Counterpoint: Condemning smokers is hypocritical

by Sydney Ribot | 11/7/08 4:41am

Dartmouth students are notorious for letting their "vices" meander into casual conversation. As long as they do not venture into "self-call" territory, nonchalant mentions of unprotected (or simply promiscuous) sex, binge-drinking, drugs and, for the less adventurous, procrastination, mean bonus points in the Dartmouth social arena. Or -- dare I say it -- at any American college.

And while some listeners might shake their heads, no one condemns them outright. Instead, these alternative illegal or unsafe pastimes retain the power of status elevation in a world where the less work you seem to be doing, the cooler you are. In a world nostalgic for the sexism of the early 20th century (as evidenced by the raging success of Mad Men, or the prevalence of fraternities), it might seem ironic that people do not endorse what was once an equally ubiquitous artifact of that era -- smoking.

Those who do not dwell in smoker-friendly spaces like BG or Panarchy often feel compelled to inform their cigarette-toting peers that they are doing something seriously wrong. Some indignant smokers are wont to consider such unsolicited recommendations hypocritical. For example, that athlete waving his hand in front of his face as he walks through the doorway where I'm just trying to enjoy a smoke? He drank so much last night he had to be Good Sam'd. And my friend who always tells me smoking is bad for me just contracted chlamydia.

Although smoking is technically not a vice -- it is not very depraved or immoral and is no longer "degrading" in mixed company -- it is a public health concern. Smoking may have escaped the health-focused scrutiny of '80s jazzercise fanatics, but so did the detriments of peroxide blonde hair-crimping and tanning oil. Unlike the other "vices," smoking's effects are not limited to the individual enjoying the buzz of a cigarette. While bystanders will not necessarily garner the lines around one's mouth that mark the seasoned smoker, they are privy to less-visible cumulative effects of second-hand smoke, like the increased risk of lung cancer.

The hygienic concerns of foam parties aside, I cannot think of a social situation in which a person might actually contract all the nasty from another person without engaging in direct sexual activity. Despite the strong suspicions voiced by my mother while I was in high school, no one actually gets drunk from being around people who are drinking. More importantly, one's chances of developing cirrhosis of the liver are not increased by watching one's friends become so inebriated they deliberately eat EBA's.

Yes, if you are unfortunate enough to run into a determined procrastinator, you may be forced by notions of politeness to smile and surreptitiously check your watch through the deluge of unwanted utterances spewing from his mouth. You may be affected by someone else's imprudent decision-making. But the long-standing effects are minimal. On the other hand, procrastination also does not communicate quite the level of cool that cigarette-smoking, detached random sexual activity or effortless binge-drinking and physique maintenance might.

With the exception of your average Novack-dwelling homework procrastinator, participants in the other aforementioned "vices" will not burden innocent bystanders with the effects of their bad decisions. What this tells us is not that Dartmouth's more lung-health-conscious are hypocritical. Much like the secret daily trips to the gym made by "effortlessly fit," "ragey" individuals, condemning smoking merely undermines the image many try to project of not being high-strung, type-A individuals. Cigarette condemnation is that Jenga piece whose extraction makes the whole facade of nonchalance fall to the ground. The jig is up, Dartmouth: It turns out we're not hypocritical. We're just not that cool.