A piece of advice ? never tell your doctor, “I cut down to just a few cigarettes a day,” and expect them to be proud of you. The most likely response is “You shouldn’t be smoking at all.”

Actually, the “smoking is bad for you” mentality isn’t as rare up North as I thought it would be. I guess I bought into all of the stereotypes that depicted northerners as black trenchcoat-wearing, coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking, pseudo-depressed beatniks.

I walk across our campus and see maybe one out of every 15 students I pass smoking. It seems strange to me, coming from a place where the two most popular activities are drinking and smoking, in no particular order. The drinking is just as common here, but I was shocked to observe how rare smokers are.

A few years ago I read in a magazine that smoking was on the decline in the United States. Surprised by this news, I set out to see for myself whether this was, in fact, the truth. In preparation of my own newspaper article on the topic, I interviewed people on the streets, of all ages, took down observational data and talked to some local cigarette venders.

I was glad that I went with my instinct from the beginning because my statistics proved the magazine wrong. Smoking was actually on the rise, and the increasing incidence appeared almost exponential.

Quickly though, I lost my buzz.

There was a factor that I had to consider, as I have to remember it when looking at population here. I was gathering statistics from Kentucky. Naturally, smoking is going to be more common there than most other places in the country, for a number of reasons.

Take a look at California. They recently passed a state law that prohibits people from smoking inside any building. Restaurants don’t have smoking sections, except for the tiny designated areas outside, where you are only permitted to smoke if everyone around you approves.

Standing outside of a privately owned building, I was asked politely to put my cigarette out. Needless to say, smoking is on the decline in California.

And here in New York? Well, if I had to pay $4.50 everytime I wanted a decent pack of smokes, I would quit, too. It’s understandable that people are stopping. But, at home, in Kentucky, this is definitely not the case.

I can still find a name brand pack of cigarettes for $2.20. The fact that I had my first cigarette when I was in sixth grade, and kept smoking since then, says a lot about me, but more than that, it says something about the society I come from.

How exactly would a sixth grader go about purchasing a product legal only to the ages of 18 and over? Well, he or she would go into the store and ask for it. That’s it, very simple. No one cared, no one carded.

At home, the joke is, when people ask you why you smoke, you tell them, “I am supporting the local economy. It is my duty as a resident of Kentucky. You should be thanking me, not condemning me.” In a twisted way, we are proud of our heritage. We feel a sort of loyalty to the tobacco companies.

Up here, there are many reasons why smoking is not a thriving practice. There are the obvious health risks, the aforementioned sky-high prices and the lack of economic pressure. I have recently discovered another significant reason to quit.

It is cold up here. Very, very cold when compared to Kentucky. When you have to walk outside to smoke, exposing your hand to the frigid night air, it’s just not worth it. Sometimes the warmth and comfort of your bed is more appealing than the idea of filling your lungs with harmful chemicals.

That is reason enough for someone to quit smoking, and now I understand the plight of the northern smoker, and why smoking is becoming a dying practice.

Rubin can be reached at krubin@campustimes.org.

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