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Borrowing a vice

We all have vices, right? And by vices, I mean things we indulge in for pleasure, not out of necessity, things that we indulge in though they may not be healthy for us.

I know some formal definitions include words like "evil" and "moral depravity," but if those fit you, you need to seek counseling, not read this blog.

So I was just out of the office at an interview. When I arrived at the location I stood on the sidewalk waiting to be buzzed in. A few other folks milled about, all apparent strangers to one another.

One guy was smoking. A woman pushing a stroller approached him and asked to "borrow" a cigarette...if he had one to spare.

He smiled, checked his pack, gave her a cig, and lit her up.

This isn't a new phenomenon, I know. But I'm curious about two things: If you're a smoker, has it always been a part of smoker's etiquette to comfortably and casually ask other smokers to "loan" you a cigarette? And why is it that people don't ask strangers to borrow other vices?

I mean, I have the occasional Cuban cigar. My humidor is practically bulging at the seams, in fact, 'cause I don't smoke 'em often enough. I consider it a vice, in the purest sense, 'cause without going into the medical minutia, our lungs weren't meant to suck in cigarette smoke, nor were our mouths meant to savor cigar smoke.

Anyway, if I was in a social setting where cigars were allowed and I realized I'd left home without one, I don't think it would ever occur to me to walk up to a cigar-smoking stranger and ask him to "loan" me a spare.

What about people who eat frequently at Crack Ronalds, or Wack Arnolds? That stuff is definitely a vice, since it bears ingredients that can clog your arteries, stop your heart, or put bad weight on you.

And yet, if you were in a public setting, hungry, and craving that particular vice - say, a Big Crack with cheese and fries, or a six piece CrackNuggets meal - and you saw a perfect stranger eating those things, it would never occur to you to ask that stranger to borrow a fry or a nugget.

I could go on with the vices, but you get my point. What makes cigarettes so different from other ingestible or inhalable vices, that cig smokers are so comfortable asking strangers for 'em?


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Hmmm... interesting question.
It could be in part because it used to be a little sexual, you know how a man would light a woman's cig for her. That little bit of intimacy. And how it was portrayed years ago, in movies, etc. Could be that woman was attracted to him and wanted a reason to open conversation. It's also sort of a power thing, to have a cigarette in hand, showing a little toughness maybe.
And how much are the little cancer sticks now... 5 bucks a pack? If you are a casual smoker and can just bum them here and there as you see people smoking it leaves money in your pocket for other things, like that dollar menu at McD's. lol
I know a couple people who don't smoke all the time. If they are drinking they might have one or two and that's it. That was always odd to me. My SIL was the same way. She would have a cig or two one day and then not again for like a month.
I smoked many years ago, but never bummed them. I just had my own routine and my own pack.

BUT, if you should stop by and have a large order of fries with ya, hmmm, I think I might have to ask for one or two. ;)


People who smoke know that there is nothing worse than running out of cigarettes and being unable to get any where you are, whether it's at work or elsewhere... we've all been through it. So we're usually willing to give a cigarette to a fellow smoker who has found themselves in the same situation. There is a limit however -- we are usually willing to give a cigarette or two to someone once in a while, but if someone is always out of cigarettes, we will draw the line. There are always people who say they have QUIT smoking, but who really have just quit BUYING cigarettes and are mooching off their co-workers or friends... finally our generosity reaches a limit and we inform them that we will no longer fund their habit.

Jeni Hill Ertmer

There was a guy in this neck of the woods who smoked a pack a day for at least thirty years and never bought a pack of smokes in that time. The first thing he would say upon seeing you was always "Can I bum a smoke?" And yes, for those of us who are die hard nicotine abusers, it has always been very acceptable in smoker's circles to "bum" a cigarette if you run out or are feeling very much in need and don't have your own smokes handy.

James B.

Mary, that answer helps me get it. And for the record, if I had a "spare" French fry and someone asked for one, I might hook 'em up just as a reward for their boldness. Or I might grab my fries and run.

Classof65, if I understand cig smokers etiquette then you'll give one if you have it, but if the same "stranger" asks too often you'll cut him off. Makes sense to me.

Jeni, sounds like that guy was something of a genius.


I don't smoke anymore either, except for the occasional cigar. It's pretty much been covered, you give one because one day you'll need one, and what goes around comes around. Smoking was a function like breathing. French fries and chicken don't fall into that category.


I agree with Classof65 and CEO. Nicotine is a powerful addiction and smokers know how awful it can be when you're jonesin for a smoke, so we're usually willing to bum one.

Funny thing is though, I'll lie to a bum and say I don't have any, and then bite my tongue because I really want to tell them to: "Get a job and buy [their] own, or quit."

The Sarcasticynic

They were probably brought up in the generation where cigarettes were like, what, three cents apiece? I remember those days.


No one knows the power of nicotine like a fellow smoker does. I quit over 20 years ago but I can still feel the pangs and the panic of running out of smokes. It's kinda like honor among thieves.
I remember my brother buying cigs at the PX for $1.25/carton. When I quit a carton was $13.00. Now a carton around here will set you back half of a C-Note.


I still carry an extra pack or two -- just in case we're in an auto accident or the car breaks down... and I'm sympathetic to anyone who runs out. My generation believed in Peace, Love and Substance Abuse! Nicotine is my only vice now -- other than that, I'm perfect!


I have no idea but I wish smokers were not comfortable smoking around ME. They are free to destroy their own lungs but I value mine.

One of the reasons I have never smoked (besides the um, smoke) is because it was said that smoking stunted growth. I am undersized while all my friends who smoked got tall.

And the woman with the stroller, assuming there was in fact somebody in it, should be ashamed to be smoking on a helpless child.


um yessir. i smoke and i have "bummed" or "borrowed" a cigarette from a complete stranger to whom i wouldnt normally speak to otherwise. i didnt go through and read your other comments, so if i repeat any sentiments here, well, then, my bad. i guess it's just that a smoker understands that when one is fresh out, and is in the middle of a heated nic fit, its a saving grace to find another of your kind to indulge your vice. it's like paying it forward - for one day, the lender will be the borrower. karma. :-)

aaaand im back!


At least she asked to borrow a cigarette.

Round Bristol (UK), where I grew up, the thing was to ask if you could 'lend' something from somebody. Aaaarrrggh!

I'd always ask who they were going to lend it to. The 'joys' of having a Mum who insisted we 'spoke properly' & all that!

CL Jahn

Um. I've hit people up for a McCrack fry in occasion...


It's like pan handling, isn't it?

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