Smoking with Shakespeare

I really do not understand it. I don’t mean to say anything disrespectful in this post, but why on earth do people smoke? Everybody knows–even smokers themselves know, or at least ought to know–that smoking is harmful, so why do people do it anyway? 

Packs of cigarettes include warning labels like this one:


The picture is a bit hard to read, but it says, in all caps, “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Empysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.” 

Not only do cigarettes damage the smoker’s health, but they also negatively influence other people’s health as well. According to the American Medical Association, secondhand smoke is even more harmful than firsthand smoke. 

In Australia, people who buy cigarettes can see signs next to the cigarettes saying “Smoking kills”:




Am I missing something? Or is there something bigger at issue here? Why do cigarettes even exist?

Perhaps it is because of the social aspect of smoking. People smoke because others smoke, too, and people smoke because of peer pressure. But why is there peer pressure to smoke? Why is there any pressure whatsoever to smoke? If smoking kills, shouldn’t there be overwhelming pressure not to smoke?

I have never smoked and never will. Some people have told me that smoking gives them a sort of high, but the same question is still relevant: why give yourself a brief high if it means a sooner death and a more miserable–or at least lower quality–life? Besides–there are other ways to get an even higher quality feeling of euphoria.

Shakespeare asks these same questions:

What win I, if I gain the thing I seek? 

. . .

Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week? 

Or sells eternity to get a toy? 

For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?

All of these questions get me thinking about an even bigger question: What kinds of things do we do to ourselves, and why do we do them? And since an underlying assumption in this entire post seems to have be that health is more important than sickness and that life is better than death, why not focus on the most important and best things in life? Why do things that are harmful? Does this not also include things like consuming certain kinds of foods or drinks?