Smoking, like any other virtue, is a mean between extremes. On the excessive side of this modern virtue lies addiction; on the deficient side, repugnance. Contemporary American culture is thoroughly repugnant, so it comes as no surprise that, to most people, the virtuous mean appears no different from the excessive extreme: all smoking is seen as a disgusting vice. Just as a coward sees all courage as rashness, our repugnant society mistakes smoking for some kind of mortal sin.
Fortunately, it is not.
Rather, an objective analysis of this virtue reveals that it is instrumental to building friendships, effective for cultivating temperance, and invaluable for refining one’s appearance.
Aristotle teaches us that friendships are built on two simple realities: common interests, and time spent together. While these two components do not guarantee that a friendship will become one of virtue, they are nonetheless sine qua nons for any kind of friendship. In this time of unprecedented loneliness and division, few habits so seamlessly propagate these two basic elements of friendship as smoking does.
Any two people who are in disagreement or division—a Republican and a Democrat, a Domer and Trojan, a coastal elite and a midwesterner—are able to look beyond their differences and come together if they possess a common appreciation for tobacco. What other habit so effortlessly inclines people to a common enjoyment and to spending time together?
Smoking, of course, is also fantastic for the cultivation of the cardinal virtue of temperance. What in the world does smoking temper? For starters, it tempers modern society’s obsessive fear of death. As was evident with the excessive measures taken at all levels of society in response to COVID-19, we live in a world deeply addicted to postponing death at all costs, so much so that it is rumored some people on both coasts are still double-masking.
The same health establishment responsible for COVID-19 hysteria is also responsible for the anti-smoking ideological campaign that has turned cigarettes into one of the few contemporary moral taboos. Premarital sex, recreational marijuana, and even the root of all sin, pride itself, are acceptable by the modern moral standards, but smoking is just about the worst thing imaginable. As with any addiction, health-obsession is often initially denied and rationalized. Yet, smoking can be a crucial aid in finally breaking free from this deeply harmful path.
At this point, some might retort that many people are, in fact, addicted to smoking. That is an undeniable fact, but cigarette addictions should be opposed without opposing the righteous virtue of smoking. One way to cultivate the proper and moderate enjoyment of tobacco, for instance, is to avoid smoking alone. This simple guideline ensures that one does not develop an addiction to cigarettes and incentivizes one to spend more time with friends—a uniquely multi-dimensional benefit of this wonderful habit.
Any reflection on the state of modern American society recognizes that it is not only lonely, divided, and obsessed with health, but it is also fundamentally inelegant. Today, it is taken for granted that Americans simply wear gym shorts and flip-flops as often as they can, but this was not always the case. There was a time, as recently as last century, when men wore suits and hats every day; when they were expected to speak with clarity and conviction; when treating women with respect included taking the check at a restaurant.
And guess what else men did back then? That’s right, they smoked. This is not just a romanticization of the past either—our contemporaries in Europe, for whom smoking is not yet a deplorable offense, also dress markedly better than Americans do. Perhaps this has nothing to do with smoking, but then again, perhaps it does. In either case, what is undeniable is that smoking—whether it is a cigar, a pipe, or a cigarette—naturally enhances one’s appearance, and even if the cause of this is elusive, the effect should not be discarded.
There are many virtues and customs that our society must recover if it is to stand a chance of escaping its current predicaments. Because of its distinctive conduciveness to friendship, temperance, and elegance, smoking—properly conceived—is surely among these.
Philip Morris has turned to the pages of the Rover to defend his stake in big-tobacco from modern American culture. Some may laugh at his arguments, but he hopes that those who know, know. You can find him at your local gas station or tobacco shop.