Light the torch, move up the ladder—if you’re among them.
Some people would not be pleased to know that stereotyping does not exactly end in high school. In the four corners of my workplace, you are limited to a number of people who publicly smoke. They are mostly men who do not mind the stares from soccer moms from HR, the green-thumbed receptionist and health buff CSRs.
It seems that when you are a woman in your early twenties with a wholesome image, you are not entitled to any vices apart from a few drinks at office parties. Should someone see you with a burning stick in between your fingers, your goody image goes up in smoke.
When you think about it, closet smoking can limit your chance for a promotion. Now it doesn’t mean the management thinks your capability becomes tainted by nicotine. The point is—in the corporate battlefield—insider information, office secrets and management plans are actually being shared in the circle of smokers. Most especially, there is a camaraderie being established in between puffs.
So for closet smokers in the office, it takes pure talent and brains to get up the ladder since they are probably smoking somewhere hidden. As for me and the baby-faced admin assistant, we have taken refuge in the roof deck of the building to smoke, even if it means an average 2-minute wait for the elevator. Guess in a way, we’ve climbed greater heights than the IT and marketing guys smoking at the cafeteria balcony, eight floors down.
“…But Kay, you still smoke.”
The above are words uttered by me last night. I truly believe that we all have our vices; however, I never did understand the smoking thing. She tried to explain to me that she only really wanted to smoke when she drank. This made sense as when I drink I really want those cookies with the crushed figs in them. She explained to me about how there is a “cloud of smoke… comforting smoke… the fresh air…”
I have never in my life associated smoke with fresh air. Mind you, she had one cigarette last night, I had like eight of those cookies. I guess we all have our vices.
In the fall, when the air changed, we stepped through the wicket that separated the baseball field from the parking lot and tried to smoke cigarettes. Jeff had some of his father’s menthols, minty and dangerous. My first furtive pleasure, to pull smoke between my lips, filling my cheeks and blowing it out again, blue and wispy like exhaust from a school bus. Jeff and Dolly could inhale theirs without even coughing.
After math class, during the break between third and fourth periods, Dolly told me she wanted to smoke again and I followed her outside. She’d gotten her own cigarettes of the same brand as Jeff’s, and a lighter too, which she said hurt her thumb, so I worked it for her. Jeff found us there. He loosened his tie and lit up too.
One day the principal caught us. “I know what you’ve been up to,” he said. “Your personal lives have crossed a line and I have to speak up. The students have seen things. Reports have reached me of embraces in the hallway. Kissing… fondling.
Kissing? Fondling? I was confused. I hadn’t done anything like that. There must have been a mistake. I looked at Jeff and Dolly. Their faces were red.
“We’re sorry,” said Dolly. She glanced at Jeff, and something pulled at the corner of her lip and I could tell she was fighting not to laugh. Jeff said “sorry” as well, the lower part of his face buried in his hands so that only his eyes looked out, nicotine red and unmistakably mirthful.
I lost my taste for cigarettes after that. But from my classroom, when I stayed late to grade papers, I could see the two of them out there at the edge of the field, giggling and tickling each other in their dirty white plumes while their students chose wide and divergent paths around them.
I found this written on a boy’s room toilet stall: “Mr. Jeff conjugates with Ms. Dolly” I suspected it was true and that Jeff wrote it; who but an English teacher would use that word?
So I’m a teacher, which is why this site interests me. Back in the day, every teacher lounge in America was wafting gorgeous billows of gray beauty when instructors would enter or exit. Now, here I am attempting to make a name for myself as a professional, and something as insignificant as smoking can put me on blast. Rotten, I tell you! Here I am, nearly thirty and feeling as ashamed, for some silly reason, of coworkers getting wind of the fact that, yes, I smoke. Forbid any parent hearing! Lord, would I be busted.
I actually had a student and parent run into me at the mall while I was smoking. I had been very careful, up to this point, with my closet smoking making sure to smoke in my car, 5 miles away from work, etc. This particular incident was classic in that my grandmother had just passed away, and well, hell, I needed a cigarette. The parent nodded to me as I hid the evidence quickly behind me, but my student had already spied it.
A part of me knew that no self-respecting 8th grader could ever let incriminating news like this to be wasted. Sure enough, when the weekend had passed, and I was just getting into my routine, 7th period entered and a knowing grin slid into the back row. “Perfect!” I thought.
I’m sure I blocked out how I got myself into a conversation that somehow precipitated the “knowing” student to make the comment, “Ms. Hubbard smokes!” but I’ll never forget the humiliation and panic that ensued in my head.
