Widgets Magazine


In defense of tobacco

In our October 4 issue, The Daily published an opinions piece arguing that Stanford — the healthy, glowing bubble of super grains, carrot sticks and organic low-calorie farm-to-table vodkas — ran afoul of the Santa Clara Public Health Department. For being the only university in the county to allow the sale of tobacco products on campus, the Farm received an F.

That’s right, the Farm receiving a big fat flaming F. F for Fumes. Or Fuming Mad, as it were, given the disgruntled reactions of many an incredulous Weekender reader, who felt that surely an institution of Stanford’s academic stature would be familiar enough with the dangers of tobacco to disallow the sale of such toxic substances on its hallowed grounds.

Indeed, out here on the West Coast, we have come to view tobacco as the spawn of the devil. Maybe it’s the health-freak streak that has been bred into our blood, or maybe it’s the rebelliously alternative strain that we inherited from our hippie forebears, but it has become our second nature to decry the cigarette in favor of other (purportedly healthier) narcotics like marijuana. In hip-hop queen Kelis’ words, “it’s the bitch we all love to hate”; in other words, it’s the Gwyneth Paltrow of the Recreational Drug World.

But does smoking really deserve to be kicked in its cigarette butt?

Sure, it does have a ton of awful chemicals that companies throw in to get you addicted. And the smoke and mirrors put up to market tobacco as trendy and upbeat are supremely manipulative. And you are statistically more likely to die a slow, painful death at an earlier age than if you didn’t indulge in it.

But if it feels like you’ve heard this all before, it’s because you have. See also: 6 pc. Chicken McNuggets.

Smoking seems to have been inordinately demonized in contemporary Californian culture, and in the cosmic toss-up that includes such noxious substances as fast food, alcohol and that 16-ounce can of Monster, we have somehow decided that tobacco provides the poorest pleasure-to-pain ratio.

I’m not saying that it’s good for you, or that it isn’t that bad for you or any other line of doomed argument. I’m not even going to take the whole smoking-reduces-your-risk-of-Parkinson’s approach (because, let’s be real, obviously lying six feet under is going to significantly decrease your risk of wobbly hands).

And while I could argue that, as in many other cultures around the world, tobacco has a very significant social and ritual function amongst its partakers, I’ll take the angle most befitting of this column — that of the Epicurean.

Because, behind all the huffing and puffing over the medical implications of smoking, there is something to be said for the appreciation of tobacco’s remarkably complex flavors. Society may have decided that it provides the least gratification vis-à-vis its health detriments, but it’d prove truly naïve to entirely ignore what enjoyment it can give us.

Cigarettes — by far the most common and condemned of tobacco products — were a Flapper Girl favourite, after all, partially because it allowed her previously repressed self to fully claim her belle garçonne identity, but mostly because its toasted, earthy flavor could be enjoyed at any time of the day, and (in those days) anywhere she went. A Roaring Twenties chewing gum, if you will. And as choking as second-hand cigarette smoke is, in an ingenious sybaritic sleight of hand, the smoker somehow tastes none of its gag-inducing qualities.

And then there are the cigars. Like a finely aged Sauternes wine or a carefully matured Époisses de Bourgogne cheese, a cigar presents a rich interplay of complex flavors, the glimmering ring of fire producing an hours-long dégustation. From nutty and creamy to hints of chocolate and coffee, it does not take a pretentious connoisseur to be able to savor a delicious cigar. Its reliably luxurious depth, in fact, makes it the perfect postprandial accompaniment to a peaty Scotch whisky, a cognac or a syrupy dark rum.

Granted, the most prestigious cigars are incredibly difficult to procure in America due to their Cuban provenance — someone I know once arranged to purchase a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 cigar in a shady Palo Alto back alley, crack-deal style. But Guatemalan, Puerto Rican and Honduran cigars are equally exquisite, and most certainly worth the effort of tracking down. After all, “a good cigar,” as Liszt once famously said, “closes the door to the vulgarities of the world.” And what do generations of Stanford’s music students have to thank for Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, if not for the fact that tobacco was tasty enough for Christopher Columbus to bring it back with him to Europe?

So here we are, stranded at the not-unfamiliar crossroads between a prudent rock and an indulgent hard place. Which road should you take, you ask?

For me, you see, the answer to that question is clear: As a non-smoker, I often take a stance against tobacco that is cemented by our unfamiliarity with its flavors. But perhaps it would be more productive to give credit where credit is due, acknowledge the gustatory motivations for smoking and withhold from vilifying a drug that is only as morally objectionable as Ronald McDonald’s tasty treats.

Or — as they say — take a chill pill, and pass the peace pipe.

  • Critical reader

    It looks like you addressed all the easy criticisms, but completely left out the part where secondhand smoke affects the people around the smoker. I don’t think McNuggets affect the health of the people around the person eating them.

