Chapter 15 – Smokers’ lament

Suzie (pseudonym) loves to smoke, has been smoking for 36 years and don’t intend to quit.  She makes that plain enough and laments that smokers are treated like pariahs but alcohol seems to be fine so far as society is concern. “Why can’t they just let us be” she retorts. “They are always whacking us smokers with high taxes and we can’t even smoke indoors among smokers”. “If I open a pub and state that it’s for smokers and non-smokers enter at their own risk, I’ll surely run afoul of the law and civil societies would be after me”. She went on:

Picture: livelaw

“Smokers are conscious fools! It is not that we are stupid but perhaps we’re irrational. All of us would readily agree that smoking is bad for us. No one will dare argue that. But like so many “bad” things, it can be nice and sometimes, just too nice. Moreover, bad habits are hard to break. We have been “legally” made addicts and in the process governments and mega-corporations have made and continue to make trillions of dollars out of us.”

“But our seeming foolhardiness doesn’t end there. For starters, we are spending a great deal of money on this addiction. Cigarettes are never cheap by any standards or in any country. Yet tobacco farmers sell their commodity rather cheaply. They have to deliver the harvest and compete while being susceptible to the volatility of commodity price fluctuations, logistics and uncontrollable weather.”

“So what happens? Governments and cigarette or tobacco companies are raking in trillions of dollars while screwing us all the time. Do they ever even say “thank you”? No! Instead, it has become an ambiguous issue – where on the one hand they condemn it while on the other hand, profit from it. Rather, they are addicted to the mind-numbing revenues while we are addicted to tobacco. Isn’t it somewhat poetic that addict begets addicts – only that the addict whom begot the other addicts got screwed instead?”

“Funny thing is that the profiting has been very much a result of strategic manoeuvres that were ingeniously designed for smokers to reduce or stop smoking. What a brilliant deception indeed. Rather, cigarette companies can use some 5,000 different chemicals to spice-up your fags and in the process poison them. Of course, these chemicals are legal and pro-business while governments don’t restrict them. Whether these get us more addicted or simply inducted to make all the fags burn faster and so that we will end-up smoking more, would always remain primary and justifiable suspicions.”

Suzie was slightly panting by now after her energy-propelled rants and reached for her pack to straightaway light one up. She looked kind of relieved as she enjoyed her first drag and as she blew out the smoke through her mouth and nostrils, she very much resembled a fiery dragon about to synch somebody. Her restive agitation seemed to have subsided but before long she was recharged and on the go again. She vented:

“Governments on the other hand tell us that they care so much for us and that’s why they don’t want us to smoke. That may seem sincere on the surface but nevertheless is a double-edged excuse. They of course advocate healthy-family lifestyles and hope that we remain productive all our long life so long as we don’t demand anything from them. Abide by the law and pay our taxes and we would be glorified as model citizens. They complain bitterly that treating smoking related diseases is costing them billions of dollars every year. They complain of the huge man-hours and productivity losses resulting from smoking breaks and smoking-related ailments.”

“As claimed by industry, there are 1 billion smokers globally. How this number is reached can be anybody’s guess because there certainly isn’t a Registrar of Smokers. They also said some 5-6 million people die from smoking and smoking-related diseases yearly; where 10% of these are non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Yet just as many die as a result of sedentary lifestyle which is lifestyle with little to no daily physical activity.”

“They excuse that tobacco taxes are the most cost-effective way to reduce tobacco use, but many really wonder. Just look at New York State and New York City which has the highest ciggy taxes in the United States. They collect $4.25 a pack with $2.75 going to the state and $1.50 to the city. That is obsolete figures, mind you but nevertheless a very nice income. In late 1990, a number of states sued tobacco companies for nursing-related costs linked to caring for victims of smoking-related diseases. They reached a settlement where the states will receive $250 Billion over 25 years – which works out to $10 billion a year.”