“Do I contradict her? Do I lie? I promised myself never to lie to my students. Should I turn this into a class discussion about choices?” And as the questions zipped through my brain, another student saved the day.
My breath caught.
“Lots of people smoke,” the student continued matter-of-factly. I was stunned. Appreciative, but stunned. Why couldn’t that be my rationale?
Why can’t I still shake the guilt of smoking? Are we truly that indoctrinated to believe somehow what we’re doing is bad? It’s not bad. It’s a choice. And still, I’m so glad that I got married and my maiden name changed, so the story cannot follow me. It is truly frustrating, and I dream of those days when I could have walked into the teachers’ lounge getting what I wanted without even having to light up.
Like the blues and grays of the 1860’s, today we have Nanny State Nazi’s and Free Roaming Tobacconist.
For most the war is over, white flags are waved from every designated smoking area located 25 feet from where the winners walk into their smoke free buildings, safe from the aromatic cloud of the passionate freedom fighters.
They symbolically and literally look down at the small groups of resisters outside in the rain or cold, fighting to keep their tobacco powder dry, ready to shot a salvo of smoke as passerby’s whisper obscenities about them as they go about their day.
There will be no proclamation of emancipation for our free spirits, just further restrictions of our God given freedoms.
Yes, we hear them, talking as if we weren’t there, smug and above the cloud of free will, “They cost everyone in increased medical bills”, or “Ya know, smokers are almost always in a lower income and education bracket” and “I can’t breathe! Oh, I’m sooo allergic”.
These whiny bastards are poor winners. They’ve reduced our ranks to insignificant outlaws, but they are not happy with that. They mean to fulfill the “Final Option”, genocide of all smokers.
They start brainwashing our children, imposing laws restricting use and asking 30 year olds for ID when buying the articles of our passion.
Well, I stand boldly, Proudly in my designated smoking area, and proclaim “Not only do I look cool, but I feel great!
Keep your patches, pills and hypnotherapy for the weak minded traitors of all that is good and right, My fire burns brightly!
J Byron Swain
(Proudly written while enjoying the fragrant incense of my Winston’s, Endorsed by Ronald Reagan and Fred Flintstone)
One of the dilemmas of being a closet smoker is identifying one as a smoker. Let me explain. If someone has a glass of wine with dinner every day, we usually do not consider them a “drinker” or alcoholic. If someone eats a candy bar once a day, we usually do not label them an overeater or unhealthly eater. However, whether we have one cigarette a day or 2 packs of smokes a day, the title is given “smoker” and all the horrendous impacts of smoking along with it. Sure, there can be health benefits to drinking red wine and eating dark chocolate whereas with smoking, it is all unhealthy. At the same time, that one cigarette often times keeps me from harming others; only harming myself.
So, if I am able to have one cigarette in the morning before going to work and then I only have one cigarette in the evening prior to bed, is it okay to claim to be a non-smoker for the job? Does it compromise my integrity by claiming to be a non-smoker when I do smoke. I just don’t let anyone know I smoke. Out of sight, out of mind? Don’t ask, don’t tell? Application of these phrases may work for the moment, but it does not necessarily resolve the bigger problem.
The problem of smokers being singled out. I can understand if the requirement was to not smell like a smoker. Can do. What cooks my goose is the lack of attention to other vices that may cause more serious damage in the job to a company than my 2 cigarettes a day. I can be loaded with prescription drugs or boozed up beating on my kids at night or gambling away my paycheck or grabbing McDonalds for lunch and no one blinks. I am not positioning myself to say that being a smoker is a better vice than any of the others. It isn’t. Let’s just have some perspective.
I do smoke, but I am not a smoker or am I?
Tags: anti-smoking, discrimination, Smoking
For a lot of closet smokers, the fear of being outed is directly correlated with society’s feelings about cigarettes. But why should smokers feel concern over the perception of others? It seems akin to someone being afraid of eating their new KFC Double Down “sandwich” in public because others were going to know the extreme duress they chose to place upon their arteries. The fact of the matter is this: while many Americans drown their sorrow, stress, or simply entertain themselves with copious amounts of cholesterol and alcohol, smokers are faced with a completely different conundrum.
A social stigma is beginning to form around the act of smoking. People don’t just view the use of tobacco as bad for your health, they also see it as a sign of a bad person. It’s amazing how quickly this has taken place, and in many ways seems to be part of the “creative” anti-smoking PSA’s of the 00’s. We saw a very conscious decision from the powers that be to change the focus of such ads from the personal message of living a healthy lifestyle to the cultivation of a shared social attitude towards smokers. Though many would argue the idea was to scare kids straight, think of what kind of an impression the tag-line, “If you smoke, you stink” leaves on a pliable mind. Yes, they may never smoke. This is good. However, this attitude will be devoid of information and full of discrimination.
