Commentary | Smoking and superiority

Smoking is an addiction and smokers should be left alone

As a new arrival at McGill, and a pack-a-day smoker since the age of 19, I was disappointed to discover when I got here that the Redpath Terrace had been declared a non-smoking area before I even arrived. I then got over it pretty quickly, because I completely understand the logic, and have more pressing things to think about right now. But in some of the printed commentary I’ve read on the subject, and in talking to a few people, I’ve discovered that there are people on campus who don’t think this has gone far enough. There are people and organizations who want to ban smoking on McGill’s campus full stop, after the fashion of Michael Bloomberg’s New York City, or Singapore, or other wonderful, democratic places around the world where the 99 per cent live in peace and smoke-free harmony.

This is stupid, and completely risible given the sometimes-whopping hypocrisy of some of the people who think that would be a good idea.

If disincentives and criminalization aren’t working for marijuana, why then are they going to work for tobacco?

I started smoking at age 17 because sometimes in life we make stupid, misguided decisions that we later regret, and because it was as good an excuse as any to duck out of crowded bars to actually have a conversation with someone interesting. I keep smoking now because nicotine is a cruel, dark, jealous taskmaster and because I haven’t yet succeeded in giving my addiction the finger.

There are already lots of restrictions on when and where I’m allowed to indulge my filthy habit. I can’t smoke on public transport, in bars or restaurants, or in hospitals next to incubators. This is fine. I get that, and I think most other smokers do too. Because the inconvenience we suffer having to duck outside in mid-January weather or suffering through a long bus ride pales in comparison to yours when you have to breathe our noxious fumes and kick away our stinking butts in order to have a coffee, go home for the weekend, or in this case, get into your library to study. I have no quarrel with any of this.

But you can leave us the street. In fact, if you value public ownership of public space, and basic human decency, you don’t really have a choice about it. Because streets are public space. And if they’re legitimate places to stage a protest, pitch a tent city, display an art show, or have a concert, then they’re legitimate places for me to light a cigarette. If you don’t like it, you are completely free to cross the street.

If you value public ownership of public space, and basic human decency, you don’t really have a choice about [smoking outdoors]. Because streets are public space.

Amusingly, many of the people who want to ban smoking full stop are often also people who support individual rights, or think the war on drugs is stupid. I also think all of those things. But the difference between someone who thinks that jail is the best place for people with drug addiction, and someone who thinks smokers should all just quit, isn’t that large. To these people: if disincentives and criminalization aren’t working for marijuana, why then are they going to work for tobacco?

I’m not trying to trivialize the public health risk that tobacco poses. I’m intimately familiar with it. I want to quit smoking, and then help others do the same thing. I’m not ever going to smoke on the Redpath Terrace, because that decision has been made, and I respect it.

But please leave me and my smoking friends alone now. You’re better than us. We get it. But your smug sense of moral superiority doesn’t give you the right to tell us how to lead our lives. Let’s just leave well enough alone, shall we?


Nicholas Pullen is a Masters student in History. To contact the writer, please email commentary@mcgilldaily.com.


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