I am sitting on a roof smoking a cigarette. This is important to note now because this is an article in defense of smoking.
Setting aside all arguments that smoking is a terrible habit (it is) and that it makes your clothes smell (it does), I find myself wishing that smokers were not the social pariahs that we have become.
Consider first a romantic argument: without tobacco, much of literature as we know it would fail to exist. The great writers of each century - especially the 20th - used smoking as a plot device that gave their characters depth and humanity in a relatively simple way. James Bond, in the Ian Fleming writings, smokes after breakfast, after lunch and after dinner. He smokes when he sees a pretty woman, he smokes after sex and he smokes … well, he smokes pretty much whenever the mood strikes him.
Perhaps then we move to Hans Landa, the Nazi SS agent in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. "These cigarettes are not French," he said. "They are German." Immediately a new character point is established: He holds the French in disdain and the Germans in high regard. Obviously - the man is a Nazi, after all. Cigarettes as a plot device are not to be discounted.
The effect of smoking on the men and women who created the characters is not to be discounted either. Fleming wrote on his deathbed that his only regret was that he "always drank and smoked and loved too much." Oscar Wilde was rarely - if ever - seen without a cigarette dangling from his lips and Mark Twain, the American Bard himself, famously stated, "It has always been my rule never to smoke while asleep, and never to refrain when awake."
The plain facts are these: Smoking is terrible for you. Lung cancer, heart disease, cancers of the throat and esophagus; all these await the dedicated nicotine addict. But, and this is a big "but" in my mind, tobacco's benefits to society have been significant and continue to be.
"What benefits?" you may wonder. Well, let's go on a journey, a journey to Sugarcreek on the corner of Main Street. There, the reader will find a plethora of cigarettes. The most popular brand in the United States is Marlboro, so we'll consider the price of those: For one "pack of Marbs," as the parlance goes, one can expect to pay in excess of $10. This is in the wake of a sharp tax increase by the New York state government, which nets $4.35 per pack according to The New York Times. If a person smokes a pack a day, that's a revenue of $1587.75 per smoker per year, or about $440 million to the state per fiscal year. Taken in that context, smoking seems downright civic.
Essentially, the idea is that smoking is bad for you, so don't do it. Don't, however, treat smokers as the lepers of society; some of the greatest literary minds of the last two hundred years have been avid and heavy users of tobacco and we (smokers, that is) continue to generate enormous revenue for the government. Smoking is an adult choice and, in the end, has yielded gains to society than cannot, and should not, be discounted.