In Favor of Smoking

An Argument in Favor of Smoking
It is commonplace these days to find arguments in favor of smoking cessation. These arguments are typically based on the proposition that smoking tends to shorten life. Such arguments are making an unjustified assumption, however. Once questioned, the assumption in fact falls apart and cannot be sustained. This brings the entire argument in favor of smoking cessation down, and in fact has fatal consequences for arguments in favor of restrictions on smoking.

I will first expose the assumption. I will then show it to be unjustified. I will conclude by offering reasons to smoke, concluding that smoking is sometimes justified.

The Assumption
A popular advertisement against smoking runs frequently on public television. It graphically depicts one of the effects of smoking: the buildup of fatty deposits in the aorta of a long-time smoker. The ad can be viewed here: www.theindychannel.com/video/17982192/index.html .

The ad is meant to shock, of course. By doing so, it hopes to lead people to the position that they should stop smoking (or not start smoking). The unstated points are rather clear: by assisting in the buildup of such deposits, smoking decreases the ability of the heart to pump blood and deliver oxygen to tissues. This in turn will cause damage to those tissues and may shorten life. The message: if you want to live longer, don’t smoke.

The assumption is significant and never stated, however. It is contained in the “if” of that proposition: If you want to live longer. What if someone does not in fact want to live longer? What if living longer is not a good idea, in fact? What reasons can be given for a longer life?

The answers are actually shocking. It is almost universally assumed that more life is a good thing. This is the unspoken assumption of smoking cessation campaigns. This is the essence of the anti-smoking argument, in fact. Is the assumption justifiable?

No. The assumption cannot be justified.
To assume that life is always desirable is a common fallacy which drives much foolish behavior and policy-making. To see why this is the case, consider the following facts:

  • A British study found that the average lifespan of a smoker is ten years lower than the average lifespan of a non-smoker. The smokers had a 58% chance of being alive at 70, while non-smokers had a 81% chance of being alive at the same age. At age 80, those numbers dropped to 26% and 59%, respectively.
  • If the British study is accurate, this would mean that smokers have an average lifespan of approximately 70 years in the United States. Nonsmokers are at about 80 years.
  • At age 50, a U.S. male has a 6.1% chance of developing lung cancer within 30 years. The same rate for women is about 4.7%. Among smokers, these rates rise to about 12.5%.
  • 1 in 5 cases of lung cancer among men are in non-smokers. 1 in 4 cases of lung cancer among women are in non-smokers.
  • 1 in 3 men will develop cancer of some sort. 1 in 2 women will develop cancer.
  • Only about 1 in 4 male smokers will develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Those who do are likely to have a genetic determinant (ADAM33).

I draw the following conclusions from these data: that what we are really talking about when we decide whether to smoke is whether the potential decrease in quality and quantity of life is worth the benefits that one derives from smoking. This has to be considered in light of the fact that those ten years between 70 and 80 are the worst years in terms of health. Furthermore, if cancer is killing a lot of us anyhow, then why would it matter whether we died of lung cancer or some other cancer?

The final question is then the following: are those ten years worth the cost of giving up (or not taking up) smoking?

Reasons to Smoke
To answer this question one must know what the benefits of smoking are:

  • Weight loss: it is common to use cigarettes to assist in weight loss. Given that it takes up the function of eating (it’s hard to eat and smoke at exactly the same time) and that it provides a short-lived euphoria, and that it speeds up metabolism and causes the body to burn more calories, it is understandable that it would be helpful in losing weight. However, the evidence is mixed: http://priory.com/med/cigsmoking.htm and http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,304259,00.html.
  • Lowered Risk of Ulcerative Colitis: this is well-documented — http://ibdcrohns.about.com/cs/ibdfaqs/a/smokingguts.htm.
  • Possible Lower Risk of Parkinson’s: this is not as well-documented as the colitis findings — http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070709171619.htm.
  • Fun and Camaraderie: Smoking is often fun. The rush of nicotine to the brain (within 7 seconds) provides instant happiness, relaxation, and a social instrument through which to meet people.
  • The Exercise of Freedom as an Expression of One’s Independence: This benefit is a bit more subtle, and perhaps therefore more disputable. It does seem, however, that the smoker tends to be a more “free” individual. Perhaps because the smoker has been largely turned into a pariah, it is easier to see this side of him: he smokes, therefore must be independent of social norms and free of the typical social conventions. Meeting a fellow smoker is sometimes a union with like-minded people: cynical, irreverent, somewhat disrespectful of social hierarchies, and unhappy in a genuine and refreshing way.

