Source: Daily Nation
10 April 2011
Nairobi — Ever been to a designated smoking area? Those small, cut-off-from-the-rest-of-us patches of desolation dedicated to that surreptitious vice that dares not show its face on billboards or television?
Smokers normally stand hugger mugger, cramped tightly together like Ethiopian illegal migrants in an Eastleigh flat, each letting out a thick pillar of billowing smoke.
The smoking area is usually tiny, and many wait in the wings to go in, caressing their lighters in anticipation. The smoke around them is so acrid that the “freshest” air you can breathe is actually through your filter.
So you inhale deeply through your cigarettes because if you inhaled the concentrated second-hand smoke around, you would surely get cancer.
In a few years’ time, I’m sure, scientists will discover that the leading cause of cancer among smokers is using a designated smoking area.
But this was probably the intention in the first place… because we hate smokers.
Society hates smokers with a passion. They rank somewhere above tribalists, but slightly lower than predetors. They are social pariahs.
We scare them silly, first on the packets about their impending deaths. We hate their hacking coughs, their thin sweats, the fact that they have to excuse themselves every 20 minutes to go suck on a stick.
We stick signs all over informing them that their kind is not welcome among us lung-loving, nose-breathing citizens. We can’t stand them. It is “us” versus ‘”them”. Don’t worry, I’m an “us” because I don’t smoke.
If you smoked in a night club, the bouncers would descend on you with fire extinguishers to turn off the fire and then use the extinguishers to club you over the head. After that, they would haul you in front of a judge (it’s called a cig-arrest) for attempting to spread air-borne cancer.
I was talking to my friend Eddy, one of the few unashamed smokers (we call him Puff Daddy or Puffy.) He told me of the trials we put on smokers.
For starters, they have to excuse themselves from “us” with a fictitious story before they sidle off to that cramped corner next to the lavatories to engage in the furtive vice.
The place has a sign that this is indeed a gathering kraal for smokers. Before you open the pack, you glance to the left and to right to make sure that no pregnant women is around (I’m told they could have a miscarriage at the mere sight of cigarettes).
Then ensure that there are no children around who might be taken in by your ways (a cigarette is equal to vaporized cot-death to the young ones).
You then read the pack that assures you of your impending death from coughing out bits of your lungs before putting the cigarette on your lips and watching everyone screw up their face at you.
Gory, deformed subhuman
In the war against cigarettes, we have gone too far to demonise smokers. The anti-smoking clergy are ever eager to torment smokers with facts and figures.
I once saw a picture of a gory, deformed subhuman who looked like he had been locked for a day in the Fukushima reactor before the photo detailing the rot that cigarettes do to your body was taken.
It was distributed by the Ministry of Health. No one shows drunkards pictures of vomit and beer bellies. Or mobile phone users brain tumours the size of golf balls.
The eagerness to want to humiliate and scare them out of their habit is a sign of the new compulsive nannyism pushed by increasingly controlling governments around the world.
We don’t just want them to smoke elsewhere, we want to make them as uncomfortable as possible about smoking. They don’t even want you smoking in the car. They came for your cigarettes and now they are on to you drinks.
Fasten your seat belt. You have had enough to drink. Put out your cigarette. Because big brother knows best.
For smoking, the writing is on the wall. And in the matatu. And the offices. It is the cardinal “thou shall not” in public. A lit cigarette with an “X” across it.
The sign is now superfluous since everyone now knows that smoking in public is verboten (interesting that I should switch to a word borrowed from German since, as you undoubtedly know, the first country to institute smoking bans was Nazi Germany. It’s ironic that German had a problem with cigarette smoke but had no qualms about gassing people).
Everyone knows not to smoke or have sex in public, unless they are in certain sections of Kakamega. No one needs to constantly remind you not to.
Walk around and all you see are signs of prohibitions, restrictions, warnings and threats of fines. These signs only serve to make a smoker miss his next cigarette and have reached polluting proportions.
Despite the government’s particular abhorrence for cigarettes, they constantly keep ratcheting the taxes on it higher. Perhaps it’s the government that is addicted to the sin tax. The claim that the tax rate is so high to discourage smokers is just a smokescreen.
The loan shark tax rate on cigarettes, always claimed to be designed to make people quit smoking, just makes smokers poorer and Treasury richer.
In January, when the two major tobacco companies descended into a price war, KRA began whining that they won’t be able to meet their revenue collection targets. The government’s primary interest was financial and not the health of users.
Smoking used to be cool. I remember we used to roll pieces of paper and pretend we were smoking in kindergarten, making an eloquent gesture followed by a steady stream of dragon’s breath. Churchill smoked, movie stars smoked, and Cuban cigars remain the gold standard of coolness.
Twin horsemen of thrombosis
Smokers, besides, are less destructive than drinkers. Drink fuels road carnage and murder, yet there is not a single smug sign on the streets that thanks people for not drinking.Booze and fags are the twin horsemen of thrombosis. They go together, like a Hague suspect and whining. Drinking helps one overcome the ramparts of shyness, it loosens the bonds of frigidity. It has helped the emotionally comatose couple. And smoking has calmed many a nerve. Besides, smokers are nicer, wittier, and more genteel than non-smokers.
The anti-smoking brigade is a haughty, anti-choice tyranny. They suffer from a particular strain of illiberal, puritanical morality. The main reason is to stop private pleasure rather than alleviate pain. The dangers of second-hand smoke are overstated.
I get a healthy serving of carcinogens every time I walk to school via vehicle exhaust pipes. Petrol fumes are more deadly, but do you see service attendants wearing gas masks?