A PACK OF CIGARETTES has to be the most satisfying purchase of any given day. There’s sheer volume, for one thing. You’re not buying five or ten of anything. Not even a dozen. Not you. You’re buying 20 moments. Twenty chances to unfold your ancient lighter, with the associated pleasure of 20 whiffs of butane and the minimum 20 thumb-rasps on the flint. But go further. Twenty trips to the courtyard, where the other smokers gather to lean against doorways, kicking at their shoes. In every city, outside every office, they congregate. They are a nation unto themselves! The handshake. The tapping of the cigarette against the palm. That first curl of smoke against the eye. They’ve bought into something with that pack. Twenty first drags, 20 glances at the sky, 20 conversations about the Redskins or about that rain cloud, about your sister or the other guy’s girlfriend, about how much you hate soccer, about how good the breeze feels when the sun is falling behind the trees.
In another era, these would be our moments of repose, the kind of things painters would concentrate on. In a more forward-thinking culture, you might expect workers to be forced to step outside 20 times a day, to give themselves three minutes out of every 30, to gather in small pods, if only for the sheer accident of conversation. For all their troubles, smokers get this much. They are drawn to it. Despite themselves, despite the flood of warnings and the sidelong glances, despite the castigations of children and government alike, smokers locate themselves in their day and they pause.
Tom Chiarella, fiction editor at Esquire.
Taken from “The Indefensible Position: Smoking Has Its Benefits”