Smoking is playing Russian roulette with your health

31 May 2023 04:15pm
Curbing smoking is made more complicated by pop culture’s mesmerising influence: it does an excellent job promoting the lifestyle of the “rebelliously cool” - 123rf
Curbing smoking is made more complicated by pop culture’s mesmerising influence: it does an excellent job promoting the lifestyle of the “rebelliously cool” - 123rf

A grand sage of letters and journalism, bedridden from dementia and diabetes, and just years from death, always guffawed at his fans and friends’ perennial curiosity of his fondness for packs of Dunhill.

Puffing away since he was a boy, the sage was seemingly fortified with power lungs that evaded smoking's ill excesses but everything else about his failed health pointed to his decades-long addiction.

So, what did his doctor say about his boundless smoking, especially in his late twilight years? Chortling hoarsely, the sage's rejoinder was a quintessential classic: “My doctor is long dead!” Millions of smokers, and now vapers, delude themselves into a customary denial: they are “immune” from smoking's hazards, only because the side effects haven't resonated – yet.

This delusion/addiction surely reflects the 30,648 compound notices valued at RM7.6 million health inspectors slapped on patrons illegally blowing smoke at eateries nationwide.

The staggering lot of offenders prove two things: smokers are incorrigibly glib, disdainful of rules that bar them from smoking in public places, and hardcore puffers who handily burn RM35 to chain smoke 40 sticks a day, have no will to quit, even if they smugly insist that

“I can quit anytime.” Ironically, Muslim smokers somehow persevere in not puffing during the daytime of the fasting month, since it disqualifies the fasting tenet of spirituality, yet can’t bear to be without a stick between their lips for more than a few minutes on normal days.

For many smokers, once they are allowed to break fast at dusk, it isn’t drinks or fruits that they attack first: it’s the cigarette smoke that goes in first, surely a violation of breaking fast protocols and evidence of their desperate nicotine fixation.

Another characteristic of a smoker’s loss of good form is when they puff away in the living room and before small children while the ash burns away precariously in the stick between their fingers, ash tray or no ash tray be damned.

Ideally, the best moment to quit is well before smokers’ breach the age of 30, as means to give the lungs enough lead time to cleanse and heal.

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But hardcore smokers, true to form, persist: they play Russian roulette with their health, no less deadly than playing it with a revolver, only that it is played once every five years or so. For every moment they survive cancer, dementia, diabetes and the lot, they must be reminded that a few more chambers await. But it’s all hogwash to smokers.

If the lungs endure decades of nicotine pestilence, other organs may not: smoking causes a variety of serious diseases, most of them eventually leads to fatalities.

Yet, for all of smoking’s infamy, it is not a crime like drug abuse but merely banned from mainstream advertising and at best, officially “discouraged.” In its discouragement campaign, governments make smoking an inconvenient lifestyle: they can’t smoke in public or private sector offices and facilities, or airplanes or eateries, at the risk of a hefty fine and jail time.

Cigarette packs display health warnings and graphic images of smoking’s terrible wounds.

Certain Islamic religious state authorities took the bold step of issuing fatwas, declaring smoking as haram (signboards to that effect are displayed in mosques' compounds) but these diktats are routinely ignored while religious enforcement officers don’t hunt for smokers the way they hunt for offenders of khalwat and boozing.

Curbing smoking is made more complicated by pop culture’s mesmerising influence: it does an excellent job promoting the lifestyle of the “rebelliously cool”.

John Travolta lighted a stick in a few scenes between his hypnotically sensuous gyrations in Saturday Night Fever and overnight, he rubbed his “badass” image into millions of youngsters to burn their weekly allowances on a small pack and switching to a certain red/white iconic brand.

Decades later, the smoking lobby, cleverly capitalising on the pop culture nous for the industry to remain relevant, prevailed, aiding tobacco farmers to survive the global anti-smoking offensive.

The only backlash they were unable to sidestep was the law prohibiting retailers from selling packs to minors, threatening future sales from dearth of new customers.

Governments, especially ours, realised that they have no political will to impose an outright prohibition on smoking, given that smokers, especially in East Coast states, command a big voting bloc and contributive sin tax, so making smoking “cumbersome” and taxing them was the halfway compromise.

This reluctance was foisted on the Government’s back pedaling, postponing implementation of a proposed generational smoking ban to 2025, starting with the 2007 instead of the 2005 generation and without clear support from members of Parliament.

New Zealand has a similar proposal, called the cohort smoking ban, targeting the 2008 generation that starts in 2027.

The idea is citizens born after 2008 are barred forever from buying cigarettes or tobacco products.

Vape is excluded.

Then, in the last decade, many governments worldwide suddenly legalised marijuana.

Pot boutiques flourished in our northern neighbour, selling the stuff to smoke and eat as candy and cookies, while Malaysia is forced into a crossroad after clamours clang to legalise marijuana, at least in its medicinal aspects.

Is a reefer healthier than a cigarette? Depending on who you ask, It’s difficult to hazard a guess: progressives will push to advocate pot as a healthy while conservatives, clinging on to dying traditional values, balk.

Many smokers have transitioned to vaping but it’s merely a switch from one poison to another, perhaps an even more formidable deadlier substance, based on recent medical literature.

No matter, inhalers of these noxious substance have never and will never cede to the fact that direct smoking (or soon, vaping) kills eight million people annually while 1.2 million non-smokers are dead from exposure to second-hand smoke.

Azmi Anshar is a retired newspaper editor and award-winning commentator, who also likes to indulge in books, music, movies and his grandkids.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.