Smoking as a Class Issue

August 28, 2014 at 2:50 am 2 comments

Among the conversations I got into with my family while on vacation was some of my relatives expressing befuddlement as they traveled across Montana and Wyoming that OMG, There are Still All These People who smoke? How strange, I mean, *I don’t know anyone who smokes* What decade is this anyway? sorta comments. At some point I pointed out that these days, smoking is something of a class difference. It used to be that smoking was pretty evenly common among every class of people. The smoking rate has gone way down with rising awareness of health risks, social pressure and anti-smoking laws. But it tends to still be higher among working-class and poor people, at least in the U.S. This may seem counter-intuitive considering how expensive smokes can be, but consider this: nicotine is a stimulant- many of these folks are on their feet all day, and smoking gives them a little extra energy. Smoking can relieve stress, and many of them are very over-stressed. Yes middle class people are also often very stressed, but have more options for stress-relieving techniques. They also are more likely to be able to access smoke-quitting programs, alternatives like e-cigs (which have a high upfront cost) therapy etc. Many people who are recovering from alcoholism, addiction or mental illness smoke as a stress reliever. Once again low income= less access to recovery programs/therapy etc. A smoke, a drink or a favorite food that might be seen as comparatively bad uses of money and unhealthy choices are simple pleasures low-income people can access after a hard day (or night). I suspect that if my one uncle who lives on an Indian reservation was present, he probably would’ve backed up some of my reasons. Some of them seem to be acknowledged, but mostly my view was overpowered by White Middle-Class Liberals Know Best self-righteousness.

Now I’m not saying smoking is this great habit that we should all take up. I’m saying that think before you swoop down and condemn “Those People” for being foolish, short-sighted, selfish or whatever for smoking. I was reminded of all this while reading Nornoriel’s post in which he points out that as a coping/stress release technique smoking a couple times a week is not as bad as many people claim. “Vice” taxes on tobacco and liquor don’t really work, and essentially function as regressive taxes that have more of an impact on poor people. Which I suspect, is exactly what they’re intended to do. I wonder what would happen if someone were to propose a special tax on coffee. Everyone would pitch a fit. That’s the “acceptable” vice that people of all classes partake in. Both sleep-deprived office workers and truck drivers alike are dependent on caffeine. It’s a drug that makes you a good productive capitalist worker. Unlike say, marijuana…



Entry filed under: Class, Disability/Health, Ethics, Politics/Culture, Sociology. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Gods of Hollywood vs. Gods of Asgard Good Posts on Mental Health/Illness

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nornoriel Lokason  |  August 28, 2014 at 7:06 am

    Even people who are in mental health treatment like therapy still smoke – I went to a clinic for years (where almost everyone was on SSDI and Medicare like myself) where pretty much all the clients smoked before and after therapy sessions. It’s not something people do just because they lack resources for healthier coping mechanisms. I figured I should make a note of that. (Not saying you said that ONLY people who lack other coping resources like therapy do this, but it’s something I figured I should clarify with the audience.)

    Otherwise, thank you for this post. I honestly really don’t see the difference between me smoking a cigarette once or twice a week and me buying a bag of chips and eating it once or twice a week. I think the obsession that much of the pagan community has with what is considered ‘proper’ food and ‘proper’ health habits is ultimately based in classism, and virtually all of the pagans I see who concern troll other pagans are privileged middle-to-upper-class white people (especially when they will talk about how they’re “poor too” – that word almost always does not mean what the user thinks it means, if you’re “poor too” and you shop regularly at Whole Foods, you are not poor, _trust me on this_.) It’s the elephant in the room that very few people will point out, but you did, and thank you.

    • 2. caelesti  |  August 28, 2014 at 8:13 am

      Right- people in all different mental/physical states smoke for all kinds of reasons. I also think there is a thing that if you have some form of disability or mental illness, people infantilize you about engaging in sex, drugs and rock n’ roll in a way they don’t with other adults. That’s why, f’rex in the autistic community I do sometimes *caution* people about using alcohol, casual sex (if my advice is asked for) etc. but I’m not pulling a paternalistic Just Say No on them. That’d make me a hypocrite! With a lot of pagans I get the impression that it’s one lower income person policing other low income folks. Like “chosen” starving-artist bohemian poverty is More Spiritual and Truly Pagan, but lack opportunities in life, and/or have disabilities, need gov’t aid= Not Proper Pagan. Huh? It’s hard to tell people’s class status online or even in person if they’re casual acquaintances but you pick up clues from ignorant stuff they say.


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