UNIVERSAL DHARMA

Wait A Minute! ~ SMOKE UNDER FIRE

THE HAZARDS OF SMOKING are no secret these days and many smokers have quit (many have died horrible deaths from it, of course); others would like to quit but find it very hard; many, while continuing to smoke, advise others not to take up this rather strange and addictive practice, but such advice often falls on deaf ears and does not prevent the cigarette companies from recruiting new converts and making vast profits. For reasons hard to fathom, many young people still consider it cool to smoke, and willingly succumb to the pressure of their peers and the seductive cigarette advertisements to ‘light up’.

It was a mistake, I soon realized, not to have taken a bus from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, instead of a share-taxi. True, the bus would also have got held up in K. L.’s increasingly thick traffic, but would have been air-conditioned, whereas the taxi I was in, although fitted with air-conditioning, was driven with it off and the windows down, making it like an oven as we inched forward. I was in the front with the driver, and two other passengers were in the back. I tried to tolerate the torrid heat, but was soon wet with sweat, so asked the driver to turn on the air-conditioner. I didn’t quite catch what he mumbled—something about waiting until we got clear of the city and reached the highway, or maybe that it was out of order. Rather than argue, I said nothing more about this, though I suspected he was trying to economize on fuel—which is something I agree with, but within limits.
Sitting there in the jammed traffic, the passengers behind started to smoke. I objected to this, and asked the driver to tell them to desist, but he was reluctant to do so and made the excuse that it was alright since the windows were down. I maintained that it was not alright, and pointed to the NO SMOKING sign on the dashboard, saying that if he were not prepared to enforce the rule, the sign should not be displayed. He still held out, until I told him that I did not intend to pay my fare if I had to put up with smoke. By this time, the smokers had finally realized that they were at fault and that I was not going to tolerate it, so extinguished their foul-smelling objects of dispute.

Usually, I will put up with some inconvenience rather than cause a fuss, but whenever possible, without being too rigid or fanatical about it, I will protest against smoking, because now, finally, non-smokers have the right to do so and the law on our side; we’ve got the smokers on the run, and should not give up now we’ve got this far, but should follow up on our gains.
I do not favor a total ban on smoking, as that would merely send it underground to join other harmful and illegal drugs, and give it the ‘forbidden-fruit’ mystique, making it more attractive, and causing more crime, which we do not need, of course. Moreover, I am an advocate of freedom of choice, and feel that if people want to ruin their health by smoking, it is up to them, especially as they know the risks; they may go ahead and smoke, as far as I’m concerned, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others. To keep it within the law, but with the pressure of public disapproval increasingly applied to it, will probably have more effect in the long run than banning it outright. When smokers are shunned as stinkers, and made to feel unwelcome, it would be another reason, beyond rising costs and health considerations, for them to consider the advantages (if any) and the disadvantages (many) of their obnoxious habit. It will take a long time, needless to say, and there will be fierce opposition from vested interests—namely, the tobacco companies, who won’t give up their lucrative traffic without a fight—but in the relatively-few years since smoking has come under fire in its previously impregnable fortress, we have made great strides; its bastions have been breached, and I am confident that we shall advance even further in the right direction.

Until quite recently, smokers held the platform, and non-smokers had no right to complain and had to suffer in silence; but now the tide has turned; the pressure is on, and I, for one, say “Hurrah!”

A judge’s wife—a lady prominent in her society, and used to getting her own way—came to visit me in a place where I was staying in Malaysia. Almost as soon as she sat down, she took out a packet of cigarettes and asked if she might smoke. I replied: “I would prefer it if you didn’t”. She accepted this without protest and returned the packet to her purse. Someone later expressed surprise at her acquiescence, saying that no-one had ever dared refuse her anything. My response was: “Well, she asked, and I told her straight how I felt, which is my right”. I didn’t tell her not to smoke; nor did I tell her what I think of smoking; I merely responded to her question honestly.

I am prepared to accord other people their reasonable rights, but in this case, I will stand up for something that is not just my right, but for what is right, and for the sake of others. And I will state unequivocally that I consider smoking to be a dirty, stinking, stupid, useless, harmful and wasteful habit, with nothing positive about it at all! Apart from its harmful and often fatal effects upon health, tobacco-smoke permeates and clings to clothes, curtains, carpets and upholstery, and is difficult to eliminate. For over 400 years, since its introduction to Europe from the Americas, tobacco has been a bane. It is really something that the world would have been better off without, but it is here, and it’s not going to go away.

