This is one of the first facts we discovered when we asked several hundred people, from all walks of life, why they liked to smoke cigarettes. Smoking is as much a psychological pleasure as it is a physiological satisfaction. As one of our respondents explained: “It is not the taste that counts. It’s that sense of satisfaction you get from a cigarette that you can’t get from anything else.”
Smoking is Fun
What is the nature of this psychological pleasure? It can be traced to the universal desire for self-expression. None of us ever completely outgrows his childhood. We are constantly hunting for the carefree enjoyment we knew as children. As we grew older, we had to subordinate our pleasures to work and to the necessity for unceasing effort. Smoking, for many of us, then, became a substitute for our early habit of following the whims of the moment; it becomes a legitimate excuse for interrupting work and snatching a moment of pleasure. “You sometimes get tired of working intensely,” said an accountant whom we interviewed, “and if you sit back for the length of a cigarette, you feel much fresher afterwards. It’s a peculiar thing, but I wouldn’t think of just sitting back without a cigarette. I guess a cigarette somehow gives me a good excuse.”
Smoking is Oral Pleasure
As we have said, to explain the pleasure derived from smoking as taste experience alone, is not sufficient. For one thing, such an explanation leaves out the powerful erotic sensitivity of the oral zone. Oral pleasure is just as fundamental as sexuality and hunger. The satisfied expression on a smoker’s face when he inhales the smoke is ample proof of his sensuous thrill. The immense power of the yearning for a cigarette, especially after an enforced abstinence, is acknowledged by habitual smokers. One of our respondents said: “When you don’t get a cigarette for a long time and you are kind of on pins, the first drag goes right down to your heels.”
“With a Cigarette I Am Not Alone”
Frequently, our respondents remarked that smoking cigarettes is like being with a friend. Said one, “When I lean back and light my cigarette and see the glow in the dark, I am not alone any more….” In one sense, a cigarette seems to be something alive. The companionable character of cigarettes is also reflected in the fact that they help us make friends. In many ways, smoking has the same effect drinking has. It helps to break down social barriers. Two smokers out on a date light up a cigarette as soon as they get into their car. “It’s just the right start for an evening,” they say. Immediately they feel at ease, for they have found an interest they both share.
“I Like to Watch the Smoke”
In mythology and religion, smoke is full of meaning. Its floating intangibility and unreal character have made it possible for imaginative man to see therein mystery and magic. Even for us moderns, smoke has a strong fascination. To the cigarette smoker, the clouds he puffs out seem to represent a part of himself. Just as most people like to watch their own breath on cold winter days, so they like to watch cigarette smoke, which similarly makes ones breathe visible. This explains the emotional attitudes of many toward smoke. “Smoke is fascinating,” said one of the people we interviewed. “I like to watch the smoke. On a rainy day, I sort of lie in a haze in the middle of the room and let my thoughts wander while I smoke and wonder where the smoke goes.”
Usually the way we smoke is characteristic of our whole personality. The mannerisms of smokers are innumerable. Some people always have cigarettes drooping from their mouths. Others let the cigarette jump up and down in their mouths while they are talking. Men sometimes complain about the way women smoke: “A lot of women blow out the smoke with a gust of wind, right into your face. They just puff it at you.” Some men, when they want to appear to be aggressive, hold their cigarettes with thumb and forefinger so that the glowing end shows toward the palm of the hand.
While every smoker has to go through the motions of lighting and inhaling the smoke, the way in which these acts are carried out varies according to his mood. The nervous smoker has a faster smoking tempo than the relaxed one. The angry smoker blows the smoke in an aggressive way, almost as if he were trying to blow somebody down. A smoker who is about to ask for a raise in salary will press his lips tightly around the cigarette as if to gain courage by holding it that way.
Smoking Help Us to Relax
One shortcoming of our modern culture is the universal lack of adequate relaxation. Many of us not only do not know how to relax, but do not take time to learn. Smoking helps us to relax because, like music, it is rhythmic. Smoking gives us a legitimate excuse to linger a little longer after meals, to stop work for a few minutes, to sit at home without doing anything that requires effort. Here is a nostalgic comment contributed by a strong defender of smoking: “After a long day’s work, to get home and sit in a chair and stretch my legs ‘way out, and then to sit back and just smoke a cigarette and think of nothing, just blow the smoke in the air – that’s what I like to do when I’ve had a pretty tough day.” The restful effect of moderate smoking explains why people working under great stress use more tobacco.
“Smoking Helps Me Think”
The mind can concentrate best when all outside stimuli have been excluded. Smoking literally provides a sort of “smoke screen” that helps to shut out distractions. This explains why many people who were interviewed reported that they cannot think or write without a cigarette. They argued that moderate smoking may even stimulate mental alertness. It gives us a focal point for our attention. It also gives our hands something to do; otherwise they might make us self-conscious and interfere with mental activity. On the other hand, our respondents admit that smoking too much may reduce their efficiency.