It is the little joys in life that constitute much of our happiness. Unlike the unique joys of getting married, attending the birth and later the wedding of a child, attaining a major career milestone, etc., little joys can be experienced just about every day.
Among these little joys in my life is smoking a cigar (and a pipe). Every day that I am home (except Shabbat), and whenever possible on the road, I smoke one or both. I have been doing so since I was in high school.
For the record, I never smoke cigarettes, the smell of which I dislike and which I acknowledge to be dangerous.
As regards to the health danger of cigars and pipes, most nonsmokers are simply unaware of the fact that, unlike cigarette smokers, virtually no cigar or pipe smokers ever inhale when they smoke.
Therefore, the only danger of cigar smoking is some form of mouth cancer. This is, however, so rare as to compete in frequency with death by lightning. In fact, I believe that my cigars — given all the joy and peace they induce — are more likely to prolong my life than terminate it. My late father smoked more cigars a day than I ever do and died at age 96.
The anti-smoking propaganda that long ago crossed into hysteria has obfuscated the differences between cigars and cigarettes. And when I saw billboards put up by the State of California proclaiming that tobacco is a drug, I saw how dangerous anti-smoking fanaticism can be. Telling young people there is no difference between tobacco and heroin, let alone marijuana, was one of the most deceitful and dangerous messages I have ever seen a government convey.
Another deception is the alleged terrible danger of secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke can sometimes exacerbate asthma and other health issues in people who live with smokers in small spaces. But the figure of 50,000 Americans killed each year by secondhand smoke is fabricated — by people who so hate smoking that they believe that deception is morally defensible if it will reduce smoking. Thus, a 2013 study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute concluded there is “no link between the disease [lung cancer] and secondhand smoke.”
Now, on to the social stigma issue.
Drinkers and almost anyone else except child molesters are more highly regarded than smokers. There are few personal confessions more likely to alienate many Americans than to admit to smoking. Singles ads are filled with people who will never go on a first date with someone who smokes — cigars or cigarettes. Alcohol — the single greatest external factor in spousal and child abuse (due to its inhibition-lowering effect), and a major killer of innocents through drunken driving — is just fine. But cigars? No way. A museum in London even removed the cigar from an iconic photo of Britain’s great wartime leader Winston Churchill.
It is a sign of the morally foolish times in which we live that in James Bond films, 007 is now prohibited from smoking cigars. One of the most benign practices a person can engage in has been banned, but Bond can still be shown drinking alcohol and bedding women, not to mention engaging in behaviors immeasurably more dangerous than cigar smoking.
For those of us who love life’s little joys and who aren’t taken in by hysteria, cigars are one of life’s great pleasures. I have happily passed this pleasure on to one of my sons, just as my father did to me. In fact, my son and I have some of our best talks while we enjoy our cigars.
Both in Los Angeles and on the road, I find immense joy in visiting cigar stores and sitting and schmoozing with the other men smoking there. Cigar stores are one of the few places in America where men can socialize with one another without women present — something that is good for both sexes to do. Meanwhile, some cities, such as Burbank, prohibit people from smoking even in cigar stores.
It is a symptom of the moral and intellectual decline of America that nearly 100 years ago, when America sought to prohibit a vice, it chose alcohol, not tobacco. Americans knew then that most child abuse, most spousal abuse, most rapes, and about half of violent crimes are accompanied by alcohol consumption. And it understood that no man ever raped anyone because a cigarette or a cigar had numbed his conscience. Similarly, no one fears smoking drivers.
Yet, in our time, it is tobacco we have demonized, not alcohol, and not even marijuana. Indeed, the people most likely to hold Prohibitionists in contempt are often the same people who seek to prohibit tobacco, many of whom simultaneously advocate the legalization of marijuana.
When he was in his 90s, the late legendary comedian George Burns invited me to his Beverly Hills home. In the course of our two hours together, he smoked two cigars and had a couple of martinis. I asked him what his doctor said about those habits. Burns looked at me and responded, “My doctor is dead.”
George Burns, like my father, loved life and loved its many joys, cigars among them.
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).