Why smoking bans are wrong
Posted by majutsu on January 12, 2008
Mr. McKultchison was my chemistry teacher. I loved chemistry, the boiling flask, the dripping tubes, like some sort of nanotech city of atomic construction. He was very old, 85 or so, wore the same maroon sweater every day for four years, and chain smoked constantly. This was in the day when at the ivy’s everyone smoked unfiltered cigarettes everywhere, library, cafeteria, classroom. Although the eighties had dawned and with it came Reagan, shitting on the poor, disrespect of science and reason and embrace of the irrational with a surge in fundamentalism, and worst of all, an obsession with flabby, iridescent spandex “fitness”. Not the fitness of weight-lifting or skiing, some functional activity with man against gravity and other forces of the earth, controlling his movement and action in a perilous sphere, but sad people sweating in a mirrored rec room, raising a stink of mediocrity.
Mr. McKultchison smelled like old classical pillars, and fields of tobacco stretching before the graven steps of Monticello or something. He stood for arcane wisdom and peace, and Buddha’s smile perpetually gracing his dry lips. There was talk of outlawing smoking, and he was on the list. We were doing a reaction one day involving cyanide as a catalyst. With his age, the politics of the time, and the growing purist and shallow trends in public mores weighing heavily on his shoulders, Mr. McKultchison this day was stooped, weighed down, looking as though he was feeling as though he could no longer hold up the values that mattered anymore as the other people around him, head to toe, turned to brightly colored assemblages of plastic. He no longer seemed timeless as he always had, and within a day it seemed, he had begun to appear as someone whose time was very close at hand. He was talking, wistfully, of how many friends he had known who had died, died in fact doing the same reaction we were now doing. He explained how cyanide is so deadly that a tiny vapor can kill you before you even know something is amiss. He explained how like old soldiers of science, he and his friends were taken out one by one, with attendant mourning, planning of funerals and firing of gun salutes, all to show the best method of an isomerization, in general to show overall that we are dancing in a swirl of constant vibration and movement, a ballet of particles and forces, like twirling lovers in an endless dance. He explained that one crack in the pyrex reaction vessel may not even be visible to the human eye, but those one or two cyanide balls, those sentinels that open the doors to death for the two more molecules that follow and slice apart your hopes, dreams and memories, come unannounced. The human brain naturally sounds no alarm right before its destruction by cyanide. It was discovered though that smoking cigarettes while doing this reaction so vastly increases one’s sensitivity to smell that the invisible microscopic sentinels of death now smell profoundly like acrid almonds, sending noxious alarms throughout the body and giving rise to a call to action and self-preservation.
For sixty-five years he had, with each drag, felt the certainty of life, the confidence that he was at his sharpest and most vibrant. Smoking had saved his life, made his life, and he felt tobacco was the wife he never had. She protected him, kept him warm at night, soothed his brow when he was troubled, and most of all, tuned his body so as to be sensitive in the extreme to any threat to remove them from each other, to remove him from the vibrant dance of this life. He dared any man to do this reaction, to understand deeply the nature of this life, this dance to which we cling, to this depth, without the mistress of tobacco to accompany him. As I took my drags with difficulty, he reminded me it took at smart man to do the necessary thing and smoke, as the alternatives were to never be privileged to see this reaction or to be taken out, in all probability, with my cold blue hand being tucked back into the body bag. I never did forget his greater lesson, that the earth is our mistress, and she has given us all manner of plants and animals as tools so that we may have joy and give back that joy in science, art, and loving those around us. This is what we are, alive animals on earth, and purity, non-smoking, drug-free lifestyles are modernist delusions.