Brian Edwards Media

Incoherent Rave about Smoking, Nanny State, Spring, Phil Goff, Obesity and Low Self-Esteem

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Photo: Greg Bowker/Herald

Photo: Greg Bowker/Herald

I read that New York’s Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, has said he wants to take the Big Apple’s war on smokers to the city’s beaches and parks. There will be the inevitable cries of ‘Nanny State’ from smokers and possibly even from some civil libertarians. My own view is that the only right smokers have consists in the freedom to very slowly take their own lives, as uncomplainingly and as far away from the rest of us as possible. This may seem harsh, but there really is no difference between the smoker and the heroin user. Both are drug addicts. I hear no argument in favour of junkies having the right to shoot up in public places, whether indoor or out.

Like ‘PC’, the use of  ‘Nanny State’ to decry any legislation designed to enhance wellbeing or preserve the environment or protect the responsible citizen from the irresponsible, now provides a failsafe indication that the user has neither intelligence nor argument. Our own history of ‘Nanny State’ intrusion in the lives of citizens should properly include fluoridation of public water supplies, all forms of immunisation against disease, all traffic laws, especially the compulsory wearing of seatbelts, all laws against the personal use of narcotics, all restrictions on smoking and, most recently, any restriction of the rights of parents to raise their children in whatever way they see fit.

The list is of course far too short, since any law which, in the interest of the general good,  restricts the freedom of the individual, is really an example of the ‘Nanny State’ in action. So we have the unwelcome spectacle of the Leader of the Opposition renouncing his party’s previous attempts to conserve water and power and to prevent parents using ‘reasonable force’ as a defence against the charge of having abused their children, on the grounds that these ‘Nanny State’ policies meant that Labour was perceived as having ‘taken its eye off the ball’ and lost votes in the process. Never mind that these policies might actually have been for the general good.

The logical extension of such populist thinking might seem to be the repeal of all the previous ‘Nanny State’ legislation mentioned above. But, as a means of regaining widespread voter support, it wouldn’t work. People would not want to go back to the days when it was legal to travel in a fast-moving vehicle without buckling up, or acceptable to fill the air in public places with life-threatening chemicals. For most of us life is  better because of laws that we once thought intrusive. That’s the thing about Nanny: In time she almost always comes in from the cold.

Speaking of cold, the advent of Spring means that for the next six months or more, smokers’ rights will actually take precedence over the rights of non-smokers. In cold weather smokers are disadvantaged by having to go outside – cafes, restaurants or their place of work –  to smoke. They sit shivering at kerbside tables or huddled in office doorways, sucking in death with the damp, icy air. Poor things.

But in fine, warm weather the smokers come into their own. In fine, warm weather everyone wants to be outside. But, for the non-smoker, being outside means having to put up with the noxious, appetite-killing fumes drifting across from neighbouring tables. The worst table to sit next to is one with a mixed party of smokers and non-smokers. The smokers, aware of the discomfort their smoking may cause their non-smoking companions, either exhale their smoke vertically into the air, from where the breeze wafts it gently to the adjacent tables, or ‘considerately’ hold the burning cigarette down behind their chair, well away from the guests at their own table, but directly next to yours.

So in Spring I’m more than ever with Mr Farley. It’s time to take the next logical step in the war against the weed. NO SMOKING IN ANY PUBLIC PLACE, INSIDE OR OUT! (BY ORDER OF NANNY)

And while I’m at it, here’s a non-PC aside. We already know that there is a correlation between unemployment and smoking. If my observations are correct, there’s also a correlation between smoking and obesity. A disproportionate number of fat people seem to be smokers as well, thus doubling their risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, to name but three.

My theory is that these are people who find themselves in a downward spiral of boredom, low self-esteem and depression which they attempt to allay with comfort food and the narcotic and boredom-relieving effects of smoking, resulting in further weight gain, poorer health, loss of energy and vitality along with sexual and social attractiveness, in turn leading to greater boredom, loss of self-esteem and depression…

I could be totally wrong of course. But what is absolutely clear is that the more difficult you make it for people to smoke, the fewer people smoke. I’m with Nanny. I know you don’t like it, but it’s good for you. One day you’ll thank me. (Isn’t that really infuriating? Don’t you want to kill both Nanny  and me?)

By the way, I used to be a sixty a day man. I know what you’re going to say –  nothing worse than a convert. But I can feel your pain.

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27 Comments:

  1. More often than not, you’ll find that smoking is an appetite suppressant. eg. models. You’ll also find that incense smoke is as carcinogenic as cigarette smoke. Have fun telling the hippies and Catholics that their rites should be banned outright because of your intolerance.

