I get it, smoking is gross. I promise that I think it’s gross too. Please stop shaming me. I already have more smoking shame than I can handle.
Hey, reader, did you know that smoking is bad for you? And that I’ve known that since elementary school and also that I’ve been a smoker for fourteen years? I almost said “off and on smoker” to make it sound better, but I’ll be real: my on times have far outweighed my brief quits. I love smoking. I know I’m supposed to say I hate it and I want to quit. And, yes, I do hate it and I do want to quit. But also: I love it so much. I started smoking at sixteen, and like many teenagers, thought I was cool and impervious to harm. I didn’t think I’d still be smoking at thirty. My addiction to cigarettes happened just like D.A.R.E. warned it would.
Cigarettes have been there for me for nearly half my life. Tobacco is so versatile: celebrate with a cig, grieve with a cig, vent with a cig, concentrate with a cig, slowly poison yourself with a cig. My former therapist, an asthmatic with allergies, was not a smoker, but was non-judgmental and just “got” me. He once said to me, “You and your coffee and cigarettes. You’re from another time.” I would have loved the ’50s! He’s right, though, I’m an old-school pack-a-day-or-more, hardcore chain smoker. Smoking inside still felt exciting and almost naughty to me for all four years that I smoked inside my tiny studio apartment. I prefer driving to flying because I can smoke. Yeah, I get it. I’m a nicotine addict.
For the four years I lived in that tiny studio, I bought my cigarettes from the neighborhood corner store. Even though the kids that worked there constantly harangued me about quitting. Even though they were a dollar cheaper at Walgreen’s and at Walgreen’s they didn’t tell me I should quit. I wanted to support a local business and also there was Rose, the lovably snarky 19-year-old cashier, who consistently cracked me up. She once asked me about quitting smoking and I mentioned I was dating a smoker, which made it harder to quit. She replied, “You should date a doctor!” When that smoker (thankfully) went from being my partner to being my ex, I worried that smoking would hinder my dating life. Instead, everyone I dated either eagerly bummed my smokes or didn’t mind my chain-smoking. Dammit, it was just like everyone says — you have to change for yourself and not for someone else, et cetera, et cetera.
The Bay Area is especially hostile to smokers. You can’t smoke inside bars or within 20 feet of business entrances. No one seems to mind fragrant joints, but I get dirty looks when I light up a cigarette in public. There’s a stigma here that I didn’t experience in New York City. When I first moved here, I hid my dirty habit from new friends and first dates. And, yes, I get it: Smoking is really bad for you, and I’m really trying to stop. I’m not advocating that the Bay Area, or anywhere, should be friendlier to smokers, but can we cool it on the judgment?
I am not ignorant about the horrible health effects of smoking. I know I am slowly killing myself, that I have thrown away more thousands of dollars than I can bear to add up. I begged my younger brother not to smart smoking. I hope my nephews are never seduced by nicotine. I wish I could go back in time to 2002 and not sneak a Marlboro Medium out of my older brother’s pack. I have a sick love affair (*cough*addiction*cough*) with smoking, but trust me, I want to quit more than anything. I did a one-on-one smoking cessation program at the health center in college. I took a smoking cessation class four years ago at the LGBT Center in San Francisco. I’ve used nicotine patches. I’ve quit cold turkey. I bought two different vapes over the years that cost over $100 each. I’ve read “The EasyWay to Quit Smoking” at least three times. I quit for thirteen days in August and was so proud, then slipped one night at a comedy show and was back to smoker status within weeks. I’ve cut back significantly since I recently stopped smoking indoors, but am still smoking most days. As I write this article, I’m anxiously chain-smoking a bunch of cigs.
I’m not proud of any of these facts. But I know. I know I should quit. I really, really know. I really, really want to. So please stop telling me to quit. Please stop telling all the smokers in your life to quit. Do you think we don’t know we should? Do you think we don’t want to? Do you think it would never occur to us to quit unless you suggest it? We already know. I’m not saying you should let your friends smoke in your home. I’m not saying you have to condone this addiction that has been inarguably proven to shorten your life. You don’t have to stand next to smokers. You don’t deserve to deal with secondhand smoke, I get it, smoking is gross. I promise that I think it’s gross too. Please stop shaming me. I already have more smoking shame than I can handle. I believe that one day, I will stop, and when I do, I promise not to start shaming smokers. Especially if you sneak me a drag.
Ash Fisher is a comedian, actor and writer. She is not a comedienne, an actress, or a writeress. She runs the hit show “Man Haters” every fourth Thursday in Oakland, CA. Follow her at ashfisherhaha.com, @ashfisherhaha and manhaters.org.