In support of natural consequences…

October 1st in Maryland is notable for really only one reason I can think of – a shit ton of new laws come into effect on this day every year. 2019 is no exception. As usual, there’s at least one of these new laws that leaves me baffled and vaguely annoyed.

Starting today here in the great State of Maryland, you have to be 21 years old to buy cigarettes. That’s fine. I suppose if you’re going to have an age limitation you have to set it somewhere, but let’s not pretend that setting it at 21 is anything other than arbitrary.

So, you’ve got to be 21 buy your pack of Marlboro’s or enjoy a cold beer. You can start working at age 14 (with a permit). You can get a driver’s license (provisional) at 16 years and six months of age. The state’s age of sexual consent is 16. You must be 18 to rent a hotel room for the night and 21 years old to rent a car.

At 18 a person is legally considered an adult. They’ve had 12 years of education made available to them. If the individual in question happens to be male, they’re eligible to be drafted into military service. It’s the age when we’ve collectively decided people are legally responsible for their own actions. It’s also the age we’ve decided that people are smart enough to begin voting.

Fundamentally I believe the question is whether we believe an 18 year old is an adult, capable of making responsible decisions, or do we not. As the age for “rites of passage” in our society slowly marches later and later into life, perhaps we should re-evaluate the definition of adulthood altogether since 18 is clearly arbitrary and we seem to be determined to surround the little darlings in bubble wrap, except when it’s time to decide who to fuck or whether they get to go to Southeast Asia to fight Mr. Nixon’s war. At exactly the time when we appear determined to defer adulthood well into people’s 20s, there’s a nascent move to lower the age of majority in order to allow even younger people to vote.

I find it the height of hypocrisy to believe an 18 year old (or someone younger) should be entrusted with the most valuable jewel of citizenship, yet also allowed to extend their childhood in almost every other meaningful way indefinitely into the future. People are either an adult, with the accompanying rights and responsibilities, or they’re not.

Creating a system in which people are adults for some purposes but not for others feels like creating an increasingly fractured and nonsensical universe out of something that really just shouldn’t be that damned complicated. Some people make shitty decisions whether their 18 or 58. Removing the natural consequences of those decisions isn’t doing any of us a favor.

Banned…

I saw a Facebook post yesterday morning from my alma mater proclaiming a smoke free campus. Personally it’s sort of a “whatever” moment for me as it doesn’t impact me one way or another. You can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been back on campus since I walked across the stage at the PE Center. Plus, there’s the whole quitting thing so I won’t be strolling campus jonesing for a fix any time soon. Still, it got me thinking about the old stomping grounds a bit.

I probably shouldn’t admit this here on the internet, but some of my best memories from college are the times sitting on the wall in front of Cambridge Hall smoking and joking with whoever happened to show up. Those were some great late night conversations and friendships that were bonded in the face or driving snow, wind, and rain. Of course it was always nice that if you jumped inside the wall, you could find a few feet of dry space and keep the conversation going? I could rattle off a few names, but for their sake a decade later I won’t. If you’re reading this, chances are you know them or might even be them. Standing in front of Dunkle? Yeah, I was there too. Or if I was lucky, I got one of the coveted benches at Guild Center between POSCI classes. It was a golden age… and as much as the anti’s would have me feel ashamed of it, I enjoyed every puff.

Look, I know the health risks of smoking. You’d be hard pressed to find a current or former smoker who doesn’t. We’ve lived them and will continue to live with the repercussions for the rest of our lives, but that’s the choice we made. I’ll direct you to the ill-fated experiments of Prohibition and our ongoing War on Drugs as an example of how “banned” substances come back and ruin your day with unintended consequences. The only thing this kind of ban does is force those intent on continuing an activity to find alternative ways and places to do it. They’ve moved the behavior across the street and declared victory because it isn’t happening “on campus.” That’s some victory they’ve got there.

Doing it wrong…

I smoked a pack a day for the better part of 14 years. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I’d feel better if I quit, I’d have something like $210 and change. I’ve been fat for way longer than I smoked and it was the same story: You’ll feel better if you start exercising and eating better. I haven’t had a smoke in more than nine months. I’m eating more salad than a triceratops. And if I spent as much time on a real bike as I have on that bloody stationary bike, I’d be a front runner for the Tour de France.

The fact is, I don’t feel any different than I did I did six months ago or even a year before that. I’m apparently missing the part of this process that people rave about on Facebook. People say they feel energized following a workout. After mine, I’m pretty much just sore. And tired, which I already was before the exercise. I’m told I can be less than a ray of sunshine on my best day, so you can imagine what a great mood I’m in by that point.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I feel particularly bad. I wasn’t expecting the skies to open up, or the choir invisible to thunder into song, I was expecting to, you know, feel better than I did before or at the very least to feel different. As it stands, I’m pretty much just not doing something that I enjoyed and eating alot things I don’t like. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong…

Getting his cut…

On July 1st, the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act goes into effect. In theory, this law makes it more difficult for organized crime and terrorists to sell tobacco products on the black market and helps “protect the children.” The reality is that PACT bans shipping tobacco products (excluding cigars) by US Mail and mandates that online sellers validate proof of age at the time of sale and collect applicable state and federal taxes. It also requires that shippers like UPS verify the age of the recipient on delivery. In effect, what PACT does is make it nearly impossible to turn a profit on selling cigarette alternatives without pricing yourself out of the US market. In effect, PACT protects the American tobacco industry from foreign competition and encourages those who smoke to continue doing so by making safer alternatives much more difficult, much more expensive, or altogether impossible to procure.