    • More often than not, you’ll find that smoking is an appetite suppressant.

      Well, as an appetitie suppressant it doesn’t seem to be working for a hell of a lot of people. Can’t comment on the incense smoke. And nor should I. I’m not part of that congregation and not affected by the practice. Presumably the worshippers have no objection to the incense smoke, since it forms part of their ritual.

  2. I am so fed up that smokers have taken over the outdoors. I remember going up Mt Vic a couple of years ago to see a comet or something, there were loads of people up there, and a handful of smokers. The smokers made it awful really, beautiful night, stench.

    Every garden bar, fresh air dining place is a waste of time even bothering to sit it, you know you will have an unpleasant environment.

    Outdoor dining in Australia is much more pleasant because no one can smoke within 5 meters of any outdoor diners.

    Only 25% of NZers smoke, but they pollute 100% of our urban public spaces

    • I am so fed up that smokers have taken over the outdoors. I remember going up Mt Vic a couple of years ago to see a comet or something, there were loads of people up there, and a handful of smokers. The smokers made it awful really, beautiful night, stench.

      Right on. However, smokers aren’t bad people and it’s worth politely asking them to stub out if it’s annoying you. We were sitting outside a Ponsonby cafe one day. A guy at the next table was holding his cigarette behind his chair and we were getting the benefit. When Judy asked this guy to move his cigarette away, she got an earful. BUT the guy’s girlfriend told him not to be such an arsehole and he stubbed out the cigarette. Mostly people (or their friends) are reasonable.

  3. Yeah B.E, innit weird how gross smoking is once the habit is kicked.
    I can’t stand the smell of smoke on my friends and family who still suck and yet I once lived to smoke.
    It is so disturbing to watch the epic struggle of my friends who don’t want to smoke any more and yet can’t make the break. It is heartbreaking.
    Will: if catholics can do away with drinking from the chalice at communion due to swine flu they can do away with the incense to aid asthmatics in the congregation. No Nannying, just consideration.

    • Yeah B.E, innit weird how gross smoking is once the habit is kicked.

      I feel for your friends. I certainly don’t underestimate the difficulty of quitting smoking. It’s hell. But I know of several cases where mounting disapproval from family, especially the kids, has finally convinced Mum or Dad to give up. But understanding doesn’t have to mean tolerance. Never mind passive smoking. The smoker has no right even to make life unpleasant for other people.

      Don’t know anything about Catholics, the chalice and swine flu. I’m a Protestant atheist as you probably know.

  4. Not an “incoherent rave” at all. Quite restrained, in fact.

    Making life as difficult as possible for smokers, has nothing to do with Nanny State. These social misfits don’t have any “rights” — especially when
    it comes to contaminating the air I breathe, the clothes I wear and befouling my hair.
    They are the bane of every non-smokers’ al fresco public dining/coffee-drinking enjoyment. Whenever I’m at a table that’s on the pavement, and an inconsiderate cretin lights up, I just want to take the pitcher of water and offload the contents right into that person’s carcinogenic gob, just as he/she is about to exhale.

    And ladies, seeing you all huddled together, kerbside, puffing away madly on your poison sticks
    during your work breaks — arms semi-crossed against your muffin bellies — is a real turn-off. You look like decrepit hookers chatting in a huddled group, about to disperse to your own street corners. Asians are the worst, sitting on their haunches, looking up at you with that vacant serpentine look.

    Smokers — don’t bleat on about being “victimised” and that you have “rights”, when you’re the ones inflicting the misery on others. We, non-smokers, have rights too.

    • Not an “incoherent rave” at all. Quite restrained, in fact.

      For heaven’s sake, man, stop all this shilly-shallying. Call a spade a spade!

      Seriously though, your quite correct statement that smoking seems to be more common among Asians than other ethnic groups might seem to cast doubt on my smoking/obesity/low self-esteem connection. However, I think this has more to do with the smoking culture in Asian countries. What is certain is that making life difficult for smokers, as we have done in New Zealand, is an effective aid to quitting and stopping people smoking.

  5. This urge to dine ‘al fresco’ has always puzzled me. Regardless of smokers, other irritants such as insects, sparrows, diesel fumes and wind borne dust are far greater nuisances. Give me a table inside anytime.

    On the general matter of smoking (and I speak as an ex smoker) I get fed up with being instructed as to what I can and can’t do; of having my life regulated. At the risk of stirring up one of your other correspondents your views surprise me since the Irish are noted for their contrariness and reluctance to conform.

    As for Mark S I would suggest he take up smoking to calm down. This suppressed rage cannot be good for him.

