I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more beautiful defense of menthol cigarettes than when the bearded lady at the B.P. across from my old apartment rang my pack up and said, “I love menthols. It’s like smoking in colors.” She had taken a break from the intense romance novel she was writing on a yellow legal pad for my transaction, so her approval felt like she was affirming me as a customer, and maybe as a human.
That’s the thing about menthols. They’re so all-around uncool that when you find a fellow menthol smoker, it’s an instant bond.
First there’s that nervous moment when someone wants a cigarette and you have to flash the green pack, cringing for the harassment you’re about to get. “Menthols smell like my grandma.” “Menthols make your lungs shatter.” That kind of thing. People look at you like you’re not a “real smoker.”
But when, instead of harassment, someone says, “Oh, even better,” your cigarette break is twice as gratifying.
Part of my attraction to menthols could be due to that “marketing cigarettes to kids” thing that makes the creators want to add in quirky flavors or bonus features. I might be their target audience, since I did enjoy clove cigarettes in college to the point that I ordered a case of them from Indonesia when they became illegal to sell. That crackle! That sugary filter! But don’t show this paragraph to your local congressperson who will go and make interesting cigarettes illegal. Leave our smokes alone.
I’m still not entirely sure why I smoke menthols. I don’t actually “see colors” when I smoke them, but I do feel better – more refreshed, alert and able to convince myself that if I taste like an ashtray, at least it’s a minty one. I think I deserve a cigarette for that.
Photo by Courtney Emery