Bag on a Smoker, it's a fun game! - Tactical Ninja
May. 4th, 2012
10:46 am - Bag on a Smoker, it's a fun game!
This morning we contemplated hanging a sign on the door saying "Hibernation in process, enter at own risk" - but then we realised we should really fatten up before hibernating or we might not last the winter, and there's a sad shortage of nuts and berries in our apartment. So instead we drank socially-condoned stimulants and played with our consumer devices until it was time to go to be happy little capitalists (ie daylight).
Winter: do not want. I'm ok with the cold but we're on the way to the solstice and I dislike getting up in the dark. Having said that I woke up at 5:30 with a head full of thoughts. *sigh*
So yesterday someone made a comment on Twitter:
"I wonder if the people huddling in the corner of the cold car parking building know that smoking is meant to be glamorous?"
It was retweeted a couple of times, most likely by non-smokers who found it amusing and wanted to share. Meanwhile, anyone who read it who was a smoker probably felt an internal cringe, thought "WTF stop insulting my intelligence" and then thought better of saying anything because after all, the Tweeter had the moral high ground. Smoking is indefensible.
However - it got my goat as well. It wasn't so much the content of the statement but the subtext - the "Let's all laugh at the silly smokers standing in the cold for their fix" aspect, or the subtle implication that these people have somehow been sucked in by a glamour - are ignorant of an obfuscation of the non-glamourous nature of smoking that's obvious to the superior non-smokers.
Let's get something straight - those people standing in the cold for a smoke know that it's cold. They know that it isn't glamorous and they know that other people feel superior to them. They are painfully aware of their own ostracism. They also know the glee with which people who have the moral high ground participate in the marginalisation process.
It's this last point that gets under my skin, and I said as much on Twitter. I was informed that it was "vengeance for the decades of having to put up with smokers in public places", or "latent feelings of superiority over smokers for being so obstinately silly." Which is fair enough - these are all good points. But being justifiably angry is not the same as enjoying being mean, and it's the delight that people take in marginalising smokers that bothers me.
Y'see, back in Ye Olden Tymes, opium was a normal part of culture. Then a combination of desire to separate ourselves from the animals as rational beings, fear of the Chinese, political/economic pressures and the occasional death from people feeding laudanum to their kids caused Them With The Power to decide that *cough* Heroin Was SO Passe. Thus began a process of marginalisation of users of opiates that started with labelling it as a dirty habit done only by the lowly - this was relatively easy because racism allowed it to be pinned to those who were already poor and marginalised.* It was still legal to use but only if you were white, middle class and could get a prescription. 'Medicinal' use was fine, recreational, not so much. And being an addict was to have given in to your bestial nature, demonstrating that you were indeed an inferior type of person and justifying treating you as less than human. Then they made it illegal.
Fast forward a century or so, and that marginalisation of opiate addicts has led to heroin being one of the most dangerous drugs there is - not because of its inherent nature (it's actually less toxic than alcohol and addicts can function just fine as long as they have access to clean gear), but because of the lifestyle associated with addiction, which is entirely constructed through its having been made illegal and its users having been marginalised.
I'm sure we're all totally fine about feeling superior to heroin addicts too. WE didn't get addicted, WE don't obstinately stick to our dirty dirty habit despite the degradations involved in maintaining it, WE aren't the lowlife scumbags ruled by an addiction to a drug. And when another addict dies, I'm sure there's a sense of justification - well, they were a heroin addict after all. One follows the other, right? But the problem is, those feelings, those thoughts, that view of heroin addicts is entirely constructed, and it was the result of a deliberate effort by a society that thought it was doing a good thing by discouraging people from using it.
Smoking is inarguably bad for you, and for those around you as well. This has been demonstrated over and over again. However, to label those people who continue to smoke despite knowing this as stupid and inferior is not that different from what happened with opiates. Remember that until the 1980s or so, cigarette smoking was promoted by those who had a vested interest in ensuring its normalisation in society. That was only 30 years ago - the 70 or so years prior to that were all about how smoking is normal, how all the movie stars do it, how everyday people enjoy a smoke, how it's good for you and will make you attractive:
In the 30 years since the world realised that smoking is actually unhealthy, we've made huge progress in reducing the number of people who do it. These graphs are kind of crappy, but they show a consistent downward trend since 1990 and a 15% reduction in use. A lot of this has been to do with an orchestrated campaign of marginalisation. Smoking was first banned in workplaces, then indoors in any public place. Smoking must now take place outside (kind of like opium dens got banned so opium users had to find somewhere else to do it). In my building, smoking is not even allowed in the car park, so smokers must go stand on the street. And these days, thanks to this orchestrated campaign, being on the street smoking is kind of like being a pariah:
This is one of the tamer ads from the Smoking Not Our Future campaign. They seem to have disappeared or maybe I'm looking in the wrong place, but a couple of years ago these ads said stuff like "Smoking is for losers" and "When I see someone smoking, I think they're weak" and "I'd never date a smoker." These ads were designed not to target the habit of smoking, but the smokers themselves, essentially giving permission to denigrate people who smoke.
And our society has taken to it like ducks to water. In any forum where smoking is discussed, non-smokers feel totally fine about bagging on smokers. It has become about the person not the behaviour, and marginalising smokers, making fun of them, and saying mean things to and about them has become the sort of thing that gets retweeted on Twitter. Getting in smokers' faces about their habit and telling them either overtly or in subtext what a low opinion you have of them has become a fun game to share with your friends.
And that bothers me. Smoking is not about the person, it's about an institutional cultural normalisation that we haven't yet managed to overcome. The marginalisation of smoking is one thing, to protect the health of those in public places and to discourage its use. But the marginalisation of smokers? Not so much. And doing it with mean-spirited glee because society has given you permission? Ew.
And just in case you were thinking "Hey but it's working!" You're right, it is - for some of us. But harmful drug use and poverty are correlated, we knew that right? And it's no different for tobacco - the people with the highest smoking rates in this country are also the most marginalised groups who suffer the worst poverty!
Can you honestly tell me that you think smoking is a personal failing, and that the reason more than twice as many Maori and Pacific Island people smoke is because they are somehow inferior, weaker, less worthy? That's what the personal denigration of smokers is implying, in case you were wondering what my point is. And I find that kind of disgusting in people who claim to be enlightened on such matters. I know it's easy to pick on smokers, I know it's simple to rationalise because smoking is indefensible, I know that we have institutional backing to try and discourage people from doing it. But to gleefully do it to a group that is becoming increasingly marginalised and consists more and more of people who are already suffering the effects of other marginalisations is a dangerous road to tread, and one that I will not associate myself with.
I said I wouldn't be a dick about smoking when I gave up, and I really wish some other people would stop being dicks about it too. It's not helping.
tl;dr We all know smoking is unhealthy, that doesn't make it ok to be gleefully mean to smokers.
Um, yeah. I guess I have Opinions on this matter.
* Ask me about how association with a group has been used to construct societal response to drugs throughout recent history, go on, you know you want to.