Smokers: The new pariahs

David Bullard one a once powerful group, now marginalised and persecuted

It's amazing how the attitude to smoking has changed over the last three decades. My late father was given free cigarettes as part of his soldier's rations in the Second World War, courtesy of the taxpayer. Presumably the official government view at the time was that battalions of wheezing infantryman wasn't a problem providing the enemy could be persuaded to smoke as many cigarettes as your own troops.

Or maybe they thought that, since many of the troops would die anyway, then any damage tobacco might do to their lungs was of little consequence. Fortunately for me, my Dad survived the war unscathed which was pretty impressive for a tank regiment in North Africa. Apart from a chalk striped demob suit his only other memento of WW2 was an addiction to cigarettes.

He took to Senior Service untipped like a duck to water and would tap one end of the cigarette on his thumbnail to pack the tobacco and light up. He never smoked tipped cigarettes which he thought were specially made for women. His view was that if you were going to smoke you wanted as much tar on your lungs as possible. He would even leave a cigarette burning in an ashtray and light up another. He was probably on 60 a day at one point but gave up completely at the age of 50, lost the hacking morning cough and went on to live to 83 and die of something completely unrelated to smoking.

When I started work smoking in the workplace was de rigueur . There was none of this nonsense of standing outside a building in the pouring rain with other social outcasts. Pretty well everyone smoked and you virtually needed a note from your Mum saying you suffered from asthma to get away with being a non smoker. Then things began to change and governments decided that it might be a good idea to educate the public on the dangers of smoking. This must have been a difficult decision bearing in mind the revenue that taxmen the world over reap from the sale of cigarettes. But outweighing the revenue issue was the cost of dealing with the many health problems caused by smoking and the inevitable cost to the economy and so many governments relented.

However, not content with pointing out the downside of smoking and printing health warnings on packets the politicians decided to go further and turn smokers into social pariahs. Cigarettes now have to be concealed behind sliding doors in a supermarket in the UK just in case the sight of a camel on a pack of 20 entices a 14 year old to buy a pack and start smoking. Smoking is now banned virtually everywhere and it's surely only a matter of time before UK smokers will be registered like paedophiles and spat upon in public.

Much the same is happening here in SA.  I'm sure our zealous health minister Aaron (the Rod) Motsoaledi  has the best motives but I worry when he announces that smokers will be shown no mercy. I wish some of his fellow cabinet ministers were as committed to their portfolios. What about no mercy for drug dealers, rapists and cop killers for example? But let's not go down that path lest one should be labelled unpatriotic.

I have never really been a serious cigarette smoker. I'll buy 20 late at night in a pub when I've been scrounging other people's and have had a bit too much to drink. Then I'll have a sore throat and an appalling nicotine and alcohol hang-over and vow to never do it again. I don't walk around with a packet of cigarettes on me and can't remember when I last did.....probably 40 years ago when I was attempting to be cool at university. However, I do enjoy the occasional Havana cigar of an evening and rather resent being treated like a leper simply because I want to light up a foul smelling robusto.

I wouldn't dream of smoking in somebody else's house, in a restaurant, in a school or in a hospital ICU but I do think I should be allowed to smoke in my car or in some designated area of a bar or restaurant.  Unfortunately the ninny nanny state doesn't agree and worries in case some child should travel in my car and inhale secondary smoke or, worse, I open the window to exhale and an informal trader gets a face full.

You can just about get by as an eccentric relic if you smoke a cigar or a pipe but, thanks to government opprobrium  cigarette smokers are way down the public esteem table along with journos (many of whom smoke), paedophiles and tow truck drivers. It's easier to be a member of the Trans Gender, Gay, Bisexual and Lesbian community these days than it is to be a smoker. Tolerance is compulsory should you find your male boss enjoys dressing as a woman and attending drag parties.  Any ribald comments would qualify as hate speech and you'd be in front of the Equity Court before you could say Tootsie. But it's now quite permissible to goad smokers which is rather odd because smoking tobacco is still a legal activity and should be protected under our constitution.

What you're not allowed to do now in the UK (soon to come here no doubt) is to call people "fatty" because it is offensive and destroys their self confidence. Presumably Billy Bunter books will have to be handed in to the local police station to be burnt as will old copies of The Beano which, in less PC times, had a character called Fatty who

In the light of the recent findings from the first SA National Health and Nutrition Examination which found that two thirds of women in SA are overweight or obese I think it should be every SA citizen's duty to point out to these walking lard mountains that they are repulsively and morbidly obese. Only by shaming them in public will we drive out the scourge of chubbiness. After all, it seems to have worked for smokers.

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