Although I am only 21, I have started and stopped smoking countless times, meaning I have "literally" stopped keeping track. This annoys my girlfriend to no end, as she is fully aware of the fact that smoking is disgusting, destructive, and ultimately deadly. Of course, I know this too, but she is unable to understand why I would choose to contaminate my body in such a cavalier manner.
I can never really come up with a good answer. Try as I may, arguments like "it's an addiction, it changes your brain chemistry" seem good on paper, but they fail to convince me, let alone her. The fact is, I have no trouble stopping for weeks or months at a time. And when I start again, it's not some overwhelming, powerful urge. It's just a stupid idea that pops into my head for whatever reason. I like to smoke. I enjoy it. Strangely enough, there seem to be many others like me. We find comfort in bombarding our lungs with a fine mist of partially combusted hydrocarbons. Ironically enough, many smokers feel that they are more deeply experiencing what it is to breathe by dirtying the very apparatus that gives us the wondrous, necessary ability.
I have come to the conclusion that I enjoy smoking because it is an inherently nihilistic displacement activity. In other words, by slowly killing myself through a mostly pleasurable activity, I thumb my nose at life as a whole without facing death in any immediate or painful sense. But at the same time, I know that I am facing death. It's just a matter of degree.
Though I am well aware that the results might be painful and devastating in the end, they aren't now, and my decision to smoke despite the consequences illustrates my disregard for the sanctity of life, even if it's just a smidgen of disregard. As a displacement activity, smoking satisfies the ever-strong "urge to do something" that otherwise leaves me a fidgeting, anxious buffoon. Smoking takes time. It consumes. Although it can be done in conjunction with many other activities, it is often done as an activity by itself. I choose to spend five minutes of my time now to ensure that I'll have even less time later.
It really makes no sense, does it? Well, as someone who constantly struggles with the question "am I or am I not a nihilist?," (usually the answer is a resounding "yes, but"), participating in yet another completely senseless activity doesn't seem inherently odd or wrong to me. Everything that we do is ridiculous from somebody else's perspective. Imagine what a super-advanced, sentient alien race would think as they watched us from above. Our lives are packed with silly rituals that consume the leisure time we would never have in the wild. Perhaps we are somehow biologically aware that we are living longer lives as a species than ever before, so who cares? We are probably the first species of earth-animal to really deal with the issue of insidious poisoning (without allowing natural selection to solve the problem, that is), so perhaps we haven't learned to truly grasp the idea of being afraid of something that kills slowly.
Most smokers will acknowledge that they are indulging in an unhealthy activity, while others might be able to convince themselves that, despite all of the studies and research on the subject, smoking is not necessarily a death sentence. It's a matter of playing the odds. They might say "I had an uncle who outlived his entire family, and he smoked three packs of Marlboros in a day." The fact that some people manage to not die as a direct cause of their smoking is enough to justify their habit. They behave nihilistically in that they choose to believe that there is no way to know if smoking is bad on a case-by-case basis. The only way to find out is to do it, and in the uncertainty and defiance, they find comfort.
While addiction is indeed a very powerful and motivating force, I think many people who would otherwise be able to quit are driven to continue smoking by sheer nihilism, an apathy of sorts that is reinforced by hedonism. The truth is meaningless, life in the long run doesn't really matter, but pleasure experienced today at least feels like something real.
This was written while debating whether or not to buy another pack, or to quit "for good" for another x months. I think I've managed to convince myself to buy more, *sigh*... Update:I didn't buy more...