the great equalizer
Harvard prides itself on being different, as anyone who has taken a Crimson Key tour can explain. One property of Harvard that isn't on any tour, though, is the unique situation of smokers on campus. One student claims that the percentage of smokers at Harvard is about half of that in the "real" world. Jennifer L. Burns '98 asserts "there are fewer people here who smoke and more that look down on it." Another junior smoker, who says, "I've had people cough as I walk by with a cigarette," supports the view that smoking is considered an unpleasant activity on campus. He adds, "everyone claims to be allergic to cigarette smoke, which is bullshit. That's why smokers have to stick together." Especially among first-years, who must often brave the elements to get their fix, the smoking community is one that develops strong ties. The hard-core know who they are, and one female first-year declares that "at Harvard there are three smokers and we all know each other." Burns, who always smokes outside, reports, "There's a smoker community." She says standing outside her dorm with the same people all the time has both fostered bonds and resulted in great conversation.
Smokers congregate in various secluded spots around campus, to strengthen their bond. A non-smoker may not realize why the smell around the Science Center entrance changes from that of rotting bugs to that of cigarette smoke every hour on the hour during the middle of a weekday, but the community of smokers knows from experience that it is simply the scent of their kind. They know this is a place to find a light or even a cigarette if they need one, a place to meet friends and smoke together. A group of first-year women gather on the smelly rocks every day after lunch to smoke and talk. Other popular smoking areas are the Barker Center lawn and library steps (justifying the pots of sand outside Lamont and Widener). "I smoke in front of my dorm, and while walking between classes, to make it less boring," says Roman Z. Altshuler '01 of his favorite haunts.
The attitudes and policies at Harvard do more than just foster the smoker's bond: they affect the ways people interact with each other and perceive themselves. Burns remembers, "My freshman year, there were just two of us in my entryway, and we were known as 'the smokers' to everyone," Nabil I. Kassam '01 says. "On first impression, smokers are seen as rebels. Here, you can tell smokers are not welcome. People's initial reactions are what get to you."
Having identities shaped by nicotine and tar apparently makes some students nervous. While some smokers are eager to discuss tobacco culture, most are reluctant to reveal their names. They give different reasons for requesting anonymity, among them a fear of mothers who read FM, fear of harassment by health insurance companies and just plain embarrassment. Some didn't want their friends to read about their smoking habits; others were simply ashamed.
This denial takes on interesting forms. One first-year, a member of the group of girls that sit on the rocks to smoke, ironically states, "I have a cigarette case that I won't get my initials engraved on because then I'm not a 'real' smoker." Unfortunately, lung cancer still recognizes people who speak on condition of anonymity. Athlete smokers report having to hide their cigarettes from coaches and teammates while smoking because it carries such a negative image in the sports world. On the other hand, some smokers don't bother hiding from disease. Kassam proudly declares, "Just ask what anti-smoking ads do for me: Jack shit! I know my lungs are black and sooty, but I'm addicted."
Despite the obvious problem of addiction, almost everyone interviewed reports plans to quit, assuming that it won't be difficult to kick the habit. No one seems to acknowledge that industry wizards made "the patch" for a reason.
All four members of the Smelly Rock Smoking Club agree they want to quit after graduation. "Since we're still young and invincible, we can smoke all we want now. But we never would in the real world," one jokes. Her smoking partner adds, "yeah, I would never smoke once I get married and have kids." Other students have more intriguing personal stories about quitting. One grad student smoking in front of William James Hall spilled a sad tale of love and lung abuse. "I smoked in high school and college, then quit for three years. Then I began grad school and started again. When I became engaged, I quit because of that, but three months before I was supposed to get married, I broke off the engagement, and started smoking again." His friend, a senior, then remarks, "he's got a license to smoke now." If lung cancer finds him, maybe he can just flash his smoker's license and get off free. The grad student adds, "I'm planning on quitting when it warms up and I can start blading again."
Students overall don't seem to have a plan to quit. Some, like Burns, claim "I don't have a plan; plans to quit never work." Others, like Gregory L. Hart '01, use the common "cut back" method. Hart says, "I'm in the process of quitting. I've gone from a pack-a-day to half a pack to a quarter of a pack a day. I'll have quit by summer." His friend expresses absolute confidence in this plan. "I'll quit when I want to quit," he defensively adds.
While most smokers are either planning to quit or in the process of quitting (a process that frequently seems to span several years), some would just prefer to reduce the amount they smoke now, especially when their health is in jeopardy. Ethan M. Goldberg '99 says, "I thought about quitting when I got a cold. I don't really want to quit though, but I would like to limit it to social situations. Besides, when I smoke less, I enjoy each cigarette more." Maissa Boulos '01, a former smoker, says "I haven't had a cigarette in 14 days. I'm awesome. I had a drag of my wonderful roommate's cigarette yesterday, which I tore from her hand, but I don't think that counts as smoking."
Smokers' consumption varies. The standard measurement of addiction is the "pack-a-day" unit. A smoker can smoke one pack a day, half a pack a day, or even two packs a day. Goldberg claims "even among those who smoke here, there's a difference between 'smokers' and 'smoking.'" Whereas some like "smoking" now and then at parties, "smokers" take the habit much more seriously. The Smelly Rock Smoking Club is a good cross-section of the Harvard smoking population, with each member smoking a variation of the pack-a-day measurement. A couple admit to a pack-a-day or close to it, while another smokes about four a day. One only admits to smoking when she goes out.
Many mention a relationship between the amount they smoke and how stressed they're feeling. Kassam states, "The amount I smoke goes up and down with the stress factor in my life." Overall, the testimony of smokers is evidence that Harvard really is psychologically stressful, and it's a wonder more students haven't picked up the habit.
