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Opinion: Smoking: where the Chinese are more free than Californians

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At last, an interlude — a piece on smoking that spares us the obligatory moralizing on our ‘right to breathe clean air.’ In The Wall Street Journal today, Beijing-based magazine editor Hugo Restall takes us through his odyssey of adopting a smoking habit in China — and declares, ‘I enjoy it so much that I don’t know why I didn’t take it up earlier.’ More:

After years of resisting, a friend in Shanghai gave me the perfect excuse to start smoking. China has become so polluted, he told me, that it’s better to breathe through a cigarette filter than just take in the air on its own. And if your lungs are going to get shot to hell anyway, you might as well enjoy it. So, well into middle age, I figured that it was probably a good time to take up the smoking habit.

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Restall writes parts of his piece the way others would a wine or restaurant review, treating the habit as if it were a legal behavior adults shouldn’t feel guilty about savoring (which, in case you forgot, smoking is, even in California — minus the feeling guilty part):

Chunghwas run you almost $10 a pack, and Pandas, if you can find them, are $12. But it’s worth it. Not only do they offer a pungent sense of history, they taste fantastic. Both are exceptionally smooth, almost like an Indonesian kretek clove cigarette. But they kick like a Camel unfiltered. Pandas are made with a dark tobacco and hence are woody and nutty, with hints of pine shavings and hickory. They are a bit strong, and have a very long filter to compensate. But they leave a spicy aftertaste, which perhaps is why Deng, who was from Sichuan, the land of chilies and peppercorns, loved them so much. When you open a pack of Chunghwa cigarettes, you can smell the bouquet of preserved plums, and they convey a fruity flavor even when alight. If smoking puts you on the road to early death, as some spoilsports say, then Chunghwas make the journey an extremely pleasant one. I would go so far as so say that, if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of being offered a last cigarette, make it a Chunghwa. This is a smoke to be savored like a vintage wine.

Too bad I kicked my smoking habit months ago.


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