Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Smokers at work

A year ago, at my office, we were down to having only one employee in the whole department that smoked. Then we had a few people leave and a few new hires, and now we're back up to four, out of about thirty people. This feels like a big disappointment, a step back, and there's a perfectly rational reason to think so: the odds of having someone making the doorways stink, or smelling like an ashtray as they walk down the hall, are much higher now.

But I've noted some kind of irrational pattern to my thoughts, too. I realize that, unjustifiably, I had this sense that if we could just get the smoker population down to zero, then we'd be able to stay there. It's as if I was thinking of it as some kind of ecology, where once there's no trace of an infectious agent anymore, there's no vectors by which it can reassert itself. Or as if, once we got rid of the last smoker, we could then get rid of all the ashtray-pillars and then we wouldn't have to hire any new ones (or they wouldn't want to work here).

In fact, in that same irrational way, I suppose I resented that last smoker even more than he deserved because of the sense somewhere in my mind that he was preventing us from being finally and forever free of it. (But he deserved a lot of resentment. He's a very insensitive smoker, prone to taking a final puff just before coming in and then exhaling it inside, totally oblivious to how much stench clings to his clothes, and tending to smoke under the windows of those most sensitive to the smoke as perhaps an act of willful defiance.)

I have a lot of irrationalities behind my dislike of smoking. For instance, if I see a woman who is totally sexy, even given that I'm seeing her in some context where her smoking is wholly irrelevant -- such as, she's walking by on the road and I'll never see her again, or even, I'm just seeing her on a TV show -- the fact that she's smoking completely neutralizes everything else and she's not sexy even to look at anymore. On some level, believing that people smoke is like an act of suspension of disbelief for me: I see it all around me but on some level I keep thinking of it as a fictional premise you just have to accept because it makes no sense. If someone told me that people weren't really smoking but just keeping up the pretense for some reason, I wouldn't exactly believe it, but compared to most patently absurd statements it would seem strangely compelling.

It almost makes more sense than the idea that so many people are burning money they can't afford to spend, on a health-destroying toxin that ruins their senses of smell and taste, and makes them have to huddle in doorways in the rain and snow to get it, all for something that smells awful and offers less of a high than much more benign things. I understand there's an addiction, but I have a hard time understanding what can get someone past all the screamingly evident awfulnesses you have to get past before you can have done it enough to get addicted. I'm sure that that's being an insensitive, closed-minded clod, and I can't help it. I just can't take any of the explanations I've heard as being plausible. It's irrational, I know.

1 comment:

litlfrog said...

I think in today's world, smoking is almost completely explained by the invincible dumbness of teenagers. Recent brain research has confirmed that the parts of human brains that understand long-term consequences aren't well-formed until around 20 years old. VERY few adults take up smoking, because they do know better. By the time someone wants to quit, the addiction is well formed.