Dating is a common source of stress students cite as driving them to inhale. As the WJH grad student shows, a failed relationship can be enough to bring someone who has quit back tothe fold. Classes can also be a factor. Hartreports, "I think smoking is a natural product ofhaving lots of work." An indignant junior alsostresses, asking, "How can you not smoke here?When I get sick later in life, I'm gonna makeHarvard pay my bills." Burns cites her stressfulsemester as reason she can't quit now.
The other side of quitting is, of course,starting. Why would smart kids start a habit thatcould lead to their death, as many point out?Again, there are various reasons. Goldberg talksabout a road-trip he took last summer. "A friendand I drove from Washington D.C. to Chihuahua,Mexico," he says. "I started smoking to occupytime while driving and keep myself awake." Manysmokers say they began lighting up in high schoolas a social activity; that's how the Smelly RockSmoking Club started. Hart tells a sadder story,saying, "I started after knee surgery, lying inbed, feeling sorry for myself. Also, my girlfriendsmoked, and I couldn't stand the smell. I startedso that we would both smell. Now we're broken up,and I'm like 'fuck you!'" Burns had quit, butstarted again because she was hanging around withfriends that smoke.
People who had quit start again and others,like Kassam, just bitterly lament, "I'm addicted!"as reason for continuing. One junior's explanationfor continuing his habit was little more secureabout myself. I think it has something to do witha manual-oral fixation and how I like my hands tostay busy. I can just be walking along, and whenI'm smoking, I sometimes feel I don't have a carein the world. I think 'It's just me and mycigarette and everything's okay.' Smoking makes meslow down and appreciate every walk more."
Despite the reasons smokers give for smoking,they know it poses obvious health risks and otherside effects like gross breath and yellow teeth.This means they must constantly deal with friends'objections. One of the "pack-a-day" smokers of theSmelly Rock Smoking Club knows this annoyance onlytoo well. "My non-smoking boyfriend no longer asksme to quit because he'd rather put up with mynasty habit than my mood swings from trying toquit," she says. Burns, on the other hand, is arealist. "I don't mind friends' criticism toomuch," she says, "because I know they have apoint."
On the other side of the friends versuscigarettes debate, another Smelly Rock smoker hasthe opposite problem. She laments a classic caseof denial: "I go through more cigarettes than Ishould because my boyfriend is a big mooch whothinks that if he doesn't buy his own cigaretteshe's not a smoker and won't get addicted." Onceagain, the first step to recovery is admitting onehas a problem.
Though non-smokers are often ignorant of it, animportant aspect of smoking is the cigaretteitself. For one thing, most smokers are attachedto a particular brand of cigarettes. Goldberg, whosmokes Kamel Reds, says, "I can't stand lightcigarettes, and I like the taste of these comparedto others." Although Goldberg expresses disgustwith lights instead of his chosen brand, othersprefer them. One grad student says, "I smokeCarltons because they're light, light as air." Hegoes on to argue that it is easier to quit fromlight cigarettes than Reds. Altshuler has apeculiar reason for enjoying his favorite brand,saying, "I smoke Parliaments because I like tostick my tongue in the recessed filter." Talkabout oral fixation! Other popular brands areCamels and Marlboros. One first-year woman says,"I smoked Winstons regularly, but then I saw an adfor Kamel Red lights, and I bought a pack becauseof the cool box. I liked it so much that I stuckit on my wall after the pack was empty." Thankyou, tobacco lobbyists.
HEY, THAT'S NOT A CIGARETTE!
An little known campus fact is that Harvard hasits own cigar club. The club has an e-mail list ofover 300 students from the College, graduate andprofessional schools. A. Maximo Cuellar '00, vicepresident of the organization, says that the groupis made up of about 10 to 15 percentundergraduates, primarily due to supplylimitations. Wine and brandy tastings are includedwith cigars and conversation. He explains that thegoal of the club is to get people who want tolearn about cigars and everything that goes alongwith them in a social setting where they caninteract. Information about the club is spread byword of mouth, but interested students can enterthe circuit by contacting Cuellar.
Cuellar says of smoking, "I enjoy a cigar aboutonce every two weeks. There is a huge distinctionbetween cigar smoking and cigarettes. Smoking canbe abused, and while cigars offer a ritualisticopportunity for people to sit down and talk,cigarettes pervert that into a quick nicotinefix." Other cigar aficionados agree, such as AlexNettune '98 who says, "What I like about smokingcigars is that they allow you to relax and have agood conversation. Both Casablanca and Upstairs atLeavitt & Pierce offer good conversation. BothCasablanca and Upstairs at Leavitt & Pierce offergood places to enjoy a smoke." Other studentsagree that for those interested in purchasingcigars around Harvard Square, Leavitt & Pierce isthe place to go.
LEAVITT & PIERCE
Leavitt & Pierce--specialist in fine tobaccoproducts--has been a staple in the Square for morethan 115 years. It exudes an old-fashioned,old-school aura--one of the last bastions of theHarvard "old boys club." Images of ancient Harvardsports teams clutter the dark walls (check out the1908 baseball team's sexy knickerbockers).Footballs from long-forgotten Harvard-Yale games,ticket stubs from games back in '92 (that's 1892,mind you), and championship oars hang as remindersof past glory. A century-old Leavitt & Peirce adurges students to order their "class pipes." Anupper-crust masculinity oozes out of the walls.
The store itself is long and narrow, with ablack & white tiled floor, dark green and redwalls, a black painted ceiling, and gilt moldings.To the left is a long cigar display containinghundreds of fat stogies, a smoker's hall of fame.On the right is a long counter dis-