A breath of fresh air
Sometimes, it can feel like all the world is interested in these days is telling us how to be, look and feel. Daily, the papers scream out headlines, proclaiming our society ‘broken’ or sick, lamenting the loss of some nostalgia-tinted community spirit, healthy country lifestyle or set of family values that may or may not have ever existed in the first place. While difference and diversity may in theory be more and more accepted, in reality it seems that we are becoming increasingly more afraid of people who don’t fit, which leads me neatly on to the opinions previously expressed on the subject of smoking as a social taboo.
For hundreds of years, smoking has been a way of belonging, whether that was teenagers sat on a wall somewhere, office staff taking a cigarette break together or a group of old men smoking pipes and moaning about the youth of today (who were those teenagers sat on the wall). Whatever reasons people might have to smoke, this is clearly still something that exists – children whose parents smoke are three times more likely to smoke than the offspring of non-smokers.
In 1978 Susie Orbach said ‘Fat is a feminist issue’, and maybe it’s time that smoking was looked at from a similar perspective. Smoking is a social issue, not about statistics or gruesome photographs plastered across the packaging, but about attitudes to ourselves and others.
For this exact reason, I completely agree with the idea that smokers’ “dirty habit” should not be repeatedly shoved down their throats as justification for calling them terrible human beings. This is no more fair or productive in discouraging smoking than standing outside McDonalds yelling ‘oi, fatso!’ at every person who emerges carrying a Big Mac is effective in reducing obesity rates. While some people may be pressured into giving up in order to avoid the anger of “innocent civilians”, others will simply feel further pushed out of an already polarised society. It’s this group that in turn will cost the NHS millions of pounds in treatments for heart disease, cancer and emphysema, and while it can be argued that taxes on those cigarettes may cover these costs, it’s hard to see that as anything other than an excuse for ignoring the debate. While smoking is a public health issue, and should be treated accordingly, the way forward is certainly not to make smokers feel like outcasts.
As far as fairness is concerned, then, no one disputes that smokers have a perfect right to smoke, for whatever reason, whether that be to take the stress off A-levels, as part of a group or simply because they like it. We would like to believe that this is a free society, and as has been said in the original article, I would not publicly condemn someone for eating a McDonalds or getting a new haircut just because I personally did not think those things were right. Whatever the government, Michael Gove or the papers might say, teenagers are not stupid. As a group, we have been made blatantly aware of the very real risks and hazards of smoking, and if someone chooses for themselves to ignore or make their peace with these, then I, for one, am not going to keep hitting them over the head with the facts or with my opinions until they agree just to shut me up.
The problem, however, is that smoking is not an individual decision. Take an example. If a non-smoker is sat outside a café in the summer, and a smoker rocks up and lights up, then the non-smoker has very limited options in order to remove themselves from the situation. They don’t want leave the table as they’re hungry, but asking the smoker to stop when no laws are broken would be rude. Inhaling the smoke from a cigarette they did not choose to light is almost inevitable. The smoker in question has every right to make the decision to smoke for themselves, but is it really fair for the non-smoker to have to breathe in that same smoke when they’ve had no choice in the matter? I don’t think so. In a similar vein, you have every right to eat McDonalds for every meal if that’s something you can justify, but if you’re feeding it to your children for every meal then there’s a bit of a problem.
In short – I don’t want to preach about how awful smoking is, as we all know that this is a subject that has been covered over and over again, and another article on how it kills you – because it indisputably does kill you – is not what this debate needs. I don’t really care whether or not people make the choice to do it, as long as that choice is informed and they aren’t pressured or pushed into it by anyone. I just don’t want to have to participate in other peoples’ smoking, and I feel that’s an objection I have the right to make.
Article by Olivia McCarthy - Year 13
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