Mind If I Stink?

How did smoking ever become accepted in the first place?

Image: blog_smoking

If someone went into a restaurant and started burning incense, everyone would throw a fit and ask the person to stop or leave.

Wear too much perfume or cologne, and people think you lack taste. Don't wash your clothes often enough, people start to avoid you.

Whenever a person says to me, "Do you mind if I smoke?" what I hear is "Do you mind if I stink?" If they literally asked the latter, almost everyone, everywhere would always say no. Of course I don't want you to fucking stink! Why the hell do you even need to ask?

But it's totally accepted as a question, and in some situations it's even assumed that people will be smoking.

And when you think about it, that's weird.

Right off, know that I, personally, don't give the slightest shit if you're going to die of cancer. I don't care if you get addicted to cigarettes, and I don't care what it's doing to your lungs. You do what you want to your body.

I'm not even all that bothered by the health implications of second hand smoke, which, so far as I know, are overblown anyway.

There is one reason, and one reason only, why I don't want you smoking beside me at a restaurant, club, or wherever.

It fucking stinks, and it makes me stink too.

I never questioned smoking myself until I came home from a night club in Vancouver, where smoking is banned in most restaurants and bars, and my clothes still smelled basically okay. I was literally baffled as I smelled my shirt and thought "But... I just came home from a night of dancing..." It was my expectation that I should stink because of other people's habits.

How did smoking slip under the radar to where people just took it for granted that this one particular smell was okay to impose on others?

I can only imagine it's because when tobacco was introduced to European culture in the 1500s through explorers returning from "the New World," people already smelled really bad as a matter of course, so one new smell probably didn't really stand out.

I looked up bathing practises, and it's a bit of a mixed bag. In Germany, for example, there are records of men bathing daily, but given the difficulties of transporting water in a world without plumbing, it seems more reserved for the aristocracy.

For the average Joe, there was a law insisting that people bathe at least once a week. If there's a law, it means that at some point people weren't doing it and it got bad enough that others wanted to do something about it.

In other places across Europe, bathing fell out of favour after the plagues, because it was thought that opening the pores of the skin made one more susceptible to disease.

Some sources say that people might go weeks or months between baths, partly because of the hassle of transporting water, especially during winter.

Even if the aristocrats were bathing, though, it was more for the pleasure than the cleanliness. This is before the concept of hygene and bacteria was understood, so no one was using loofahs to get a real deep down clean.

As far as handling smells go, they put oils, vinegars, and herbs in their baths, presumably to cover up what they couldn't wash up. Soap existed, but it wasn't standard, and not of the quality and effectiveness of today.

And then there's clothing and the environment. There were no vacuum cleaners, washing machines, and ventilation systems. Nothing back in those days was washed with the same frequency as today, and nowhere near the intensity, so there was a lot of ambient smell.

Hell, people threw raw, untreated sewage into the streets in most towns and villages, because this was long before toilets and plumbing made human waste a reality nicely hidden away by modern convenience.

In short, when smoking was being introduced into society, it was a horrifically smelly place already. Given a choice between raw sewage and a bit of pipe tobacco, I think I might choose the one that leaves me smelling like an ashtray and not a toilet.

For a couple hundred years smoking wouldn't have differentiated itself from daily life by the fact that it smells so much. And as society found more ways to aggressively clean ourselves, our possessions, and our environment, tobacco held on because by that time it was widespread and addictive enough, and the change in society gradual enough, that it maintained a position of assumed normalcy.

Well, shit has changed man. If you are smoking, you fucking stink. You stink as bad or worse than incense, too much perfume, or not having bathed, or anything else that would make people around you go "whoah, dude, time to sanitize."

Which is why I kind of laugh when smokers complain about being forced out onto the balcony of their office, or into a special section of the restaurant. If you were farting to that degree of smelling, I'd hope you'd have the common decency of heading outside on your own volition.

Smoking has all sorts of other reasons why it might not be a good thing for society. The long term medical costs, the staining it does on skin and materials, the addictive nature.

But for me, I can promise you that if someone invents a cigarette where the smoke dissipates instantaneously so that it can't be smelled or attach itself to me or my clothes, then smokers have my complete blessing to commit to whatever long term suicide plan they enjoy the most.

Until that invention comes along, though, smoking is no longer just an optional thing to do in one section of the restaurant. For the same reason, as a friend once said to me, that we don't have a pissing section in a swimming pool.

The new default is to not stink.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.