Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Smoking Gun: Writers Who Inhaled

Anne Sexton
This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the landmark Surgeon General's report that stated exactly how terrible smoking is for one's health and why the government should get involved in putting an end to it. Some readers may be old enough to remember those ancient days, when blue-gray clouds of smoke hung everywhere in the air and practically every flat surface sported an ashtray. While my own parents weren't smokers and forbade us from doing so, it seemed as if all the Cool People smoked. Seeing other adults smoking cigarettes was no more alarming than seeing them pop a breath mint into their mouths--which the smart ones did, since smoking stank. I tried it once and that was more than enough.

John Steinbeck
Half a century on, smoking is heavily restricted, with good reason. Most of the Cool People no longer light up, anyway. Or do they? A recent Associated Press article reported that, while the U. S. smoking rate has fallen by more than half to 18 percent [since 1964], "that still translates to more than 43 million smokers."

I stumbled upon an older yet interesting post about famous writers who smoked. Writers, the author states states, are the occupational group "most closely associated with the practice of smoking in particular, as if, in the general consensus, the scribe could find inspiration in a tobacco pouch or pry the muse from her hiding-places with a few puffs of poisonous fumes." The post goes on to name such prodigious smokers as Colette, Steinbeck, Wilde, and Moliere.

Mark Twain
Mark Twain wrote, "Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times."

David Sedaris (When You Are Engulfed in Flames) wrote about various cigarette brands, "Kools and Newports were for black people and lower-class whites. Camels were for procrastinators, those who wrote bad poetry, and those who put off writing bad poetry. Merits were for sex addicts, Salems were for alcoholics, and Mores were for people who considered themselves to be outrageous but really weren't."

Ian Fleming, the James Bond guy, wrote, “Smoking I find the most ridiculous of all the varieties of human behavior and practically the only one that is entirely against nature. Can you imagine a cow or any animal taking a mouthful of smoldering straw than breathing in the smoke and blowing it out through its nostrils?” Pretty clever observation, coming from a lifelong smoker.

What do you think? Setting health concerns aside for a moment, do you think that nicotine helps or hampers the muse?

1 comment:

Jennifer Rova said...

Good question, Jenny. My sister-in-law swears that smoking relaxes her asthma challenged lungs and she breaths easier. It would hamper the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs plus cramp the ability of the heart to pump blood to re-invigorate brain cells. My vote is that it doesn't help the inner muse; it only hampers the muse's container...the body.