THE other day I was walking through the Exchange District and I saw a young couple sitting on a step, each of them enjoying a cigarette. As a responsible citizen I should have stopped to tell them what they were doing to their bodies and that they should butt out, but I suspect that they would just have told me to butt out, or words to that effect. And, in truth, I seriously envied them the pleasure that their puffing was obviously giving them.
Everything they tell you about the benefits of quitting smoking is a lie. I know this because, at the time of writing this piece, it has been three years, three weeks, 14 hours and 29 minutes since I had my last cigarette.
My doctor congratulated me for quitting — many people did. He said — and he is a pretty good doctor, despite this — that in 20 years I would be glad that I had quit. This must be something they teach them to say in medical school — sort of like “cough” or “say aah” because he knows as well as I do that in 20 years the odds are that I will be dead whether I smoke or not.
The question is whether you will enjoy the years you have or not. From everything we’re told by the fitness fascists, I had expected that by now I would be the picture of health — perhaps even more youthful in appearance than my 60 years would warrant. I had thought that I would feel better — this is what the fitness freaks promise people if only they would quit smoking. And with cigarettes going for about $11 a package, or so I hear, I should have considerably more money in my wallet, according to the tales they tell. I should be more socially acceptable in a society that now requires smokers to brave the elements, ring bells and shout out “Unclean!” as they stand outside the smoke-free perimeters of their workplace, bars and restaurants or hide from their neighbours in their basements at home.
Well, none of this is true. I continue to age apace — women don’t even bother to give me second glance anymore. In fact, I am grateful if I get a first one, if it’s not accompanied by a shiver or shudder. I don’t feel any better at all from having quit smoking. I just feel envious of the people that I see enjoying their cigarettes, like the young couple in the Exchange. I don’t have any more money in my wallet — relentless children and rapacious creditors take it all anyway. And I don’t get invitations to dinner. Most of the time I am home alone, eating Kraft Dinner and wanting a cigarette.
There is perhaps a brighter side to this story than I have made it sound. It is possible that, were I still smoking, I would look even older than I do, but that would mean that I would look as if I could audition for the role of The Mummy, although, if memory serves, The Mummy actually gets girls.
It is possible that I would feel worse than I do if I were still puffing, but at least when I was hacking and coughing, I would know why. It is possible that I would not be quite as broke as I am, but it is also possible that there is pie in the sky when you die. No one knows. And it is probable that I would still be home alone eating Kraft Dinner, but I don’t think cigarettes have anything to with that — it might be personal hygiene or a simple personality disorder — but maybe another desperate neighbour would sneak over to bum a cigarette.
But that’s enough of Pollyanna. Let’s look at things realistically. The health harpies didn’t make me quit smoking. They did make it more and more difficult for me to smoke just as they continue to make it more difficult for people who still smoke — they talk of banning smoking in automobiles or even in your backyard if neighbours object.
Smoking isn’t good for you — even I wouldn’t argue against that — but there are a lot of things that aren’t good for your health, almost all of them things that people enjoy doing, and every one of them appears to have inspired a lobby to have them restricted or banned.
Manitoba’s drinking laws, for example, are absurd in their restrictiveness. Having a beer at the beach? Good God! Call the cops! Provincial campsites are for teetotalers only. Work the night shift? Well forget about having a beer after work with your friends because licensed hours require you to go home and drink alone. The liquor laws make no sense, but Manitobans are so domesticated that they never question them.
The latest thing to come under attack by the health harpies and fitness fanatics is fast food, particularly hamburgers and french fries. They cause obesity, we are told, and, having beaten back tobacco and put a leash on demon rum, this is the latest front for the legions of society’s joyless crusaders.
But actually, fast food doesn’t cause obesity. Eating too much of it causes obesity, just like eating too much Kraft Dinner without a cigarette will cause you to get fat. Fast food is fun and it is tasty and while it may not be particularly good for you, life is supposed to have some fun in it, despite what the bluenoses and puritans say.
I gave up my cigarettes on my own, but I will not allow anyone to take my hamburgers away. At some point, everyone has to draw a line, and I draw mine in the parking lot of the Salisbury House, home of The Nip. Food fanatics should not try to cross it. If I am going to die of something — and I surely will — a hamburger is as good a reason for going as I can think of.
And when you really think of it, life is not just supposed to be fun, it also inevitably, like smoking and drinking and hamburgers, takes you to a sure death.