Monday, March 19, 2012
When I get outside at the end of the day, walking towards the place where M picks me up, it always strikes me: so many people on the street are smoking. I guess this is the "smoking hour", the time to unwind with a post-work cigarette or something.
I know that Quebecers have some sort of a reputation for all being smokers. Like in that post, for instance (which, by the way, probably due to the fact that I'm a racist-terrorist-humorless-asshole-fu**er-who-has-to-be-bribed-to-stay-within-this-country, I find slightly offensive, and not so much funny). But looking it up, I couldn't really find any evidence of this being true. So these stats should not be taken as exact science, because they do not all come from the same source, so they could be from different years or have different assessment criteria, etc., but here it is, anyway: 20% of Americans smoke, 17% of Canadians do. Between the provinces, Quebec is at 19%, pretty much average, sandwiched between BC (14%), and Saskatchewan/Manitoba/Nova Scotia (21%). From what I read there is one unique and sad twist in our smoking style though: women here smoke much more than basically everywhere else in the world. It's true, when reading about it I found it odd that they said much more men than women were smokers -it's not like that at all, here. Anyway, to conclude the trivia bit, my own intuition seemed to be more exact: Europeans, on the other hand, tend to smoke more and have more relaxed attitudes about it. The UK and Italy are at 22%, Germany at 27%, France at 30%, and Greece at a staggering 45%! But wait: over two-thirds of the male population in the Asia/Pacific region smoke!
Smokers took a different interest for me since last week, when I learned that one of the largest class action lawsuits against tobacco manufacturers to ever come to trial was going to take place here. It has been in the works since 1997, and the cigarette makers have done everything they could to prevent it from happening, but here we are. This is big: $27 billion in damages could potentially be awarded, and very prominent witnesses are set to testify, for instance Jeffrey Wigand, the former tobbaco executive turned pundit whose story was made into the Hollywood blockbuster The Insider, as well as Robert Proctor, who penned the essay The Golden Holocaust.
Smoking kind of bloggles my mind (full disclosure: I'm the daughter of a pulmonologist). I mean I don't want to ostracize or vilify smokers personally -I've dated smokers, I've had roomates who smoked, etc. But to tell you the truth I don't really want them to smoke anywhere near me or my kids, you know, either. I get the principle of addiction, I get how hard it is to stop. But from some kind of an anthropological perspective, I just find it so... bizarre. I always wonder how someone from another era would view these groups of people all standing outside, for a good part of the year usually underdressed and shivering, who have to stop whatever they're doing to go puff on an improbable lighted tube. Which makes them permanently stink, yellows their teeth and their fingers, wrinkles their face prematurely, makes them basically bleed money, and... has at least a 50% chance of eventually killing them, after going through (my father's words) "horrible abjection and atrocious, unbearable pain".
What is the point of this? Why? I guess I just don't understand. It may have once been cool and glamorous, but frankly nowadays I can't think of anything more uncool and off-putting. There's no specialness, no status associated with it anymore, just the plainly nasty, highly non-sensical side. Even the representative of the plaintiffs conceded: "It's very painful to be a smoker in this society, nowadays."
I'm so ambivalent: I want anti-smoking laws to be even more strict, but I want people who smoke to receive as much help as possible to stop. I don't want smokers to feel like they're so bad, but I don't want them to get away with self-justifying excuses, either, like I hear so often: "I'm usually so responsible but it's my only vice, everyone needs a flaw, I'm perfectly healthy anyway, at least this way I don't gain weight, it doesn't affect my kids, we all need to die of something, my grandfather smoked all his life and lived to be 90/never smoked and had a fatal heart attack at 42, can I be allowed to live a little?, if I stopped I would lose my social circle", etc.
And I most definitely want the tobacco manufacturers to pay, but at the same time I'm not sure how I feel about smokers, who, if the plaintiffs win, could receive thousands of dollars for their addiction. Yes, cigarettes are highly addictive, the industry was most likely crass and dishonest and everyone would be WAY better off without them. But (unless you've been smoking since the 60s) all of this is very well known now. So I'm having a hard time seeing smokers as victims (especially since I know plenty of people who successfully stopped, so it's hard but certainly not impossible!), and seeing them somewhat forgoing their responsibility...
I don't mean to be a smoke shamer here, after all really, it's none of my business, and I hope my tone doesn't come across as superior or condescending ('coz that would be the most hypocrite thing ever). Plus the villain here is obviously not the individual smoker. But also, I think these things should be sayable, no? I don't have to go on and on about how disgusting I think it is, but can it still be said how bad it is for you, even if this could make smokers unhappy? Yes I know that they know it already. But the fact is in my overall experience, I've still seen a lot more excuse-makers in some degree of denial or another than overzealous, rageful, "discriminatory" anti-smokers...