Picture: NY Times

“Still the United States is far lower than many other countries with 46% of the final price of a pack of cigarettes going to taxes. In Australia, taxes account to slightly over 60% of the final price of a typical pack of cigarettes. Spain, France and Finland have the highest taxes which are almost 80% of the final price. Most other countries in Europe range from 72 to 78% with Singapore at 70%.”

“Yet they complain and complain but at the same time find it unrealistic and unworkable to ban cigarettes and tobacco outright – which they succeeded with marijuana. Why couldn’t that be so? Well, for starters, imagine millions of nervous-wrecks out on the streets. Tempers would be short and erraticism would plague the nation. Imagine what will happen to businesses and organizations when staff goes through agitation, short-temper and distraction while being forced to quit smoking in classical cold-turkey fashion. Husbands may be thumping their wives out of frustration. Tobacco farmers and companies will all go bust and an entire industry goes underground because so long as there’s a demand, like illicit drugs, then there are those who are all too happy to play the role of providers.”

“Cigarette and tobacco factories would be defunct and millions of jobs would be lost. Billions of dollars of machinery would be laid to waste. Hundreds of billions of dollars of taxes generally collected from manufacturers, raw materials, employees’ salaries, executives’ bonuses, finished product taxes and taxes collected from retail establishments’ profits would be totally lost. Smuggling, bootlegging and illegal retail will skyrocket. Still these are not obedient or diligent taxpayers. In fact they won’t be paying any taxes at all. As a last resort, diehard smokers would look for other smoke alternatives. Marijuana would be of first choice followed by other forms of vegetation or crops such as even the common grass down to rolled-up newspapers, might be lit and puffed up – well, at least during the cold-turkey stage.”

“But is money gained from the tobacco industry exclusively dedicated to treating tobacco-related ailments and other afflictions and drawbacks arising from smoking? Are they allocating the hundreds of billions of dollars collected as taxes back into pro-quitting and anti-starting smoking campaigns? Do they operate funds and foundations compensating dependents of smoking-related deaths and smoking-related diseases?”

“At the same time, are higher retail prices dampening demand? Is it ever so conveniently coincidental that cigarette manufacturers and brand owners are all giant corporations? The 6 leading tobacco companies in the world made $ 350 billion in 2008 alone. So what do the rest of the people do? They ostracize smokers. Yes! They discriminate smokers. They brand smokers. And they frown upon smokers! Now this seems a rather castigatory state of affairs, doesn’t it?”

Suzie is not just a plain Jane but is rather vehemently vocal and seemed to have armed herself with hard facts, even if they are obsolete and intermittent. Her figures were all out of date but that gave her more courage because she expected them to have risen even further and bolster her arguments in even more aggrandizing fashion. She went on to light another cigarette and proceeded to continue her passionate rebukes even as the smoke was gushing out of her nostrils.

“We hear many things about civil rights and the obscenities revolving around discrimination and “branding” of humans. How come this same principle does not apply here? Talk of secondary smoke or passive smokers. Don’t smokers have as much rights as non-smokers to enjoy the comforts and conveniences of modern society? If they opt to damage themselves then it’s their “funeral” and nobody else’s. How come they have to be seated outdoors instead of a separately-sealed indoor section?”

“The constitution was drawn up so that citizens might realize some semblance of equality. Basically, it’s there to protect everybody’s rights. Constitutionally speaking, all offices, restaurants and cafes should therefore have smoking sections too. Airplanes should have separately-sealed sections where with some basic engineering, generated tobacco smoke could be directed to the exhaust systems. Smokers should not be discriminated. If they can have facilities for men and women, then they should have facilities for smokers and non-smokers. After all, they do have facilities for the physically-challenged, and even for senior citizens, don’t they?”

“The subject of pollution and secondary or passive smoke are also corny issues. Yes of course, we have heard time and again how cigarette smoke affects non-smokers who share the same environment. That citation has much truth. However, such is perhaps more applicable to confined and air-conditioned or heated places like bars, pubs and the likes which are concealed environments.”

