Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Smells like Teen Smokers
This thought has been worming its way through my mind over the last few days, so now I'm letting it erupt through the skin of my typing fingers. Better out than in. I don't hold any particular brief for it, but I'd be interested in reactions.

The catalyst is yet another article telling adults who enjoy YA literature that they should be ashamed of themselves. This is a particularly lightweight instance of the genre, but I was struck (as I often have been by similar statements in the past) by the writer's confession that "I remember, when I was a young adult, being desperate to earn my way into the adult stacks." (The word "earn" is significant in itself, implying as it does that getting older is some kind of meritorious deed rather than the inevitable consequence of failing to die.)

I do remember thinking as a child that grown-ups had all kinds of enviable privileges (going to bed when they wanted, and the like), but don't ever remember wanting to be grown up for its own sake. However, I've heard many people over the years say that they couldn't wait to do so - and my impression (possibly wrong) was that they saw grown-upness as a more desirable existential state, rather than (or as well as) the chronological key to a set of legal rights and privileges.

The pet theory (really a hypothesis) that's been doggy-paddling through my thoughts is that there's likely to be a strong correlation between people's attraction to grown-upness and the taking up of smoking during adolescence. After all, what attractions could smoking have to a non-smoker? Anyone of my generation or younger will have known from childhood that it's expensive, addictive, smelly, unhealthy and all too frequently fatal in the long term. The main reason I can see for wanting to take it up at 15 or so is that you imagine it makes you look sophisticated and cool in a specifically grown-up way. There are other possibilities - it's no doubt an act of rebellion, for some, for example - but I suspect that that looking grown up is a big driver.

But how to test the hypothesis? A random appeal to the experience of my LJ friends may not be the most scientific approach, but then it's not the most scientific theory in the first place...

lilliburlero

2014-06-07 03:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Rather like Philip Larkin says at the beginning of the 'Savage Seventh', I wanted to be grown up in order to escape other children... I started smoking when I was 16, which was then a legal age to do so, though parents and teachers were obviously disapproving and it was pretty furtive. (I read 'The Savage Seventh' in Required Writing at about the same age.) Gave up eight years later. Any use?

mevennen

2014-06-07 04:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'm a lifelong nonsmoker but completely agree about wanting to escape other children. To me, adults were rational and kind (obviously not always the case) and other children were randomly cruel. When I got into the lower 6th, people started becoming more reasonable.

steepholm

2014-06-07 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

My experience was quite the opposite. When my friends got to sixth form they started turning into bores obsessed with sex, motorbikes and "nipping out for an oily". The tedious isolation of sixth form lingers with me still.

Things got better once they hit their early twenties, though.

steepholm

2014-06-07 04:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes - all data welcome! It may well be that my perspective is an idiosyncratic one - that's one reason I'm asking.

davesmusictank

2014-06-07 04:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

I smoked at 16 too but did not like it so i soon gave it up. My peer group all smoked and then i have found the joys of a pipe ten years ago.


Edited at 2014-06-07 04:42 pm (UTC)

steepholm

2014-06-08 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Pipes are definitely more pleasant for bystanders (bybreathers?) too.

diceytillerman

2014-06-07 05:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

I do think it's party a grown-up thing, but I see bits of an "it's cool" which isn't about being grown-up (and sometimes is an actual rebellion against rules from adults). Also -- and I don't think this is trivial -- sometimes people take up smoking because of wanting to be thin/thinner.

steepholm

2014-06-07 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Good point about getting thinner - I'd not considered that one.

vschanoes

2014-06-07 05:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

I never smoked but often wanted to be a grown-up, not to get away from childhood, which was awesome, but to get away from adolescence and other teenagers, who sucked.

That said, I always wanted to smoke. Because it's cool and sexy. I didn't smoke because it kills you. I stand by those assessments now--smoking is sexy and smoking is cool, and I've always liked the smell. It's just that it also kills you. So you pay your money and you take your choice. Even as a teenager, I decided that I'd rather not be killed and be rather less sexy and cool. But that's not to say that I don't appreciate the allure of being sexy and cool. I like a bit of mindless, nihilistic, addictive self-destruction in a person.

steepholm

2014-06-07 05:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

I like a bit of mindless, nihilistic, addictive self-destruction in a person.

