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Commentary: Congress, Grunts And Former Smokers Should Embrace The Suck

Photo of Nancy Pelosi

A Words to Live By award goes to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who reportedly advised her fellow Democrats to “embrace the suck” and vote for the budget agreement crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

It seems that liberal colleagues objected to certain provisions of the compromise but Pelosi believed a flawed deal beat no deal at all. Her half-a-loaf-is-better-than-nothing approach was reminiscent of the practicality that once characterized negotiations on Capitol Hill.

I saw the former speaker interviewed on CNN regarding her alleged comment. Though she would neither confirm nor deny the utterance, the general tenor of the conversation led me to conclude that she had, in fact, said it but might prefer to be remembered for something else.

Speaking in generalities, Pelosi explained that the unusual adage came from the Iraq war. GIs patrolling in the insufferable desert heat while laden like a pack animal to prosecute hostilities against an elusive enemy for uncertain purposes ultimately decided the only way to accomplish their mission was to accept their plight and get on with it. Rather than waste time complaining, they thus “embraced the suck” and did what had to be done.

A thing for cigars

The phrase resonated with me because I’d begun to embrace the suck last month, although in an entirely different context. In my case, the enemy was an annoyingly persistent compulsion to smoke tobacco.

Recycling the old joke: I think it’s easy to quit smoking because I do it all the time. I once made it 7 ½ years without lighting up. That streak ended when I foolishly accepted the gift of an expensive cigar in a moment of weakness and instantly became re-addicted.

Over the years, I’ve dabbled with cigarettes and pipes but my true love has always been cigars — typically cheap stogies that generate pungent clouds of delicious smoke. Regrettably, my hedonistic soul was saddled with a rather strait-laced respiratory system prone to sinus infection and bronchial irritation. My cigar Jones was making it difficult to breathe, and the problem grew especially acute during the winter months.

Enter the e-cig

Reasoning that you can’t smoke when you’re dead, I figured I was going to quit one way or the other so I vowed to once again become a non-smoker when the weather turned cold this year. This time, however, I decided to fortify my chronically shaky will power with a little nicotine and bought an electronic cigarette.

An e-cigarette is really a battery screwed onto a fluid container. The smaller version looks like a filtered cigarette. The deluxe model I bought is about the size and shape of my favored cigar, a coronella — about 6 inches long and ½ inch in diameter.

The fluid consists of nicotine and flavoring mixed into a glycerin-based solution. It’s sold in graduated degrees of potency and is available in a wide variety of flavors. I chose a mid-grade level of nicotine that tastes something like a cigar.

The user draws on the mouthpiece at the end of the fluid reservoir as though he were smoking. The battery powers a small coil within the fluid that vaporizes a minute amount of liquid into a puff of nicotine. Enthusiasts call this practice “vaping” — as opposed to smoking.

There are several advantages to this space-age alternative to tobacco. Because there is no smoke, there’s no secondary smoke to pester sensitive bystanders. The only by-product is odorless water vapor that is quickly absorbed by the surrounding atmosphere.

A starter kit, complete with battery charger and a two-week supply of fluid, is generally available for less than $50, making it considerably cheaper than traditional cigarettes or cigars.

And the fledgling industry has inflated the ranks of small business owners. The typical e-cig vendor operates out of a small storefront reminiscent of the Mom & Pop movie-rental shops that sprang up in the early days of the VCR.

Feeling better

Of course, the principal benefit is that vapor appears to be far less irritating to respiration than smoke. Though the people who market the equipment are careful to make no health claims, anecdotal evidence strongly indicates that most former smokers feel significantly better after converting to vapor.

I’d guess that it’s only a matter of time before somebody documents medical risks associated with vaping, and I’m sure that simply abstaining from nicotine is the preferable alternative. I also suspect that purists will be offended by the sight of individuals going through the motions of smoking, regardless of what they’re really ingesting.

But for imperfect souls trying to cope in an imperfect world, switching to vapors seems to be a tentative step in the right direction. As the guy who sold me my first kit explained, “Don’t think that you’re quitting, just imagine you’re changing brands.”

The next time you see some addict puffing on a nicotine vaporizer; don’t look upon him with disdain. Instead, embrace the suck and give him a “thumbs up.” At least, he’s trying.

M.W. Guzy
M.W. (Michael William) Guzy began as a contributor to St. Louis media in 1997 with an article, “Everybody Loves a Dead Cop,” on the Post-Dispatch Commentary page. In addition to the St. Louis Beacon and now St. Louis Public Radio, his work has been featured in the St. Louis Journalism Review, the Arch City Chronicle, In the Line of Duty and on tompaine.com. He has appeared on the Today Show and Hannity & Combs, as well as numerous local radio and television newscasts and discussion programs.

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