This troubles me not just because I oppose taxes on a philosophical basis, but also because it was several of these alternative products that helped me put down my last cigarette a month ago tomorrow. When electronic cigarettes proved to lack the requisite “kick” I needed, I did what most good historians do and got busy with the research. Fortunately, I found several forums that led me to Swedish snus.

In Sweden, it’s regulated as a food product and despite 40 years of ongoing studies in that country, they have not been able to link snus with an elevated risk of cancer. Because it’s steam pasteurized instead of smoke cured (they way American tobacco is processed), the tobacco used for snus is basically the textbook definition of a “safer” alternative. It caries a warning label here in the States because the U.S. government doesn’t quite know how to regulate it… and before PACT, they were losing tobacco tax revenue to the small, but growing user base who ordered their product directly from Sweden.

Those days are coming to a close and I’ve laid on a stockpile large enough to see me through at least the next two years without much trouble. After that, Uncle is going to make sure to get his cut and this safer alternative is most likely going to remain undiscovered by the vast majority of people who ever consider having a go at quitting. It’s a shame, really. There’s every chance that I’ll never be stopped for good, but for now I’m (mostly) proof that the alternatives can work… even when you’re not planning on it.

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GreenSmoke…


I picked up my first cigarette the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college. As I recall, I was working on campus at the Summer Planning Conference – basically shepherding incoming freshman around campus and making sure they didn’t burn the buildings down during their three-day stay. During the three days between sessions, there may have been some drinking. Actually, there was definitely drinking going on and that’s also where I learned to love Sam Adams Cherry Wheat and rum in its many varieties. Of course that’s beyond the scope of this tale. With the timeline set, that means I’ve been smoking more or less regularly for about 12 years (although it doesn’t seem like nearly that long).

About 48-hours ago, my newest toy arrived. The GreenSmoke electronic cigarette is going to take some getting use to over the next few days. What I’ve noticed so far is that it’s really not all that much different from the old “analog” smoking habit. It doesn’t pack quite the same punch as the real thing, but that may be a function of having ordered cartridges with too low a dose of nicotine. Aside from that, I’m not noticing any particularly bad physiological issues. No headaches or dry mouth; no problems sleeping; no cravings bad enough to make me want to chew my own arm off. The only down side I’ve found in the first 48 hours is the battery life of each e-cig leaves quite a bit to be desired. With a battery necessarily being so small, it’s easy enough to see why they can only hold a few hour of charge. Still, I could see getting caught with a dead or dying battery being just as terrifying as being caught with only one or two smokes left in a pack. The solution, I suppose, is to bring on extra batteries and chargers and stash them around strategically. They even market a USB pass-through device that basically lets you tether your cigarette to a laptop. I’ll be looking into that one as it seems like a good compromise solution until battery technology catches up with the concept.

The reason I know this thing might actually work is that on an average day I would usually smoke somewhere around 30 cigarettes. Yesterday I had six and probably had the same number today. Without my new favorite toy, I would have had that many before 8:00 on a weekday morning. I’m not saying this is the best solution available, but if I can get my fix almost anywhere, save money over the long run, cut out all or most of the additives, it seems like the beginnings of a no brainer. I’m not foolish enough to call this a change in lifestyle after only 48 hours, but I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s definitely a good thing to have so many of the perks, but so few of the drawbacks.

Live, from the 5th Circle of Hell; or From Atlanta with Love

There are a few posts from this week’s trip and you’ll be reading them in whichever order I feel like fleshing out my notes. There is also one that will be written, but not posted without the consent of the other parties involved. Barring that consent, it will remain a permanent part of my personal archive and never see the light of day. Either way, it’s there as a part of the record. You know, for 300 years from now when someone finds one of my old flash drives buried in the rubble of civilization and has to reconstruct what life was like in the 21st century based on only a handfull of snarky blog posts.

I digress, however, from the work at hand. I hate the airport at Atlanta. It’s over crowded both in terms of flight operations and the sheer number of our oblivious fellow airport patrons (did you really think I was going to use the phrase “fellow traveler?”). All the early flights are sold out, so here I sit until 7:30, when, I hope, the skies over the ALT are not full of thunderheads. It’s summer in Atlanta so I’m not holding my breath. This place is some kind of hellish business traveler’s purgatory where time takes on no actual significance.

It’s only saving grace is that it has indoor smoking if you know where to look; thus proving that even hell has its perks. Thank God I’m easy to please.

No smoking…

Let me begin by saying that I recognize that the Marriott Corporation is a private enterprise and I recognize their right to do virtually anything the want with their private property.

I have been a good and loyal customer of the Marriott brands of hotel for most of my adult life. With the number of days on the road this year, I have been an exceptionally good customer lately.

I was disappointed to see this morning that as of September 1st, all hotels under the Marriott brand will become “smoke free for the comfort of our guests.” Since I’m a guest, I inquired this morning how that was increasing my comfort. At the moment, I have not received a response from the customer service department that up until earlier this morning had returned my e-mails in a matter of an hour or two. Go figure.

To make a long rant short, I will no longer be patronizing Marriott hotel brands. I cleared my outstanding reservations for the remainder of the year and will be closing my rewards account shortly. I have no intention of patronizing a company that presumes to tell me how to live in this, or any other, aspect of my personal life.

The camel’s nose is under the tent now and I wonder where he will end up. He has found us in our hotel rooms and I can’t help but think our living rooms aren’t far behind.