From that point of view it does have the advantage over alcohol that people seldom lash out at others in a smoke-fuelled rage (though going cold turkey can make them pretty tetchy).

sovay

2014-06-07 05:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

The catalyst is yet another article telling adults who enjoy YA literature that they should be ashamed of themselves.

It seems to believe that people read to buy their way into social groups or at least the appearance of them, rather than reading something because it speaks to them. That seems a very shallow way to approach any connection with art.

The pet theory (really a hypothesis) that's been doggy-paddling through my thoughts is that there's likely to be a strong correlation between people's attraction to grown-upness and the taking up of smoking during adolescence.

I had very little in common with my age group until college, talked more easily with adults than with other children or adolescents, and have never smoked in my life. My grandmother smoked until I was eight or ten, having herself been a lifelong chain-smoker since the age of sixteen; she quit because of the secondhand smoke around me and my brother. For this reason a couple of brands have a weirdly nostalgic presence for me, but it doesn't change the fact that cigarette smoke makes me stop breathing, so it's not like I'd take them up no matter how much I miss my grandmother.

Edited at 2014-06-07 05:34 pm (UTC)

steepholm

2014-06-08 08:41 am (UTC) (Link)

It seems to believe that people read to buy their way into social groups or at least the appearance of them, rather than reading something because it speaks to them. That seems a very shallow way to approach any connection with art.

Ironically it is also an approach stereotypically associated with adolescence.

dorianegray

2014-06-07 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

I took up smoking aged about 20; it had less to do with "being grown-up" than with "being like my mates" (and/or, possibly, "being cool").

steepholm

2014-06-08 03:28 pm (UTC) (Link)

I think part of my problem is that I've never quite been able to fathom what "cool" means. (At this my daughter would no doubt roll her eyes: "Tell me something I don't know.")

dorianegray

2014-06-08 05:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

If people you like/admire are doing/liking something, then it's cool and you should do/like it too, is basically how I understand it. (Unless you think it's idiotic, in which case you can angst about how you Don't Get It and/or they are Not What You Thought Them.)

joyeuce

2014-06-07 05:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

I have never smoked or wanted to, partly because I have always hated the smell and partly because of the medical magazines with pictures of diseased lungs that my mother used to leave casually lying around! There were many ways in which I tried to fit in with my peers, but that wasn't one of them - and nor was drinking underage, which often went with it. I didn't want to grow up - a family friend nicknamed me Petronella Pan - and never saw any reason to stop reading children's and YA fiction.

steepholm

2014-06-08 03:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

I certainly drank underage, but mine was one of those houses where children were habituated to alcohol in small doses from a very early age, so I never particularly associated it with being grown up.

joyeuce

2014-06-08 04:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

We were offered alcohol in small doses, but I never liked the taste enough to have more, until I discovered mulled wine at the end of my first term at Durham!

mevennen

2014-06-07 06:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

My father smoked a pipe, but gave up when I was about 10 (he thought they might have to send me to a private school and gave up to save money - they did not, in fact), and I like the smell, but smoking gave me even worse sinus problems than the ones I had, so I never really took to it. Brighton was full of dope smokers but I'm not keen on that, either.

steepholm

2014-06-07 06:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

I like the smell of some pipe tobaccos, and can imagine getting nostalgic for that in a way hard to envisage with cigarettes.

rushthatspeaks

2014-06-07 07:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

I took up smoking at sixteen because at that age I was utterly miserable and chasing pretty much anything that would make me feel better for even ten minutes. I'd probably have done it earlier, but sixteen was the age when people my age started to have cigarettes I could swipe, and when people I asked on streetcorners if they could spare a cigarette would give them to me instead of telling me I was too young and/or laughing. Access to tobacco just became infinitely easier that year.

I was always very aware of the risks-- I had a grandmother who died of lung cancer-- and I was as careful as I could figure out how to be: no one I knew, but no one, was allowed to know that I smoked; I was allowed literally one cigarette per month; if I noticed myself actively wanting a cigarette, that put off by three days the date at which I was allowed to have one. I never, ever bought them myself; they were stolen or begged. As a result, I never stopped having the kind of heady high that everyone says wears off after about your first three smokes. Tobacco has a far stronger effect on me than dope and probably makes me legally impaired, walking into trees and such.

