I am a member of the last visible minority. Society's greatest scapegoat. I am a smoker.
Once upon a time, it was legal for a man to beat his wife as long as he used a switch no larger in diametre than his thumb. Women couldn't vote and couldn't get good jobs. Now, thanks to the women's rights movement, they can.
There are countless groups out there fighting for the rights of minorities. Homosexuals have gay pride parades. There is white supremacy, black supremacy, pink supremacy, purple supremacy and a support group for just about every shade, intellect, and creed you can think of. But if you're a smoker, the only people you have fighting for you are big corporations everyone hates or a little organization in Tillsonburg, Ontario called the Ontario Flue Cured Tobacco Grower's Marketing Board.
In the old days, smoking was cool. Bette Davis puffed on a cigarette, as did Joan Crawford, and it was glamourous. All of the screen divas took a long drag before spouting classic lines like "I'd kiss you but I just washed my hair." Major television characters smoked, tough guys smoked and most heroes in the limelight smoked, spawning a generation of people who smoked because they damn well liked to, and everyone accepted that. But suddenly, in the last 10 years, we've been blindsided.
Everywhere I go I get bombarded with comments such as "You know, smoking is bad for you." Well, really? Silly me! I hadn't thought of that! It's an addiction, true, and it's one that kills you. But smokers have become scapegoats for a society that really, if it was honest with itself, would realize there are bigger fish to fry. Sure, smoking can kill you, but so can a lot of other things that we're not even frisking.
There are token anti-smoking arguments being thrown around on the streets and in the media. Here are a few of my favourites:
Well, listen: we live in a world where the sulphur dioxide being pumped from smoke stacks is so profuse that it looks like sunset in the middle of the day. We live in a world where the black smog coming from the smoke stacks of coal-burning hydro generating stations is so thick that people who live a mile downwind from it can write their names in the soot that gathers on their car windows. Genetically engineered vegetables, such as Bt corn, contain pesticides that can kill off Monarch butterflies and yet we eat it without flinching. We are polluting the environment so badly with our cars, hairspray, industries, etc. that scientists are predicting that Lake Erie will drop at least a full metre in the next century because of global warming. And you are bitching that my pack-a-day habit is going to give you cancer? It's a perfect example of brushing over the big stuff, such as industrial pollution and human tolerance toward destroying the planet, because it's too hard to deal with and targetting the guy in front of you who is lighting up a cigarette.
The government of British Columbia is sueing the tobacco industry for the health care costs endured by caring for ailing smokers, and Ontario was thinking about doing the same thing. This seems to be the wave of the future. One argument could be the one above, word for word, in that why doesn't the government sue industries when an abnormal amount of people living near an industrial park get throat cancer? That's easy. Industries cough up big tax dollars, if not a little wink-wink nudge-nudge "campaign donation" under the table. Call it "Blackwater," if you will. They have finally decided to go after the tobacco companies, who have in their own ignorance made themselves easy targets, and like so many government decisions, that attitude filters down to Joe Citizen and he turns that argument on the smoker sitting next to him.
Secondly, the whole taxation process is give and take. I don't use the arena, so why should I pay for it to be built? It's so that you can use it. We pay the enormous health care expenses of senior citizens and yet we don't complain about that. True, they don't choose to get old and yet smokers choose to smoke, but it's an example of how we, as citizens in a democracy, shoulder each other's burdens. If I don't drive, should my tax dollars still go toward building roads? If I don't use subsidized day care, should my tax dollars go towards it to give a break to parents who do? If I never have children, should I have to pay for the education system? I benefitted from it, but most school boards put tax dollars towards special education and programs for gifted children that a large percentage of the population will never benefit from.
If you use that argument about smokers, where does it stop? We could use that logic on all sorts of vices. Why should I pay for public drug rehabilitation programs if I'm not smoking crack? Why should I pay for the health care costs of alcoholics if I don't drink? Why should I pay for the health care costs of HIV patients who got the virus from unprotected sex when I use condoms religiously?
And here's another news flash: not everyone with lung cancer and emphyzema is a smoker. Didn't you see "Man on the Moon?"
For this argument, I paraphrase Politically Incorrect's Bill Maher. "Why is it that when I'm on an airplane, they can have five kids screaming in my face, but if I have a cigarette any place smaller than the Astrodome I'm an asshole?" A word to the wise: everyone is annoying in some way, shape or form. I know people that I wish would use deodorant but they don't make a special section for them in restaurants.
I agree with segregating smokers to an extent. I like smoking sections in confined spaces, such as restaurants, airplanes and public transit. I'm not sure smoking in hospitals is a good idea. But we're getting carried away. Whoever dreamed up the idea of eliminating smoking in bars was toking on some leafy substance, because people who go to bars generally accept that it will be smoky. For awhile the Ontario government was going to introduce a law that you couldn't smoke while you were driving. Teachers can no longer smoke in staff rooms and are forced to go across the road with the students to smoke. There is no smoking at many bus terminals, down by the tracks at train stations or in any public facility at all. Are they really that scared of us?
Yes, but there are many, many other things to be scared of. Smokers are just the easiest to spot. So lay off us, people. We know we're dying, but there are many things killing you faster.
Samantha Craggs smokes, drinks and once smoked pot but didn't inhale. Visit her web site at http://www.velvet.net/~samantha.