By Saamir Askari
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
It slips effortlessly between your fingers, and as you light it up with the easy flick of a lighter, a robust flavour greets your tongue followed by a prevailing sense of calm. It soothes you; it caresses you; yet everyone views your healthy relationship with a look of contempt.
Cigarettes – lifelines in a box. Cigarettes – sticks of vitality. One only needs to spend a day at Delhi University to realize the importance of tobacco. Burdened with a heavy load of coursework, almost every student has a pack to his claim. Some even base their cliques on the brand they prefer. It is a booming market with consumers who just can’t seem to get enough of the product. So then why is the Health Minister Mr. Vardhan keen on curbing the practice?
Dear reader, if you’ve made it so far (for which I congratulate your perseverance), you may think I’m bonkers. Let me point out that I agree with you. It only takes someone with a mental imbalance to advocate for something that is widely and wildly opposed to. Every Tom, Dick and Ramesh claims that smoking is a bane for society, that it causes diseases and is a menace to the public. What they do forget however, is some of the health and social benefits to smoking and consuming tobacco, some of which I shall enumerate below. Bear with me for these may seem unconventional (you’ve made it so far, why would you want to stop now?).
With the advent of modern advertising in the 1920s, cigarettes were proposed as fashionable and in trend, something that became glamorous with the turn of the century. In fact, today’s manly cigarette Marlboro, advertised itself in those days as a ‘woman’s cigarette’. Marlboro launched a campaign targeting women, claiming their cigarettes kept their customers’ weight in check. This turned out to be scientifically valid, as nicotine acts as an appetite suppressant. The act of smoking leads to behavioural modifications that make one snack less. Nicotine figures in this by acting on the hypothalamus of the brain. Furthermore, smoking changes the taste of food for many smokers, which also contributes to the lack of appetite.
Smoking, crazily enough, also reduces the chances of death after some heart attacks. You read that right. Compared with non-smokers, smokers who have had heart attacks seem to have lower mortality rates and more favorable responses to two kinds of therapy to remove plaque from their arteries: fibrinolytic therapy, which is basically medication; and angioplasty, which removes the plaque by inserting balloons or stents into the arteries.
There are also diseases one can cope with by lighting up. Being a long-term smoker, as proved by Harvard researchers in 2007, can lower the risk of Parkinson’s. Also, schizophrenics are often advised to smoke in an effort to self-meditate.
Which brings me to nicotine as a therapeutic. For most of us here at Delhi University, smoking is the best way to cope with the pressures of academics. Lighting up with a friend (or a teacher too!) is everyone’s favourite past time between classes. And there’s science to back up this claim too. Once it passes through the blood, nicotine helps in releasing beta-endorphins in the body, which in turn give that wave of calm many of us crave at the end of a long day. As you slowly exhale, a sense of relaxation just creeps upon you – a sensation I personally haven’t felt in any therapy I’ve been to. A spa day, or a pack of cigarettes? I know which one I’m going for.
Lastly, cigarettes have entrenched themselves as part of our society. Conversations that shook the world always took place around an ashtray. Just ask any of the 20th Century personalities who’ve changed the world they lived in. Hemingway for one, gauged his company’s value by the way they smoked!
Even today, cigarettes are what we are bound by. Bumming a smoke from someone originates from an awkward conversation – a conversation which simmers and later boils into an acquaintance. However prisoners have one over us university students – they use cigarettes as a medium of exchange!
Smoking isn’t all that bad. I agree with the conventional notion that it does after all, lead to some health complications. But banning or making it unaffordable for those who are hooked on to it isn’t the way to go. Making someone quit cold turkey is hazardous for his health, more than smoking in the first place! Besides, do we really live in the past, to have the state tell us what to do?
Saamir is a student of Economics at Hindu College, Delhi University. He is a writer across various platforms, most noticeably as a playwright. Apart from having a keen interest in the political and economic affairs of the country, he spends most of his time either in a cold, dark room writing; or on a hot, vast track running. He can be contacted either via his blog (fosterthepapayas.tumblr.com), or through his email (firstname.lastname@example.org).