Why do We Keep Smoking?

Smoking is interesting. Almost everywhere around us there are signs banning smoking or telling people smoking kills. Most pieces of media involving smoking are almost uniformly negative. Nearly every single person is at least aware of the dangers of smoking, yet the smoking industry is a billion dollar cash cow that sells to millions of Americans. So what is it about smoking that makes it less of an issue to college students?

After talking with a few college students, one thing became clear, unlike what some studies indicate, the reason people don’t quit isn’t an issue of the difficulty commonly associated with it, but rather not having no inclination to quit smoking. All the students interviewed did not mention difficulty quitting, withdrawal or any negative reason as a reason to stop smoking.

“I smoke to clear my head,” said Ryan Hicks, a regular smoker and student at the University of Oregon. “It’s nice to focus on just one thing, like smoking for a few minutes and just relax.”

Hicks has been smoking or quite a while, since he was 14. Growing up in the Middle East, he says almost everyone smoked, which strongly influenced his decision to start smoking. Originally starting smoking at 14, Hicks describes his reason for starting as a sort of peer acceptance where everyone did it and everyone assumed everyone else did too. If a peer wasn’t a smoking, it would be surprising. Despite owning multiple hookahs and occasionally smoking cigarettes, Hicks has no fear of future health problems.

“[They] just don’t seem real,” Hicks said. “It’s not like I don’t think they exist, but I don’t know…” Hicks trails off and laughs a little.

Hicks, like the other students interviewed sees the health issuse as something disconnected from him, his friends and other smokers his age don’t need to deal with.

Although Hicks doesn’t view his smoking as something immediately dangerous to his health, he doesn’t plan to continue smoking this way until his last breath. Hicks says he has no plans to reduce his tobacco intake any time soon but doesn’t see himself still smoking in ten or so years. Seeing as nearly everyone knows the dangers of smoking, this makes sense.

Hicks’ relationship with smoking is very interesting. Compared to most smokers his age, Hicks is a kind of life-time smoker. Even as someone who smokes much more heavily than most people his age, Hicks doesn’t think that smoking will have a very big impact on his life.

Like Hicks, Yuri Piebenga is a smoker who doesn’t really think the commonly associated health issues are that big a deal. Hicks says he doesn’t think he’ll see any major lasting effects from smoking, or if he does they’ll be minor.

“Yeah, I suppose smoking is bad for me, but I work out, I stay healthy otherwise, so I don’t really think it’s that much of an issue,” Piebenga said. “Not to mention, all the health risks seem like they only really effect a small percentage of people.”

But even more than believing the effects are minimal, Piebenga sees his smoking as something that he does infrequently enough to not really negatively impact his health.

“With how much I smoke, I don’t think there’s any significant risk to me from cancer or anything else,” Piebenga said. “But on the other hand, life is a bunch of risk, like I choose to drive, that’s risky. I could get killed at any time. I’m not gonna let that stop me.”

Piebenga, like Hicks, smokes for enjoyment.

“I smoke for the head rush,” Piebenga said. “It’s kind of funny. When I was a kid, I didn’t know that smoking made you feel anything and I thought it was stupid. Why would you inhale smoke for fun? It tastes terrible.”

Piebenga started smoking not too long ago. According to him, he only smokes American Spirit brand cigarettes and says no other brand is worth a second glance.

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A pouch of American Spirit brand rolling tobacco, rolling papers, and a hand-rolled cigarette.

 

“[A friend of mine] turned me on to it a few years ago. Now I smoke extremely rarely, and only when I’m with other friends. It’s definitely a recreational thing for me. If I ever stop getting that rush I’m going to be done.”

Scott Stoner is a rather regular smoker, and like the others interviewed, he doesn’t see smoking as something that will immediately affect him. Stoner’s reasons for smoking were slightly different than Hicks and Piebenga’s. Stoner started smoking for job related stress.

“It just helps me calm down, I guess,” said Stoner. “I considered ‘alternatives’ but tobacco is legal.”

Like the others, Stoner doesn’t see smoking as something he’ll do for the rest of his life, but at the moment, he doesn’t have any plans to cut back any time soon. Stoner smokes multiple times a week, but not too much. The majority of Stoner’s smoking is done with a wooden pipe, and he estimates an ounce bag of tobacco will last him about a month.

Stoner says that although he originally started smoking for stress reduction, the majority of the smoking he does now is with friends.

“I do almost all my smoking with [friends],” said Stoner. “As long as they’re still smoking or at least OK with me smoking, I don’t think I’ll quit soon.”

Stoner says he’s been smoking for about a year, so he doesn’t think any of the long-term effects have really become a threat to his welfare yet. Stoner like the others, doesn’t deny there are health risks or that if his smoking persists that he might fall victim to the health issues about which people are warned.

“I’m not going to say smoking is good for you, but I haven’t noticed anything bad from my smoking,” said Stoner. “I honestly doubt I’d going to die any time soon, and smoking doesn’t seem that big of an issue to me right now.”

Smoking has recently come under a lot of regulation. With this year’s new campus no smoking policy, the places where people can smoke public is dwindling, yet still it’s hard to walk around town without noticing at least a few people enjoying a cigarette. So why do they smoke? It seems most college age people don’t smoke habitually, or at least don’t think they do. They smoke because they want to. They smoke because it’s enjoyable and they don’t think the risks are large enough to dissuade them from it. Smoking is something you can do alone or with others, in many different ways, be it smoking a hookah, a cigarette, or even a handmade pipe.

It’s weird, but from these interviews it seems like no one cares about the health issues as much as doctors or health agencies would like them to. Despite all the advertising and everything else involved in the multimillion dollar anti-smoking campaigns, nothing seems to bring the dangers of smoking home to the 18-to-25 male demographic. All the people interviewed didn’t really care about the health issues. Going from these students, smoking doesn’t seems to carry the immediacy of danger that some people would like it to.

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A trash can filled with butts and an empty sack of rolling tobacco.

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