Smoking could win you friends

Cigarettes might be disgusting, but these days they are a great way to bond with other people

Barack Obama used to smoke a lot, as he freely confessed in his autobiography, Dreams from my Father. But under pressure from his wife, Michelle, he gave up smoking at the start of his presidential campaign and is now a chewer of Nicorette.

This week in the New York Times there was an article by author Tony Horwitz, an Obama supporter and fellow Nicorette addict, urging him to start smoking again to win the support of the blue-collar workers who flocked to Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries, and who may well determine whether he makes it to the White House in November.

Horwitz made the point that Americans on low incomes smoke at twice the rate of the better off, and that most of these smokers are in the states where Obama polled worst in the primaries.

Horwitz also pointed out that “indulging in a vice stigmatised by most Americans is an easy way to bond with people with whom you otherwise have nothing in common”, and from my own experience I have found this to be the case. I had planned, for the umpteenth time, to give up smoking during my recent stay in the United States, but once again I failed. Perversely, I found the opprobrium it attracts a stimulus to go on doing it. I wanted to be on the side of the oppressed, and oppression has a way of bringing its victims together.

At a wedding, where I knew only a handful of the hundreds of guests, I met some really nice and interesting people only because we shared the same disgusting habit. These days smokers gravitate instinctively to each other because they feel at ease in each other’s company.

Even on the streets of New York, when people stop you to bum a cigarette or a light, they do so in a modest and courteous manner, knowing that most of the world regards them as pariahs.–

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