Photo Credit: marco gomes
Written by: Hugo Verity
Catherine Zeta-Jones does it. So does Kate Winslet. You might have dabbled now and then or hate everything to do with it. You might hate me in 500 words’ time. The question is: who are the haters to tell the smokers they can’t do it?
I’m not a die-hard tobacco lover or cancer sceptic; I would never encourage it or deny its risks. But I’m not an anti-smoker either. It seems a habit (ironically) of ours to divide the world into love or hate, black or white, good or bad. You either smoke and are stupid, or you don’t and are a saint. The powers that be, to generalise, tend to claim the latter. It doesn’t seem to strike them (not publically anyway) that it is all of these things - that it can be good and bad. And there’s a problem to all this; a problem that leads me to sit as I do, not impartial or critical but a defender of the underdog, even a promoter of freedom (depending how self-righteous I get). I’m an anti-anti-smoker.
The problem with the ram-the-message-home mentality - one that dwarves all opponents - is that it is both patronising and stigmatising. It would be safe to say that many smokers realise the problem. It’s a killer, a baby-deformer, an “expensive way to die”. Message received and understood. It’s horrible. But it’s also at least one other thing: their tool for coping with the hell of life. It makes me wonder: what happens to the prisoner and the homeless guy, the labourer and the burdened single parent? We seem unable to remember that if we take away a pleasure, we’ll not only teeter on prohibition (and history teaches us where that leads) but ban something that people use to split life into manageable chunks. Stress is a killer, you know.
Educate people, and the choice is theirs. We all believe in the right to live, within reason, as we wish - the impossible utopia that we all seek. The point is (my little gym-goers and fruit-eaters) that to know the risks and to do it anyway says something more than ‘that person’s an idiot, a stupid and selfish fool’. It says instead ‘it’s worth it and it’s up to me’.
Restrict it by all means, but hate people for it? Totally ban it? I’d sooner not. So, before you slate people for their little ounce of pleasure remember this: smoking never drove anyone to punch a bystander, and few smokers hate the moment that a cigarette relieves boredom, anger or grief. First and foremost, no good comes from stigmatising smokers. Why? Because they are not just smokers, they are people. They are mothers, hard-workers, royalty and labourers. Seems a funny way to go about creating a fairer world, telling people what they can’t do. Bring on the counter-attack.