As I got older and my life got better, I felt less in need of something to get me high. I think the last time I had one was at a party two or three years ago which turned out to be the sort of party at which everyone else was doing cocaine and molly and orgies, so I felt a cigarette was reasonable. Wouldn't say no to another at that sort of party. Certainly I have never been physically addicted to tobacco, and psychologically it was basically something to lean on.

So I think for me at least the effects of age were that suddenly the substance was accessible, and also I considered myself old enough to handle it-- certain that I could hide the evidence from my parents, and so forth, which did turn out to be the case.

steepholm

2014-06-08 03:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

I had to look up "molly". :)

Of course, I forgot to take into account that nicotine actually delivers a high...

dorianegray

2014-06-08 06:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

I immediately thought of the "molly houses" of 18th century London, which were (probably) something entirely different. :-)

ethelmay

2014-06-10 10:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

I have smoked maybe three cigarettes in my life and never had any high at all except the feeling of doing something forbidden.

My mother once wrote to me, during one of her periodic attempts to quit smoking, that she was feeling a particular way that she hated and was what had made her start smoking in the first place, but I can't remember the details. I think it was about feeling unfocused and jittery, but am not at all sure. It may have been the same letter in which she pointed out "Hitler didn't smoke. Of course Stalin did, so that is no argument."

One of my favorite high school teachers smoked a pipe in his office (it would never be allowed now -- I'm not sure why it was then, when I never remember any other teacher smoking anywhere but in the teachers' lounge), and the smell of pipe tobacco can still make me horribly nostalgic.

nightspore

2014-06-07 08:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

I wanted to grow up and leave home. Smoking was definitely a part of that. A way to leave home for five minutes at a time, anyhow. (Since, although I was 17, I had to do it in secret.) And it was a (Wildean) pleasure, once I was habituated. I quit in my mid twenties.

steepholm

2014-06-08 03:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

I wonder how many teenagers who smoke in secret actually manage to hide it successfully from non-smoking parents? When my stepdaughter was doing it, it was very obvious from her clothes, hair, etc., the minute she walked through the door. I suspect that many parents apply a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy!

kalimac

2014-06-07 11:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

I don't always like Laura Miller's writing, but her response to that article is an astonishingly cutting defense.

I'm with you and liliburlero - I wanted to be grown-up to escape the legal and practical limitations of being a child, and to escape having to be a co-equal with other children, which I really loathed. (Unlike you, I did not find that my peers became more disagreeable in the upper division of high school (which is what we call "sixth form" over here) - they'd always been disagreeable.) I never wanted to be grown-up to be "cool" - I was so terminally uncool in school, I never even tried - and even without surgeon-generals' warnings and the like I always thought smoking was terminally stupid. And drinking - I never did that either. Or pot - I never smoked that any more than I did tobacco.

However, I was given encouragement by a story Isaac Asimov told about himself. He neither drank (allergies) nor smoked, and once he went to a party where he was handed a drink and a cigarette, and he stood there looking unhappy until the hostess looked at him and said, "You don't drink, do you?" "No, ma'am," he said. "And you don't smoke, either, do you?" "No, ma'am." "So then," she said, "what do you do?" And Asimov replied, in his booming voice, "Well, ma'am, I f--k an awful lot."

steepholm

2014-06-08 03:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Drinking was in a slightly different category for me, because I'd been given it in small doses from a very early age, so it didn't have any mystique.

ashlyme

2014-06-08 01:12 am (UTC) (Link)

I took it up at seventeen; I'm still not sure why, as I was a fervent anti-smoker before then. Was it to blend in at college? Sadly, I'm still smoking at forty-one. I tend to use it as a safety-valve now, stepping out for a roll-up if I find a situation to stressful or claustrophobic. Actually I was probably like that then, too.

Edited at 2014-06-08 01:25 am (UTC)

steepholm

2014-06-08 03:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Never having tried it, I probably underestimated in my post the actual pleasure to be had from a cigarette. It never seems to affect people in the way that other drugs do, so I'd assumed it was fairly minimal.

veronica_milvus

2014-06-08 07:54 am (UTC) (Link)

I grew too tall, too soon. I got attention from men when I was eleven. I did not want to grow up. I was horrified by body hair and shaved it all off. I never smoked, but I put that down to the fact my parents did, and the smell made me nauseous and made my eyes sting.

steepholm

2014-06-08 03:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

I grew too tall, too soon. I got attention from men when I was eleven. I did not want to grow up.

That sounds thoroughly unpleasant.

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