Iona Boyer with permission for Varsity

Why do some people smoke? Most smokers I encounter do so in a strictly ‘social’ capacity, and I too largely fit within this category. I hardly ever smoke alone, and while a fag (or three) outside the library during an essay crisis never goes amiss, my pack-a-fortnight policy hardly qualifies as an addiction, so why even bother? For me it’s neither the nicotine, nor how cool I look, but the company that keeps me running to the off-licence every two weeks.

“We had long forgotten to care about personal image”

On a random Tuesday in Easter Term, past 4am, my closest friends and I were sitting in a tied-up punt smoking. There was no one around, and we were wearing mismatched pyjamas telling each other our most embarrassing secrets. We had long forgotten to care about personal image. I was practically making the boat rock with how much I was shivering, but I also laughed the hardest I ever have. Trying to light a friend’s cigarette with your own half-smoked one two inches from their eyelashes is an intimate, almost romantic experience, even though we eventually had to admit defeat and just let them use a lighter. This random night, one of my most treasured memories that thereafter became tradition, only came about because of a sheepish text: ‘I can’t sleep, want to go for a fag?’. I didn’t make these friends because I smoke, but our shared habit has given us the excuse to spend more time with each other.

Some of the closest bonds I have made at Cambridge have been born in the MASH smoking area: a friendship is cemented when a stranger lets you skive one. A ten minute conversation is traded for a cigarette, and who knows what will be exchanged after? I fall a little bit more in love with my best friend every time he shows off his cigarette case to the whole Revs queue, drunkenly opening it up to offer one to our favourite bouncer. The metallic-y silver case is an extension of his image, yes, but also makes you feel special when he saves you the last one inside. ‘Let’s go for a fag’ is his code for 'I have something outrageous to gossip with you about’, and there’s no better place for a debrief than cramped together in a pub garden while being harassed for filters.

“My love language is quality time, and insisting on having a second cigarette because whoever you’re smoking with isn’t quite done yet is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of friendship”

Being a social smoker also gives you remarkable levels of insight into your relationships. My love language is quality time, and insisting on having a second cigarette because whoever you’re smoking with isn’t quite done yet is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of friendship: It says ‘sure, I’ll further increase my risk of getting cancer just to spend another five minutes with you’. My smoke breaks have been known to last over an hour with the right company, and once resulted in an impromptu LaRaza trip despite having two essays overdue. If your fingers are too cold to roll one, how much effort a friend puts into crafting the perfect rollie can tell you just how much they value you. If I let you use my favourite pink lighter from Benidorm, it means that I’d take a bullet for you. If I offer you one of those plastic sparkwheel lighters, it means that I couldn’t care less whether you live or die.

Some people argue that Cambridge students smoke to distance themselves from their middle class parents, but I’m never more ready to quit altogether when I feel like I’m letting them down. My supervisor catching me smoking made me worry what he must think of my background, and my parents. When a date told me she can’t stand to be around smokers for the disregard they must have for their lives, I couldn’t help but imagine her looking in disgust at my mother, freshly permed and living life to the fullest, lighting one up when she was my age. We didn’t go on a second date.


Mountain View

Smoking not yet stubbed out in Cambridge

Most of my friends from home smoke, and not in a Parisian way. Having a casual fag on the walk to the Eagle reminds me of them. When I think of my circle of social smokers, I think of their charisma, their humour, their generosity, and I start to worry less about looking unprofessional. Smoking may convey a particular image, but the sense of community it brings runs deeper than this. I don’t smoke because I hate my parents, I smoke because I love my friends.