Latest ‘Domestically Disturbed’

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

Part of my trip planning whenever I go out of town for more than a few days includes a stop at the discount tobacco store for a carton of American Spirit Perique Rich Robust — they’re the ones that come in the black pack, which inarguably makes them classier.

When I get ‘em by the carton it works out to around $5.50 a pack. I smoke roughly a pack a day. Yes, I’m fully aware I’m spending two grand a year on cigarettes, I can do math. So let’s just bring those eyebrows back to a neutral place, thanks.

Those same cigarettes are $9 to $12 in other cities, so I plan ahead. Last time I was in Manhattan, whenever someone asked me for a cigarette, I’d offer them two for a dollar. And they went for it! They paid!

I was totally prepared to start a new life for myself selling cigarettes to needy hipsters, until I found out what I was doing was a felony. About half of the career paths I think I’d be really good at turn out to be illegal. It’s hard to make a living, y’all.

Smoking has already made its departure from bars and restaurants in every city I visit. I don’t even ask anymore: I just accept bar smoking as being a unique comfort of home that I shouldn’t expect elsewhere, like having my dog around.

It’s better for a smoker to limit his travel plans to temperate climates, because there is just nothing sadder than seeing a group of urbanites huddled together outside of a bar in freezing temperatures, puffing away at cigarettes they paid too much for and can’t properly enjoy.

When I go out in other cities, I smoke less. It’s not worth bundling up and scuffling outside more than two or three times in the course of a night. And yet, I still have a lovely evening. Despite my pathetic and crippling addiction, I do not sit there seething, cursing the Nanny State for denying me the opportunity to light up.

However, because of the aforementioned pathetic and crippling addiction, if you give me the chance to light up in your place of business, I will take full advantage of that invitation. Why have three delicious American Spirit Perique Rich Robusts when I can have 16? Yaaay, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.

I’ve never met anyone who has made their peace with their eventual agonizing death from emphysema. All smokers know we should get around to quitting at some point. I tried to once, like five years ago, but I abandoned the attempt fairly quickly because it I wasn’t enjoying it.

I’ll try again, at some point, and I’ll have to stick with it because I don’t want to die from smoking. If you’re curious, the way I want to die is after I say the last line of my acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award. Just drop and flatline, right there on stage. Because I like situational irony.

Do you know who keeps smoking in 2013? Selfish, self-destructive people. People who lack a basic respect for themselves, and the people who love them. If you’re still smoking, you have an issue that’s much greater than tobacco, and you need to deal with whatever that is.

And since I put it out there, yes, I know my issue. I don’t like myself as much as I should, so I don’t place proper importance on treating my body well. I am working on that.

Boom. Truth bomb.

Smoking is disgusting, it makes you smell bad, and it is killing you. Every single cigarette makes it a little more likely that you’re going to die from making that choice. And I’m telling you that as someone who has smoked for 18 years, and has paused for three smoke breaks since I started writing this column.

It is our right to continue. I don’t think cigarettes should be outlawed for the same reason I don’t think alcohol, pot, or giant sodas should be outlawed: Our bodies, our choices.

But there is simply no defensible reason for smoking to continue in Atlanta bars. Nothing — absolutely nothing, not one goddamn thing — is gained from allowing it. It’s gross. Non-smoking patrons don’t like it, and smoking patrons do just fine without it.

Atlanta, it’s time we clear the air.


Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at