like everyone out here disapproves of the traditional smoker. But what about the social smoker?

Not surprisingly, during my time on the road I became a pretty heavy smoker. I had always been back and forth with cigarettes through college, mostly a result of a drunk weekend here and there that would continue several weeks and then end abruptly for several more. Orange juice can only do so much for that smokers’ mouth after a certain point! In college, I probably averaged a solid 3 packs a month or so. While I was traveling alone, I would smoke something more like 2-3 packs a week.

Smokin in bed.

Smokin out the trunk in Athens, OH with Sticky T.

Smoking in general became a very… romantic? thing while traveling. Lighting squares on train platforms, at bus stops and in the car on road trips, it seems right in those moments of transit, smoke escaping through a cracked window or lingering on your clothes. On every stop during my train travels with Amtrak, 5-20 people would exit the train for the same purpose: to stretch their legs and smoke a cigarette. Immediately, 5-20 people with common ground just like that. Something to immediately bring them together and a good enough reason for me to temporarily revert back to the habit!

I remember my late Uncle Gary once mentioning how he could go back and forth between being a smoker and not; cold turkey completely at a whim. That’s how I am. Addictive personality aside, the 3 or 4 times I’ve quit smoking for more than one month have all been random and straight cold turkey. Mmm, turkey. (Craving Thanksgiving, anyone?)

2 girls 1 lighter
So now after about 7 months on the road, 2 on the couch and even more on the stoops, I’ve once again made the move off tobacco. But don’t be confused: not for health reasons. I still eat fast food and that’s equally, if not more, dangerous to my health than a cigarette every once in a while. Especially considering obesity is America’s favorite way to die. I’ve “quit” smoking cigarettes but if someone offers me one I’ll accept 90% of the time. Why? Because smoking cigarettes is the third best way to meet new people.

Most of us have at least one time been at the bar or out in the streets and had someone ask for:

  1. a lighter and/or
  2. a cigarette.

And many times, unless you have neither or tell them to fuck off, conversation will ensue! And sometimes, those conversations that were started over a cigarette can become a new opportunity for the night.

The Great Danes and Grinczero.

The Great Danes and Grinczero, photographing things in Ocean Beach, San Diego.

One night in San Diego last January, Ted, Grinczero and I ended up meeting a couple awesome Danish girls… over a lighter. That lighter ended up sparking a friendship that would last for the rest of their visit to California and likely onto their next. Or even better, our next trip over to Europe! Now tell me, when was the last time a McD’s cheeseburger led to beach sunsets with girls traveling abroad?

why social smoking gets the pass
I’m not advocating being addicted to cigarettes by any means. After all, no one is gonna complain that you DON’T smell like cigarette smoke or that you DIDN’T die of lung cancer. But being able to gracefully smoke a cigarette in a social setting is something I stay open to since it automatically translates to at least 10-15 minutes of  hopefully decent conversation. Here are a few more reasons why I’m all about cigarette-sharing.

  • Common ground. In an age of polarized music tastes, styles and philosophies, cigarettes provide a common ground… albeit a potentially cancerous one. Though you can’t argue it’s much harder to walk up to a rando at the bar with a cheesy pickup line than it is to approach asking about a lighter.
  • It’s patriotic. America was built on tobacco. ‘Nuff said.
  • Fresh air. Bars and parties get cramped and smoking can be a quick excuse to get some fresh air and let the pits air out.
  • It’s an exercise in self-control. 

Granted, there are those of you reading this who may have never and/or will never smoke a cigarette and that’s fine. Power to you. But for everyone else, don’t feel guilty about those random squares you accept. One stoop isn’t gonna kill you. But it could lead to a helluva night.

How do you feel about smoking cigarettes? Do you think that smoking them in a social setting can be advantageous or is it still just plain gross? Tell me in the comments below or put me on blast on Twitter!

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Author: Eric White

Eric graduated Ohio University in 2012 with a degree in Advertising and immediately went out to San Diego, California to start not using his degree. At the start of 2013, Eric quit his job, let his lease run out and started backpacking North America. Eric has worked with Amtrak, Crowdtap, HootSuite and others, and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA... when not on the road.

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    • Huzzah! People need to give themselves a little slack every once in a while. Sometimes the things that aren’t so great for your body are good for your soul.

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      • Yes fasho. I like that distinction Kenzie, harmed body vs. nurtured soul. That’s worth exploring a little further I think. Guest Post #2? 🙂

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  1. Hmmm, I enjoy a smoke once in a while. I’m not sure if it’s because it was so forbidden by my ex husband? Once separated it was a way for me to rebel. Also, my father is adamantly against it and he is a reformed smoker. I’ve been meaning to thank him and my mother for all the second hand smoke of my childhood. Car trips with the windows up and them chain smoking. If I die of cancer it won’t be from my social habit. Thanks for your interesting and refreshing perspective on smoking.

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    • Hey Lisa! Thanks for saying hey. Yeah, social smoking is cool in moderation. It’s when you start craving/developing a habit that it’s bad news.

      Have a good week!

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