Smoking as Identity

I have realized that smoking is part of my identity. Recently I was looking for a photo to use as my avatar on another internet site and I realized that in nearly all recent photos of me, I am smoking. And I like those photos. There are also a few where I am not smoking but I would always chose the ones where I am smoking because they say something about me and the way I want to be seen.

When I am reading books or watching drama on TV I always find it easier to identify with the characters who smoke; they seem more real to me. There are things about the way smokers act,think and feel; things about our daily routine and our attitude to life that is different to non smokers.

I have discussed this with Sophie and Cassie and they feel the same. Cassie has been blogging for many years and I had a look back at some of her older blog entries (not this blog but ones about her daily life and beliefs) and it is amazing how many times she mentions that she smokes. She was a bit embarrassed when I pointed it out, but had to admit that it was true.

Sophie said that during the time she gave up smoking (because she had me!) she felt that something was missing from her life and her personality. When she decided that I was old enough that she could start smoking again without damaging my health, she said she felt like she was being her true self again.

When you smoke you develop a kind of relationship with cigarettes. They become part of who you are. Nicotine is part of my body chemistry now and cigarettes are part of my daily routine. One of the first things I do when i wake up in the morning is smoke a cigarette and smoking is one of the last things I do before bed. During the day my routine can be measured and punctuated by cigarettes.Of course, this could be seen as a very good reason not to start smoking. It is an addiction. It gets under your skin and becomes part of who you are. And all the time you have this cosy relationship with cigarettes you know, at some level, that this relationship could be very bad for your health. And yet, just as we sometimes choose lovers that other people disapprove of, or think are bad for us, we still choose to smoke. We still choose this relationship with cigarettes. The fact of making that choice must in a way say something about our personalities and so, our identities.

A photograph of me “not smoking” would be like a photograph of me with green hair; or me wearing a mask. Something about it would not be true. It would not convey my true self. It would not just be hiding something; it would be kind of a lie.

Of course I don’t smoke all the time. I’m not a chain smoker. If you added up all the waking minutes of the day, in most of them I would not be smoking.At this stage I usually smoke between ten and fifteen cigarettes in a day. But the truth is that the nicotine is in my system all the time. My body clock and my routine are strongly influenced by that.

The same is true for Sophie and Cassie. But there is something else that makes smoking part of our identities, and that is more psychological than physical addiction. It is the fact that if any one of us could go back to a time before we had started smoking;- back to our early teens or childhood even, we would always have been people who would be smokers one day. None of us ever doubted it. It was something we always liked. We were always drawn to other people who smoked. We always would have chosen a lifestyle that would have involved smoking cigarettes.

It is our taste. It is our choice. It is our lifestyle.

We choose the people we want to be. The choice to smoke (perhaps even more so now that it is banned in some places and looked down on by many) is a sign and symbol of the kind of people we are, of our priorities, of how we spend our time and money and perhaps how influenced we are by society and what parts of society influence us most.

And of course our addiction. The one we knowingly chose.

The fact that we smoke is therefore a strong part of our identities. Of course it doesn’t say everything about us. Perhaps it doesn’t say much really. But it says more than our natural hair or eye colour, and probably more than what clothes we choose to wear.

I am speaking here mainly about my family and myself, but I think the idea of smoking as part of identity applies to most people who smoke.