  • don’t toss cigs at strawmen

    Renjie, you might wikipedia Epicurus. Turns out he had a lot to say about the relationships between laws, freedom, happiness, and harm. I think the true Epicurean would favor smoke shops selling fair-trade organic tobacco and general bans on smoking in crowded public places.

  • Chris

    That would be a problem if it’s a problem. You have to be 30ft from a building so the smoke dissapates. In all my years smoking here no one has ever lodged a complaint. If they had, I would’ve gladly taken a few steps away.

  • nisakiman

    “…the part where secondhand smoke affects the people around the smoker.”

    ‘Second-hand smoke’, as it’s called only affects bystanders insofar as they might not like the smell. All the myths of harm from SHS are just that – myths disseminated by a mendacious Anti-Tobacco zealotry with an “end justifies the means” ethos. There is not a shred of scientific evidence to support their outrageous claims.

    “The overall ‘scientific consensus’ on ETS ‘harm’ suggested by the
    anti-smoker industry, depending upon which studies are included/
    excluded from analysis, concludes that ETS raises risk of ill health.
    There are various ‘consensus’ figures suggested, eg RR’s of 1.16, 1.21,
    1.33, equating to between 16% and 33% increased risk (there may be
    others). To the layman, this may look like damning evidence, but it
    indicates ‘increased risk’ NOT ‘actual risk’ and many do not understand
    the difference. A simple analogy explains the principle; If you buy one
    lottery ticket, your chance (risk) of winning the jackpot is ‘X’, if you
    then buy another you increase your chances (raised risk) of winning by
    100%. The chance (‘actual risk’) of winning is somewhat different. Even
    If we accept these anti-smoker figures as definitive, the actual risk is

    For perspective It is worthwhile to make comparisons with other ‘health risks’ ;

    Butter: RR 1.44 (CI 1.16, 1.80) – 44% increased risk

    Eggs: RR 1.53 (CI 1.02, 2.31) – 53% increased risk

    Liver: RR 1.68 (CI 1.29, 2.19) – 68% increased risk

    Whole Milk: significant increase in risk up to RR 2.64 – 164% increased risk”

    You can read the whole article here:


    which includes links to tables of all the major studies that have been done on the subject.

    It’s well past time that a little commonsense was brought to bear on the subject.

  • harleyrider1989

    This pretty well destroys the Myth of second hand smoke:


    Lungs from pack-a-day smokers safe for transplant, study finds.

    By JoNel Aleccia, Staff Writer, NBC News.

    Using lung transplants from heavy smokers may sound like a cruel joke, but a new study finds that organs taken from people who puffed a pack a day for more than 20 years are likely safe.

    What’s more, the analysis of lung transplant data from the U.S. between 2005 and 2011 confirms what transplant experts say they already know: For some patients on a crowded organ waiting list, lungs from smokers are better than none.

    “I think people are grateful just to have a shot at getting lungs,” said Dr. Sharven Taghavi, a cardiovascular surgical resident at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, who led the new study………………………

    Ive done the math here and this is how it works out with second ahnd smoke and people inhaling it!

    The 16 cities study conducted by the U.S. DEPT OF ENERGY and later by Oakridge National laboratories discovered:

    Cigarette smoke, bartenders annual exposure to smoke rises, at most, to the equivalent of 6 cigarettes/year.


    A bartender would have to work in second hand smoke for 2433 years to get an equivalent dose.

    Then the average non-smoker in a ventilated restaurant for an hour would have to go back and forth each day for 119,000 years to get an equivalent 20 years of smoking a pack a day! Pretty well impossible ehh!


    According to independent Public and Health Policy Research group, Littlewood & Fennel of Austin, Tx, on the subject of secondhand smoke……..

    They did the figures for what it takes to meet all of OSHA’S minimum PEL’S on shs/ets…….Did it ever set the debate on fire.

    They concluded that:

    All this is in a small sealed room 9×20 and must occur in ONE HOUR.

    For Benzo[a]pyrene, 222,000 cigarettes.

    “For Acetone, 118,000 cigarettes.

    “Toluene would require 50,000 packs of simultaneously smoldering cigarettes.

    Acetaldehyde or Hydrazine, more than 14,000 smokers would need to light up.

    “For Hydroquinone, “only” 1250 cigarettes.

    For arsenic 2 million 500,000 smokers at one time.

    The same number of cigarettes required for the other so called chemicals in shs/ets will have the same outcomes.

    So, OSHA finally makes a statement on shs/ets :

    Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)…It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded.” -Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Sec’y, OSHA.

  • What a load of nonsense.

  • Deb

    Maybe since secondhand smoke is a myth, people should mind their own business about other people’s choices in life. Also, since someone who smokes might pass away at 80 or thereabouts instead of 90 or thereabouts, family members who are the most insensitive denying sometimes the smokers or drinkers on their deathbeds one of their last requests and strangers should mind their own business. Also, non smokers should be encouraging people who want to quit to try the e-cigarettes instead of the failure which is the drugs and nicotine products.