Tom Stoppard on Smoking

From The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry:

I was at a dinner party many years ago, sitting alongside Tom Stoppard, who in those days smoked not just between courses but between mouthfuls. An American woman opposite watched in disbelief.

“And you so intelligent!”

“Excuse me?” said Tom.

“Knowing those things are going to kill you,” she said, “and still you do it.”

“How differently I might behave,” Tom said, “if immortality were an option.”

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

10 thoughts on “Tom Stoppard on Smoking”

  1. Can’t resist adding Robert Benchley’s riposte when an observer said of his martini consumption, “Don’t you know that’s slow death?” “I’m in no hurry.”

  2. I’m not sure I understand either the logic or the humor of Stoppard’s supposed bon mot. Inasmuch as Stoppard implicitly accepts the American woman’s premise that cigarette smoking significantly shortens one’s life, his reaction is just illogical and not a witticism because smoking would seem to be an activity suited only for one who is indeed immortal. Thus, the American woman is right and Stoppard is a self-destructive fool who is trying to sound clever.

    1. See Geoff G’s comment for a similar notion: immortality not being an option, the question is how to live, for how long. Stoppard is saying he believes he’s making an informed choice to live a happier and shorter life (and, I suppose, typically dying quickly – lung cancer is horrifyingly efficient) with smoking, rather than living a longer time without.

  3. In the same spirit, as the Stoppard and Benchley quotes, Tim Maia, a very rotund, Brazilian singer said he went on a rigorous diet in which he cut out all alcohol, fatty foods and sugar. He said in two weeks he lost 14 days.

  4. In his book, Fry also describes another fellow who is told that “Quitting smoking makes you live longer!”, to which he replies “It only *seems* longer”

  5. I was a dedicated smoker for thirty years or more. I’m glad I quit. I don’t regret smoking or for that matter all the other stuff I did that people told me would wreck my life. My only real regrets in life are so many things I didn’t do.
    Now that I don’t smoke I get to see how abnoxious it is to breath other peoples’ smoke. I keep my peace and do my penance. I do regret subjecting folks around me to all that stink for all those years.

  6. “As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain from smoking when awake.” —Mark Twain

    “I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.” —Johnny Carson

    “It is now proved beyond doubt that smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.” —Fletcher Knebel

    “People always come up to me and say that my smoking is bothering them… Well, it’s killing me!” —Wendy Liebman

    “They’re talking about banning cigarette smoking now in any place that’s used by ten or more people in a week, which, I guess, means that Madonna can’t even smoke in bed.” —Bill Maher

    Smoking Quotes

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