“Another question that begs to be asked is how clean is the air we all are breathing – the air that we so graciously take for granted? Are they fussing about that or are they simply tolerating it since it is such a big problem and mere complaints just won’t make it go away? Minus smokers’ smoke, thousands of other oxides, monoxides, poisonous gasses and a slew of toxic effluents, emissions and emanations are polluting the very air we breathe. Haze and smog which convey all sorts of airborne pollutants are also environmental nuisance that we all have to put up with.”

“The internal combustion engine is a major polluter spewing an assortment of harmful emissions. How reliable is your car air-conditioning in filtering outside air each time you are caught-up in deadlocked traffic? That certainly matters because an unreliable filtration system can’t and won’t filter-out all the toxic air being drawn in through the air-con. No doubt there are strict emission controls but that is merely to cut-down and not to eradicate emissions entirely. As a matter of fact, only the highly-efficient particulate absorption or HEPA filters would or could work. Is the air in your house fresh because you live close to forests or mountains? Or are you caught-up in the same smog-polluted city as most of us? Is your air hazy or crisp and clear?”

At this stage, Suzie started hyperventilating and was gasping for air. She had to be calmed down and told to take a few deep breaths. One easily wonders if smoking is causing her condition and that it makes her hyper. Her agitation may have also been aggravated by the perpetually soring cigarettes prices in most countries. Still, Suzie has been known to suffer from asthma off and on since she was a child. Soon enough she regained her composure and immediately went on though she was advised to take it easy. She continued:

“Now there is a real problem. Non-smokers blame smokers for the effects of passive smoke. No matter if there are other more detrimental pollutants in the atmosphere but it matters a lot when smokers puff. This is difficult since humans congregate but smokers have to be segregated. But 40 years ago, it was chic to smoke and it was widely accepted too. It was sophistication and an elation of one’s discernment. It was also heavily promoted. So has the number of smokers increased or decreased? As a clarion indication, just look at the size of tobacco corporations for an answer.”

Picture: shutterstock

In America, there have been some landmark civil cases brought against tobacco giants and astronomical sums have been awarded to “victims”. In legality aspects, that means that every smoker can sue provided he or she can meet the legal costs or locate an attorney willing to go for a pro-bono or contingency arrangement. They can also initiate Class Action suits with many plaintiffs litigating in unity and unison. So, cigarette companies are practically sitting on nails and some have already bailed-out and ejected early by selling their tobacco business to probably unwary Asian companies.”

“That is understandable too since the number of Asians smoking is just mind-boggling and their numbers steadily increasing. Take a look at China, Japan and Indonesia where chain-smokers are typical. One should be mindful that these Asian companies who bought over American production are assuming their future liabilities as well.  Or, aren’t they? So long as they don’t have investments and accounts in the United States, then they may be in slightly safer territory. That way, they would not risk getting their assets frozen by court orders.”

“Now, do placing warning labels on cigarette packs automatically absolve these companies from liability? It’s like the “Park At Your Own Risk” proclamation. But does it actually accord them immunity? Can self-imposed and concocted indemnity pre-empt the law? At best, that’s arguable and at worst, nonsensical.”

“From the amount of revenues realized by the tobacco industry, it’s evident that smokers make quite a sizeable proportion of the human race. Given any nation, should smokers unite and form a political party, they would be huge and formidable. If they got their act together and form a society, they would be humongous. And if they choose to pick up arms and literally fight for their rights, we will have a World Civil War. And if they want a revolution they can be successful.”

“Governments would be at a loss to detain them. Even if law-abiding citizens vacate their homes, there would hardly be enough containment to contain all of them. Their numbers are vastly staggering and they hail from all walks of life, nooks and corners – transcending race, culture and religion. If they collectively boycott paying taxes, governments would go broke. If they all protest via simultaneous open burning of rubbish and newspapers, a dark pall of smoke will encircle the earth for months. That gives you an idea of just how many smokers there are.”

She concluded abruptly with: “Now may I have a light”?

Author: J. Sam Barr

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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