A few years ago, I wrote and self-published a book entitled Tough Love for Smokers. While it wasn't the most successful quit-smoking book ever written, I can confidently state that it is probably the most unique attempt ever made at trying to help people kick the habit.
So when I started spewing vitriol in an attempt to demonstrate to smokers just how much they are loathed by so many people, it really did feel good. And it just kept coming. I remembered my own personal history and the interactions I've had with smokers over the years. For example, the sneering punks who took up smoking when growing up. While they weren't all low-bred, white trash, many of them were. Was an association planted early in my childhood in which I connected aggressive, nasty sons-of-bitches to the smoking habit? Maybe. Of course, I've had numerous friends over the years who were smokers, and many of them were intelligent, well-educated, successful individuals. But there were other memories.
The attractive girlfriend who was a heavy smoker, and who, at the age of 29, was already starting to show signs of premature aging—the haggard face, the tiny little lines forming around the mouth and eyes. But the nasty, reeking stench was the worst part.
Then there was the fat, slovenly oaf who vacated an apartment just prior to my moving in. Whenever I think of the cigarette-smoke filth he left behind, I truly hope he suffers a nasty end. Of course, the owners of the apartment should have cleaned the place for me after he left. But they didn't, and the piece of garbage who moved out certainly didn't consider cleaning up his wretched, vomit-inducing mess. If I could have scraped off the yellow, stinking cigarette scum that had been caked onto all the walls and ceilings, fashioned it into a ball and driven it down his fat neck and watched him choke to death, I believe it would have been a just ending.
The shamelessness and the filth. That sums up so many of the feelings I have had towards smokers over the years. The countless tons of cigarette butts that scar every last public space in the world. The smoke blown in faces. The dozen or so minor burns suffered over the years from careless pieces of shit who have brushed up against me in public places. In fact, it was a specific incident that took place in Ottawa, Canada, which motivated me to write Tough Love for Smokers.
I was walking home from work one day when a still-burning cigarette landed at my feet. I looked up and saw a sneering little puke exhaling smoke while turning to walk into a building. The security door closed behind him, but he surely heard the verbal abuse I directed at him. That night, I wrote out an email detailing what had happened, and was all set to send it to the head office of the organization I was sure the smoker worked for (the information gleaned from the sign on the glass door of the building he had entered). But I decided against it and instead turned the email into a rant against smokers. A few years later, that rant was the beginning of Tough Love for Smokers. So while the book is ostensibly about helping people quit smoking, it also ensures that I will never stomp a smoker to death. Now whenever I experience a flash of rage against a shameless smoker, I just tell myself "It's not worth it. After all, I've already written a book about it."
But did the words in my book have their intended effect? Did they really help people to stop smoking? Here's a sample from the book:
When comparing the smell of cigarette smoke to other things in our world, excrement—human and otherwise—naturally comes up. Shit and cigarette smoke. Shit is the only thing that comes close to equalling the unappealing and visceral smell of the emissions from a toxic cigarette. Of course, shit isn’t nearly as bad. Because the reek from shit can’t kill you. (OK, after a night of Guinness and Mexican food, it could probably come close.) So shit in all its forms doesn’t stink as much as cigarette smoke. What else doesn’t equal the nasal contamination of cigarettes?And this excerpt, from a passage on "addictions":
- Rotting vegetables
- Rotting corpses
- Animal and human farts
- The belch from the mouth of an 80 year-old man who hasn’t brushed his teeth since the second World War, and who survives on a diet of diseased rats marinated in the pus extracted from the weeping anal sores of a Sing-Sing cellblock queen originally locked up in 1956 and still there to this day—all boiled in sewage run-off from a leper camp.
Still, let’s swat the jackass assertion out of the way. Here it is. Read carefully smokers. You see, cancer patients cannot just decide that they have had enough of the disease that is eating away at their body and dragging them into nothingness. On the other hand, you have a choice, you fucking mules. There, we’ve dealt with the “smoking is a disease” canard in about 30 words. But that doesn’t matter. Believing in the lie is still so easy for many that they will continue consuming the steaming shitpiles of pseudo-science telling them that as their thick peasant fingers reach for another cigarette and cram it into their hole for a good suck, it is not their fault. It is the mystical disease known as addiction.I knew when I was writing the book that people rarely change their minds about something they feel passionately about. At least, they rarely change their minds on the spot. And the likelihood that they will change their minds is often reduced if they feel insulted or condescended to. But remember, I wanted to use black humour and appeals to emotions. And that very same notion about a supposedly harsh tone decreasing the chances of reaching someone also states that an idea or image may insinuate itself and then later gain traction after weeks or months of percolating. And some people were certainly enraged by what I wrote. Whether or not those ideas ever did take hold after the first shock, at least they proved that my writing accomplished the one thing most writers hope for: it had an effect on people.
Some of the wackos who read my book felt such intense rage that they wrote blog posts about me and made all sorts of wild claims. I won't give these unhinged individuals any direct publicity, though you could easily find their libelous attacks online. Maybe even some of those freaks—the kind who genuinely insist there is no link between smoking and lung cancer—later had second thoughts about their habit after reading my book. Likely not, but without a doubt I crawled up inside their heads and settled in for the long haul.
Another theme that I consciously thought about before writing the book and which became more pronounced as I neared its completion was self-delusion. People will make a virtue out of anything. To the hard-core smokers who will never quit and who have no intention of every trying, the danger of smoking makes them feel like hard cases. This aspect of smoking will always appeal to smokers, and especially youngsters who take up the habit. This thrill at engaging in risky behaviour that is despised by many in society has become more nuanced and multi-layered over the decades, but it will always be an invincibly reassuring way for smokers to make themselves feel better as they march towards their early deaths.
Finally, by writing a quit-smoking book that is completely different than anything else that has ever been written, I hoped to appeal to the demographic that could benefit most: young people. Is a 15 year-old going to read one of the more popular quit-smoking books that have been published? A book that is written in the new-age, psycho-babble, desperate-to-coddle style that is so popular in most of these books? Possibly. But maybe the content and tone of Tough Love for Smokers is so different that it might make that 15 year-old see the stupidity of his smoking habit for what it is.
This final excerpt is from one of a handful of short stories that appear in Tough Love for Smokers:
The wretch experienced a jolt of fear at the sudden turn of the conversation. He felt he had to stand up to face the man to prove that he wasn’t as scared as he felt. He moved from his sitting position and started rising up from his haunches when the man lifted a solid kick into the wretch’s gut.
“Ooomph! What the hell was that for?” The wretch curled into a fetal position and held his hands to his stomach. He looked up at the man. “I thought you were an angel. When I took a swing at you before, I couldn’t connect. What the hell?”
“That’s not the way it works, boy,” said the man. The wretch struggled back into a sitting position with his back against the wall.
“This whole thing makes no fucking sense at all! You telling me you’re an angel, but you want me to keep smoking, and you want as many new people to start smoking as possible? That just makes no sense at all,” the wretch said as he held his guts.
“Ah, but you assume that angels only come from one place,” the man said as he started to laugh.