My father was a life-long smoker, both of cigarettes and a pipe, and must have burned away a fortune (fortunately, he was not also a drinker!) I was very pleased when, after suffering several heart-attacks towards the end of his life, he was forced to give up smoking, and told him that I never thought I would see the day his pipe became cold while he was still alive! By that time, the damage has been done, however, and was irreparable; he died of emphysema.

Most parents claim that they love their children, but the fact that many parents smoke in close proximity to their young children shows that their love is not very deep and is more self-love—or self-indulgence—than love for their children. These days, no-one can plead ignorance of the mountainous proof that smoking is harmful to health, yet it is not uncommon to see parents smoking while holding little babies!! Is that love, or just gross irresponsibility? Babies are unable to complain about this themselves and demand their rights, so others must do so on their behalf.

Here is a report from a Malaysian newspaper (I neglected to jot down the actual date of the cutting, but it was sometime in August 1997) on this matter; it is headed:

6,200 children die yearly due to parents’ smoking.

“CHICAGO. At least 6,200 children die each year in the United States because of their parents’ smoking, killed by such things as lung infections and burns, a study says.

“More young children are killed by parental smoking than by all unintentional injuries combined”, the researchers said in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

“In addition, some 5.4 million other youngsters each year survive ailments such as ear infections and asthma that are triggered by their parents’ smoking, and these problems cost US $4.6 billion (RM11.5 billion) annually to treat, the researchers from the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison estimated.

“The study looked at reports from 1980 to 1996 involving children up to 18, existing research about the risks associated with parental smoking and the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses.

“The researchers estimated that the childhood loss of life from parental smoking costs US $8.2 billion a year, based partly on how much a child would be expected to earn over a lifetime.

“The cost analyses were conservative, because they did not include the cost of work-time lost by parents caring for sick youngsters, said Dr. Thomas E. Novotny, an epidemiologist with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“All of these illnesses and economic costs are foisted upon children who have had absolutely no choice in the matter,” said Novotny, who was not involved with the study.

“The researchers said 2,800 of the deaths were due to low birth-weight caused by mothers who smoked while pregnant.

“Low birth-weight babies are frail and vulnerable to many ills, including respiratory distress syndrome caused by second hand tobacco-smoke. An additional 1,100 are due to respiratory infection.

“About 250 children die of burns from fires caused by cigarettes, matches or lighters. And 14 children die of asthma.

“A related study in the July issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry found that women who smoke while pregnant are more likely to give birth to boys who are diagnosed with what psychiatrists call ‘conduct disorder’.

“The disorder is marked by frequent and persistent lying, fire-setting, vandalism, physical cruelty, sexual aggression or stealing that begins much earlier than typical juvenile delinquency and is much more severe.

“A team led by Benjamin B. Lahey, a psychiatrist professor at the University of Chicago, studied 177 boys aged 7 to 12 who had been referred to outpatient clinics in Pennsylvania and Georgia for possible conduct disorder.

“The team said 105 were diagnosed with the disorder.”

If governments did not draw such huge revenues from the tax on tobacco, they would certainly take a stronger stance on this matter, and follow up the evidence of medical science and the high death-and-disability toll caused by smoking, and take more steps to limit the damage done. (I heard—at the time of writing this—that in Germany alone, the annual costs to the nation of the ill-effects of smoking is DM90 billion, and rising! Of course, it is the people themselves who foot the bills, not the government). Singapore, though only a tiny nation, is the leader in this direction, and plans to be the first ‘smoke-free’ country in the world, but the methods it employs to become so might prove counter-productive and produce a backlash; it will be interesting to observe the progress of its program. Several years ago, Singapore banned its citizens from chewing gum there, because—as in other countries—chewing gum was found stuck all over the place—on floors, furniture, carpets, sidewalks, and even on the doors of elevators and trains—creating great problems and expense. Will Singaporeans understand and happily abide by the ban, or will some of them defy it, just to assert themselves and oppose authority, and not from any innate goodness of chewing gum? It remains to be seen. But, in this, and in any other public-spirited measure, the government of Singapore has my full support.

The various NO SMOKING signs that are now common place in public places are excellent ways of letting smokers know that their habit is unwelcome, and obviates the need of telling them verbally, which is sometimes embarrassing to both parties. My favorite is the one that says, courteously:

THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING.

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