In defense of cigarettes: A chat with a smokers’ rights advocate

The official policy of The Metro — and this writer — is that smoking is super bad for you and, if quitting was your New Year’s resolution, kudos. But if you’re a tobacco connoisseur who doesn’t give a damn what we say, and strives to improve your multi-day nicotine injections, you might give a damn what outspoken smokers’ rights advocate Stephen Helfer has to say — especially with the newly instated smoking bans now in effect. The onetime co-leader of Cambridge Citizens for Smokers’ Rights prefers roll-your-own cigarettes to conventional butts, and strongly encourages dodging those perpetually brutal tobacco excise taxes whenever possible.

Let’s say, hypothetically, I’m a typical smoker with no aspirations to quit: how could I enhance my smoking experiences?

Tobacco is more flavorful when smoked slowly. Sometimes I see people smoke one drag after another, which makes the tobacco heat up too much. So it’s important not to smoke too fast. Another thing I would advise is to enjoy the cigarette. Remember that tobacco has been smoked in the New World for 8,000 years. Simply because it’s under siege these days, and people want you to feel bad, don’t let that get you down.

You’re saying smokers should stop and smell the roses, except the roses are cigarettes.

Well, in a small way, tobacco induces a kind of contemplative thinking and being. Smokers are more apt to be musicians, writers, philosophers and artists, and there is a kind of push in the world, certainly in modern America, where if you’re not working, you’re supposed to be on a treadmill like a rat at the gym. I’m not pretending that if you smoke a cigarette, you suddenly become a philosopher. But it makes people think a little bit more, and makes them more apt to smell the roses, for example.

Did you ever see “The X-Files?”

You know, there have been periods of my life when I didn’t watch any television. I don’t even know what it’s about. Why did you bring it up?

I was wondering what you thought of the villain on that show — The Cigarette Smoking Man.

Well, in popular media, villains are often depicted as smokers. For example, in the Downton Abbey household, the only people who smoke are the evil people. This is how the anti-smoking movement has infected popular media.

Doesn’t having villains smoke just make smoking look cool?

It might, but I think it’s part of this push to de-normalize smokers, and make them appear to be unsavory, evil people. I think it’s pernicious, myself.

Well, it could also say, “Hey kids, want people to think you’re edgy, rebellious and maybe a little dangerous? Try cigarettes!”

I see what you mean. But I would say, for smokers, enjoy your cigarettes and smoke them slowly.


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