So, I promised an argument in favor of smoking. Here is my summation: a person should smoke under the following conditions:

  1. Enjoyment and/or weight loss. If one of these two reasons is not present, then there’s no point to the whole thing. After all, there must be a benefit to doing what we do.
  2. A general lack of interest in living an extra relatively unhealthy decade of lowered productivity.

Why these reasons? First of all, avoiding Parkinson’s or ulcerative colitis would be bad reasons to smoke unless one was already at risk and preferred some of the other health effects of smoking to those two. Secondly, there just aren’t any other good reasons (with the possible exception of suicide — but it’s an awfully-inefficient way to kill oneself).

Are these reasons defensible? Yes. It is perfectly rational to trade an enjoyable life for a shorter life. We do it all the time when we stay up late to hang out with friends, when we fail to exercise to the utmost capacity of our bodies, when we eat a burger instead of wheat germ, or whenever we are not in fact working to increase our lifespan.

I am sure it is possible to purposely build a life that would last 120 or 130 years if given fortunate genetics. But such a life would probably be filled with taking care of the body. It would probably not be a lot of fun. Not a lot of time to spend with the kids when you are running six miles a day. No late nights. No fun foods.

Now, you will say: “But it doesn’t have to be all that bad. One can have a little bit of fun and still live a healthy lifestyle.” Exactly, and in doing so you will probably buy yourself an extra five years. So, you might live 82 or 85 years instead of 70 or so in the case of the smoker. But why is that better? Why is more life better? If there’s no afterlife, then we simply stop existing and expire. We will not be around to regret having smoked and not having lived to 85. If there is an afterlife and a judgment, can one seriously argue that the almighty will send one to hell for having smoked? And, if one goes to heaven, there can be no regrets. After all, it wouldn’t be heaven if it was filled with regret over a “wasted” life.

To conclude: because smoking can be a rational choice, we should immediately end the shock-ads, allow tobacco advertising to be regulated the same way any other ads are regulated, and not try to discourage people from smoking. I recommend retaining the age of 18 as the legal smoking age, but I believe my argument has conclusively shown that there are no good reasons to demonize tobacco use or to try to discourage its use among adults. Given that children are generally irrational, the age of 18 is a useful public policy tool. Otherwise, however, there is little point to the way American society approaches the use of this product.


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3 Responses

  1. Michael Zittel says:

    In my opinion it is absurd to have an argument for smoking because it has been proven that is unhealthy and can put others at risk around you most of all. If you do not value your own life you should value the others around you. As for the reasons to smoke like weight loss. There are much better ways to achieve weight loss such as exercise. Cocaine can be used as a tool for weight loss too should that be excepted too?? That is just not a good idea to lose weight by doing something that harms your body. The ads on television are necessary because the American public can sometimes not be intelligent enough to figure out the consequences of things they have to be shown exactly what can happen for them to believe them. All of the studies done for pro smoking can not be proven and all the studies against have shown long term effects. The government needs to regulate smoking because we don’t need an unhealthy America. We already have enough battles with obesity and many other things.

    • elenkus says:

      1. “Unhealthy” is a vague term. It should be defined.

      2. “Proof” does not exist in science. There is evidence, but nothing can be proven through the scientific method.

      3. The lives of others are not necessarily impacted by smoking. One can smoke responsibly.

      4. The weight loss point can be salient to someone who values being thin more than they value growing old.

      5. All of the ads are necessary? That is too broad. One should be more specific in an argument.

      6. All of the studies cannot be proven? Again, too broad. One should be more precise in an argument.

      7. The point about long-term effects misses my argument’s point, which is to argue that one need not fear smoking’s long-term effects if one doesn’t want to live those extra ten years.

      8. “Unhealthy” is a silly term. Were cavemen “unhealthy” because their average lifespan was 30 years? We live 80 years in the U.S. Why is it “unhealthy” to live until 70?

  2. Elijahjuan Cancer says:

    I personally smoke occasional. I smoke when im stress and it also help me from engaging in iilegal beahvoirs.I find it hard to believe that no one blames the careless government that allows the tabacoo products to be sold so that they profit.

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