In a popular Washington State anti-smoking ad, we saw the term “cold turkey” taken to a disgusting level. In this series of ads, a dirty looking decapitated and plucked turkey was shown with a cigarette hanging out of its neck. It’s disturbing, not only in its complete lack of taste but also in its projected perception of how smoking makes one appear.
Below is an ad showing how smoking makes you a degenerate… literally. People that smoke must be less than a fully evolved humanoid.
In what might be the most disturbing of all ads, this illustrates the deadly toxins in cigarette smoke by showing the silouhette of a cigarette form a gun. Though a cigarette is deadly, it hardly seems fair to conjure this image. Guns are generally seen as a weapon of malice, and to put a figurative one in the hand of a smoker is to create an image association that is just begging to form into a stereotype.
I support anti-smoking PSA’s that inform the general public of the dangers of smoking. However, I do not support the demonization of a human that makes informed choices about their life that do not alter my own well being. With more and more areas of the United States passing anti-smoking legislation, it is becoming harder to subject any unwilling participant to your plume of smoke. Once that base is completely covered, all that will be left is to cultivate an attitude of hatred towards those that smoke. Perhaps this is why we are closet smokers.
If you had asked me to light up when I was in High School I would have thrown your pack straight into the closest dumpster. I was clean, athletic and very conscious of what I put into my body. Now here I am ten years later, hiding my habit from the person I love the most. He doesn’t deserve to be lied to, especially for five years. It is the one constant reason I try time and again to stop smoking. I know it’s bad for me. Can people stop telling me this like it’s news to me? I and every other smoker out there knows about the risks of smoking, but somehow that doesn’t seem to phase me.
I’m not proud of being a closet smoker and have so many tricks up my sleeve to hide the smell, the half-empty pack and neon lighter, not to mention the continuous, random excuses I come up with to have that extra 10 minutes to sneak behind the office or ‘go for a walk to stretch my legs’ when my other half is around. I smoke mostly in my car but have tricks a-plenty for keeping it odor free (including Febreze and opening a window just so and turning on the AC to a certain setting to keep the smoke from swirling all over my car). Oh, what lengths we go to for our beloved smoke.
I’ve tried quitting, just like most every other smoker. They say seven times is the average. I’m well past that mark. No matter how many times it’s out of my system, I go back regardless of the ‘physical addiction’. Cessation products only help you get rid of the physical need, not the emotional one. Why do we do it? Because we want to. Not because it’s good for us (we’ve heard it all) and not because it’s socially acceptable (we’ve all had the sneers – someone even spit on me once). We’re human. We want. We need. We’re imperfect (and at times smelly). But we are just being ourselves, regardless of our hidden addictions.
There is a sizable cross section of the United States that knows Bruce Springsteen simply as “The Boss”. I’ve never truly understood this, as Springsteen seems like the type of artist that rails against any notion of a boss. Tracks like “Born to Run” and “Born in the USA” are all about the down and out; the tramps and the disenfranchised. If anything, it would seem that we’d call him “Comeback Kid” or “Usher of the Underdog”. I guess none of those are really as catchy as “The Boss”. Whatever he’s called, he will always be intrinsically connected to my first cigarette, and as such I often think of him as “The Marlboro Man”.
In a post 9/11 American high school, the logistics of puberty became confused. Not only was I dealing with volcanic acne and raging non- sequitur erections, but we now had a new variable: patriotism. Wearing a Gap branded American flag had become a fashion statement, espousing some vindictive country music slogan was the rally cry, and not participating in this orgy porgy of “These Colors Don’t Run”isms branded you as the worst possible caricature of a John Hughes character: the outsider.
So I was cast out from the epicenter of social life. My Friday nights became endless strips of gravel, myself and a few war worn peers would pack my Honda Civic and aimlessly wander through the highways of Central Florida. Under Blood Orange skies we’d talk about it all: girls, war, growing up. It was a mobile Breakfast Club. We blared rock and roll with the windows down, the wind whipping round the car with an electric humidity.
On one such ride, my friend on the passenger side slipped a non descript CD-R into the stereo. What began blasting from the speakers was the crisp, defiant snare hits of the intro to “Born in the USA”. Then he handed me a cigarette. A slow motion smile crept across my face. I knew this was it. I lit it and watched the cherry glow in the dark. “The first hit I took was when I hit the ground.”