Cigarettes Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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Cigarettes in an ashtray.

Cigarettes are smallish white cylinders, filled with the dried leaves of the tobacco plant. Predominantly sold in batches of 20, the boxes they come in demonstrate a wide variety of colours and designs, from the ubiquitous red chevron of Marlboro to the arched dancer holding her tambourine, featured on the classic blue design of the French brand, Gitanes. Tobacco can also be bought loose in pouches and rolled into cigarette papers1 to approximate the aforementioned cylindrical shape.

For some, smoking is a pleasure. For others, it's abhorrent. Indeed, smoking cigarettes has become a contentious activity, with health issues of paramount concern. For instance, the issue of smokers passing on their toxic smoke to the non-smokers in their community is, as they say, a hot potato.

Smoking is undoubtedly bad for the health and passive smoking isn't much good either. You can visit the web site of the Union for International Cancer Control for medical information on the effects smoking tobacco has on health. But in a world full of pollution and man-made health hazards, created by smokers and non-smokers alike, should non-smokers dictate to smokers just how to live their lives?. Check out the FOREST site for a pro-smoking viewpoint. And what exactly is the right way to live a life, anyway?

The Origin of Cigarettes and Smoking

Non-filter cigarettes were developed a great many years ago in Spain (around 1598). Christopher Columbus returned from America bringing with him tobacco leaves. The initial use for these leaves was to dry them and smoke them in a pipe. However there weren't all that many pipes around in those days (no one but Columbus and the native Americans had them), so in order to sell more tobacco, the dealers developed cigars - dried tobacco leaves rolled up in dried tobacco leaves, and so the cigar was born.

Why Smoke?

It is difficult to know the reasons why people smoke. Non-smokers could rightly point to the deleterious physiological effects that prolonged and consistent smoking undoubtedly have and wonder...'Why?' Why on earth would we choose to physically do harm to our own bodies? Non-smokers don't smoke because they might not like the smell, or have tried it and just didn't like it. But generally they won't smoke because fundamentally, smoking cigarettes is bad for the health. Is smoking a cigarette, then, a wilful act of self-mutilation that at best merits derision?

Or have our brains evolved too much, got so large that the resultant imbalance between intellect and spirit has left us with a self-destruct reflex, a kind of nagging hole that always needs filling? Are we then inherently confused and deserving of sympathy, not derision, smokers and non-smokers all.

It is often the case that we are not responsible for the environments we inherit, both socially and emotionally. Smoking cigarettes may be just one of the many 'imperfect' responses humans have to living in an increasingly 'imperfect', difficult world.

The question 'Why Smoke' is not an easy one to answer, indeed, it borders on the downright philosophical. If non-smokers wonder 'why?' (as in 'Why the hell would you want to smoke?'), so too smokers may wonder, 'why not?'. Or perhaps smokers may be tempted to examine their habit objectively and then ask themselves the question, 'Just why am I smoking?'2

An Act of Volition?

But the fact remains that many people do smoke. Certain groups from most cultures in most parts of the world today have found occasion to light up. As we've seen, there could be many possible reasons for this; smoking as a kind of 'rite of passage' displacement for the modern-day youth; smoking as part of social bonding; smoking as an aid to contemplation; ceremonial and ritualised smoking; smoking as a self-destructive reaction to depression or unhappiness; or smoking just for personal pleasure. Smokers may smoke because they choose to. It's an act of volition, an expression of an individual freedom to make choices. Or is it? One could argue the opposite, that smokers smoke because they are duped into doing so.

Unquestionably, cigarette companies make enormous amounts of money from the sale of their product. It is in their interests for people to continue to smoke. These tobacco giants wield power and influence, and can afford clever, pervasive advertising. It is argued then, that the main reason why smokers smoke today is, in part at least, because they are deluded into thinking that they want to.

Clever advertising aligns itself with notions of 'cool', 'hip', 'rebellion', 'James Dean' etc, and this undoubtedly has an appeal, especially for younger people who are always seeking ways to assert their individuality. And once a smoker starts smoking, for whatever reason that may be, nicotine, the ever-present addictive drug in cigarettes, makes it very difficult to stop.

This is the thinking behind recent cases brought against the tobacco industry; that it willfully withholds knowledge concerning the dangers of cigarette smoking, and, by implication, attempts to manipulate the public into doing something that is clearly not good for their health.


One notable thing about smoking is that many people who smoke, are in a constant state of 'giving up'. Among the most popular ways are:

  • Patches

    These provide the nicotine that the smoker's body craves, and are designed to slowly wean him or her off the drug. The supply of nicotine in a patch is low-level and continuous, rather than a big 'hit', and many newly-converted cigarette-free ex-smokers swear by the power of the patch. Others have been less fortunate, getting addicted to the patches as well as going back to smoking cigarettes. Patches cannot fulfil the habitual need for the feel of a cigarette in the hand or mouth. However, this can be done with a pen, but watch out for the occasional mouthful of blue ink.

  • Nicotine Gum

    Like patches, gum provides a low dose of nicotine to the system in order for the smoker to gradually break the addiction. Gum also provides oral stimulation but is not recommended for smokers with false teeth.

  • Shared Suffering

    Great idea! A joint effort! And giving up with a friend can certainly increase your willpower. But watch out - if the friend caves in, you'll be sorely tempted to cave in with them.

  • Displacement Activity

    Playing sport releases endorphins and can reduce the craving for a cigarette. Also, increasing the amount of exercise you do tends to have the effect of making you more physically aware of your lungs and therefore more reluctant to fill them with tar and smoke. Displacement Activity is not such a good idea though, if you are replacing your smoking habit with serial killing or cordless bungee jumping.

  • Patience

    If you really want to give up smoking, you'll get there. Don't be too hard on yourself. And be patient.

Please Note: h2g2 is not a definitive medical resource. If you have any health concerns you must always seek advice from your local GP. You can also visit NHS Direct or BBC Health Conditions.

1These come in a variety of thicknesses and can be flavoured, such as liquorice cigarette paper.2 To which the philosophers and those funny lateral thinkers might reply, 'Because you're on fire'.

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