I am a smoker. There aren’t many of us left in Toronto these days. Reasonable people who don’t want to die at fifty tend to not smoke. It’s not that smokers want to die; it’s just that we’re not reasonable enough. Dying early sucks, but the consolation is that we get to smoke. The prospect of an early death is a good social adhesive. Also, smokers have to go outside to smoke. We gotta do something while we’re out there, so we often talk among ourselves. That means we have our own thing going on, which might be intimidating for you if you don’t smoke normally but for some reason want to bum a cigarette. You Non-smokers don’t understand smoker culture. (Smokers, on the other hand, understand non-smoker culture. That gives us a quiet power.) If you are a non-smoker who occasionally bums a cigarette, I don’t necessarily want to help you. If you’re going to smoke, you should be willing to deal with the consequences, like dying early and paying a million dollars a year for cigarettes. But I am happy to give you a piece of my mind in the form of an “Ask a Smoker” Q&A. Why do you guys smoke? We smoke because we are addicted to smoking. It affects every part of our lives and we can barely make it through even the most mundane activities without a smoke before or during or afterward. Is smoking really that great? No. That’s the weird thing about it. It’s just breathing with a thing between you and the air, but somehow it’s more important than eating. Have you ever thought about quitting? Yes. Why don’t you quit? Because it’s hard. Also, I like smoking. When is it appropriate to bum a cigarette? If you are engaged in friendly conversation with someone who is smoking, you may ask for a cigarette, even if you are not friends. The presence of good will makes it sharing rather than bumming. Otherwise, never. I’m not engaged in friendly conversation, but I’m gonna bum one anyway. How should I go about it? Realize that you have chosen to do something obnoxious, knowing full well that it is obnoxious, because you judge the outcome to be worth the blow to your dignity. For the moment, that makes you an asshole. Own up to being an asshole. Don’t act all namby-pamby about it. Don’t apologize or make sheepish conversation. Get in there, get the cigarette, and get out. Do you want some money for it? No. What am I going to do with fifty cents? I can’t even tip the bartender with that. Cigarettes don’t come in singles, and even if they did, I wouldn’t buy them that way. You would. If it’s not about the money, then what do you have against bummers? You wouldn’t ask a stranger for a bite of her sandwich. If you really wanted a sandwich, you would buy your own sandwich. The same logic should apply to cigarettes, but not buying packs is how non-smokers rationalize smoking. As long as you’re not buying packs, you think you are not a “smoker.” You’re just slumming it. So you want to do what we do, but you don’t want to be one of us. We resent that. Does being a “social smoker” make me a jerk? If you smoke on a regular basis but don’t buy your own packs, you are either a slummer or a mooch. Both are subspecies of jerk. But if you simply enjoy a smoke from time to time, we empathize. Have a cigarette and stop apologizing. If it gets out of hand one night and you end up smoking a pack’s worth of our smokes, buy us a beer. Or a pack. I don’t want a cigarette. I hate smoking and I hate the smoke that smokers generate. Do you ever consider people like me when you smoke? Yeah, but whatever. I smoke, but you know what I don’t do? Drive a car. Or eat meat. We’re all guilty of something. Should I lecture you? Will that make you stop smoking? Individually, no. All you’re going to do is make me defensive. You should mind your own business. But collectively, maybe. Regular lectures build up cognitive dissonance. Don’t you ever worry about dying early? Yes. That and all the things I’ll be leaving undone. I also worry about the smoke-related afflictions that could make life terrible without actually killing me, like emphysema, or throat cancer requiring disfiguring surgery. You should quit. I know.