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 even go on a first date with someone who smokes. I strongly suspect that more women would date a millionaire who earned his money disreputably than a millionaire who smoked.
Drinkers are far more highly regarded than smokers, as are playboys, gamblers, lawyers, politicians and almost anyone else except child molesters.
So I have no doubt that some readers who until now have held me in esteem will lose respect for me when they learn that not only do I smoke cigars and a pipe, but I love doing so, have no interest in stopping and have been happy to pass this pleasure on to my older son. In fact, we regularly have some of our best talks while we enjoy our cigars.
For the record, I never smoke cigarettes, which I happen to dislike the smell of, and which I acknowledge to be dangerous. But what I write here largely applies to cigarette smokers as well. In fact, I find anti-smoking zealots far more dangerous to society than cigarette smokers, and would much sooner date a cigarette smoker than one of the zealots.
Having said that, however, it does need to be pointed out that there is little in common between cigar (or pipe) smoking and cigarette smoking. Most important, we don't inhale. This is not meant in the way former President Bill Clinton meant it when he said he "never inhaled." The purpose and joy of cigar and pipe smoking are to enjoy the taste of tobacco in one's mouth. The purpose and joy of cigarette smoking are only vaguely related to the taste of tobacco.
And that leads to two other great differences between cigarette smoking and cigar (and pipe) smoking: First, there is no issue of addiction regarding cigars or pipes. I have been smoking both since I was 15 years old, and could stop tomorrow if I wanted to. Indeed, as a Jew who observes the Sabbath prohibition on kindling fire, I do not smoke for a day every week, and it is effortless. Likewise, I am frequently on the road lecturing, and often miss days at a time with absolutely no discernible effect. Second, because one does not inhale when smoking a cigar or pipe, the likelihood of lung cancer is minimal.
Yes, I am warned by doctors that I am more liable to contract mouth or lip cancer, but while physicians may see such diseases, in 40 years of smoking I have never met or heard of one person with either cancer.
Indeed, I am quite convinced that my one-a-day cigar or pipe may well have had a positive impact on my health given how much relaxation it induces. Stress kills far more people than cigars or pipes do.
It is a sign of the times that the latest James Bond film has prohibited 007 from smoking a cigar. One of the most benign practices a person can engage in was banned, but our macho hero can be shown drinking alcohol and bedding women (and without any mention of condoms!), not to mention killing people and engaging in behaviors infinitely more dangerous than cigar smoking.
We live in the Age of Stupidity. This new age has been induced by widespread college education and widespread secularism -- Psalms is entirely accurate: "Wisdom begins with fear of the Lord" -- which explains, for example, why only well-educated secularists came to believe that there were no innate nonphysical differences between men and women.
Nearly 100 years ago, before widespread college education and before widespread secularism, when America tried to prohibit a vice, it chose alcohol, not tobacco. It knew that there were immoral consequences to alcohol consumption -- most child abuse, most spousal abuse, about half of violent crimes and most rapes are accompanied by alcohol. Nobody has ever raped because smoking a cigarette or a cigar numbed his conscience. And no one fears smoking drivers; we rightly fear drinking drivers.
Both in my hometown and on the road, I find great joy in visiting cigar stores and schmoozing with the owners and with the guys smoking there. In fact, cigar stores may be the last place men can get together without women.
Of course if you think I am really killing people due to the secondhand smoke they inhale from my cigar or pipe, I presume all discussion ends. I am then simply a killer who needs to be stopped. I find absurd the notion that more than 50,000 Americans are killed every year just by being in the presence of smokers. But if you believe it, all you need to do is open a window and enjoy yourself.
The late legendary comedian George Burns was a listener to my radio talk show. When he was around 90 years old, he 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. George looked at me and responded, "My doctor died."
My father is 88 years old and has been smoking a few cigars a day (in my 87-year-old mother's presence, I might add). They are both in near-perfect health. He not only taught me the joys of cigars. He also taught me the importance of thinking for myself and how to lead an honorable life that includes as much joy as possible.