Halloran: A non-smoker defends smokers


Sara Halloran, Columnist

Cigarette smoking may be a polarizing topic, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that quitting smoking is a smart move. Smoking is undeniably bad for the body, and can take years off your lifespan. Yet this same attitude that inspires people to support “quitters” is often misdirected into vitriol toward active smokers.

To be clear, I don’t smoke, and I don’t plan on starting. Therefore, I can’t exactly speak from experience when I say every smoker knows that smoking is unhealthy. I just have to assume the gigantic surgeon general’s warnings that grace every pack of cigarettes have brought the point across. If that somehow fails, the various anti-smoking commercials on television will probably suffice. Don’t get me wrong; it’s perfectly fine to remind your loved ones who smoke that you’d like them to be around longer, but it’s highly unlikely that your passive-aggressive comment about how smoking is gross will do anything except annoy a smoker.

We could all use a lesson in compassion when it comes to smokers and addiction in general. We see the same thing happen to celebrities with addictions: Amy Winehouse, for example, was ridiculed by tabloids for her substance abuse while she was alive, and only after her untimely drug-related death was she finally portrayed as a complex and talented human being. Additionally, we are suspiciously willing to turn a blind eye to those most likely to start smoking. Similar to users of other addictive substances, smokers are more likely to come from marginalized populations such as people from low-income households, who display much higher rates of smoking than the general population. It’s clear that smoking is pervasive in communities disadvantaged by society. Some college students also smoke, but alcohol abuse is much more prevalent among college students, almost ubiquitous: Half of the 80 percent of college students who drink are binge drinkers. You could argue cigarettes are more unhealthy than alcohol, but that’s beside the point. They’re both harmful to your health, especially in large quantities. So why is smoking, which affects minorities disproportionately, much more stigmatized than drinking, which is more widespread?

At this point, you may agree that it’s not your business to regulate how people cope, but you’re still angry about the secondhand smoke you inhale as you make your way toward Tech. This is a fair point — it is unfortunate that people who don’t smoke are potentially subjected to its dangers. However, this level of smoke inhalation is unlikely to affect you on any conceivable level. The overwhelming majority of diseases caused by secondhand smoke are found in people who spend more extensive periods of time around cigarette smoke, like children or spouses of smokers. More concerning should be companies that release huge amounts of toxins into the air, or, more directly, the tobacco industry, which profits off degrading the health of our friends and family.  The next time you’re tempted to cast a dirty look at the person smoking quietly by the side of a building, consider instead focusing on the bigger picture.

In our effort to be hard on smoking, we’ve come down hard on smokers. Addiction is not “gross” or “disgusting,” but an unlucky conflation of societal and genetic factors. No, smokers don’t need pity, but I’m sure they would appreciate if you stopped bothering them about smoking. It’s not our place to judge the vices of others, no matter their background.

Sara Halloran is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.