    • On the general matter of smoking (and I speak as an ex smoker) I get fed up with being instructed as to what I can and can’t do; of having my life regulated.

      As for those contrary Irish, Eire was the first country in Europe to have a ban on smoking, followed immediately by the Northern Irish. We may be contrary, but we’re not stupid.

  6. I also seem to recall the ban was widely ignored

  7. My father (who never smoked) was a great admirer of smokers … 1940’s actresses etc, which I suppose is why I have smoked with a passion for 40 years – ‘suicide in slow motion’ so to speak.

    As a fixation of oral eroticism (and effective self-perpetuating stress relief), I personally consider my vice as ‘out there’ for all the world to see, and take the high moral ground that it’s infinitely preferable to having an ‘anal fixation’ like many non-smokers.

    A short period on nortryptiline completely and rapidly removed any desire to smoke, that was until a nice lady from the Cancer Society had a couple of cigarettes in front of me and I was away again. Sigh.

    Benefits of smoking:
    1) ritual
    2) stress relief
    3) drives all you ‘anally fixated/retentive’ types to expose yourselves
    4) more socially acceptable than thumb sucking
    5) seeing the joy of recognition on another smoker’s face
    6) the raw juvenile pleasure of rebellion against authority (and you don’t even need to be a Libertarian!)
    7) watching the ‘righteous’ cheerfully imbibe emissions from vehicles, air ‘fresheners’, hair spray, perfumes, dyes, plastics etc

    Downside:
    – degrading side effects followed by a certain slow agonising death
    – derision and social exclusion by 3), 6) and 7) even when being sensitive to their rights
    – judgemental health ‘care’ workers
    – impoverishment due to greedy immoral Govt. taxes
    – stress caused by social intolerance
    – annoying tea-towel wavers popping out from behind bushes
    – butts
    – cleaning ashtrays

    As tobacco is so dangerous, why doesn’t the Govt. just bite the bullet and ban it’s import?
    If folks want to grow their own, let them get on with it … I suspect the effort and hassle involved, combined with doubtful returns from any black market activity would soon cause most of us smokers to abandon all hope and take up obsessive eating or drinking or droning endlessly on and on in a monotone … or perhaps to fully explore our previously restrained capacity for oral-aggression.

    • My father (who never smoked) was a great admirer of smokers … 1940’s actresses etc, which I suppose is why I have smoked with a passion for 40 years – ’suicide in slow motion’ so to speak.

      Pretty good summary of the pros and cons. I don’t object to people smoking at all, as long as it’s not around me. It’s unpleasant and, though I rarely give this much thought, apparently bad for my health as well. As to why governments don’t ban smoking outright, the only reasonable explanation seems to be the huge tax take they get from the sale of tobacco and cigarettes.

  8. “This may seem harsh, but there really is no difference between the smoker and the heroin user. Both are drug addicts. I hear no argument in favour of junkies having the right to shoot up in public places, whether indoor or out.”

    Well, you’re gonna hear it from me, Brian! I hasten to add that I only ever smoked for 2 years, from the ages of 29-30, after I finally learned to inhale on pot in Africa (long story)! Gave it up when I realised how silly it all was.

    But here goes: People will use drugs (nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, heroin, P, whatever) whether you want them to or not. Nothing is ever going to change that.

    Given that these drugs will always be available and people will always use them I see only one sensible approach. It consists of three parts:

    1. Serious, no-holds-bared compulsory drug education (including alcohol and tobacco) in schools. Parents cannot withdraw their children. And the education is honest and forthright without being preachy.

    2. Anyone who supplies any of the above-mentioned substances to anyone under the age of 18 has the book thrown at them. No mitigation, you cop a serious sentence. And police and other enforcement agencies make this a real priorty. (Given recent evidence about brain development, ideally this age should be 25, but realistically that would be impossible to implement.)

    3. Above the age of 18, take what you like. It’s all legal. But you deal with the consequences – the state ain’t gonna bail you out. If you drive drunk and crash, it’s on your head. If you take P and slash someone, you can’t claim being under the inflence of P in mitigation. Indeed, if you commit a crime under the influence of any substance, you can’t claim it in mitigation. And if you harm yourself or others while under the influence of any substance, you can’t plead incapacitation.

    That extends to health care. If you smoke and develop lung cancer, you pay for your own treatment. If you develop cirrhosis of the liver, for obvious reasons, you pay for your own treatment.

    If you want to consume mind-altering substances of any kind (including alcohol) and you want to protect yourself from the financial risk that exposes you to (because the state ain’t gonna cover you) take out insurance. It’ll cost. But you will be the one paying.

    Choices come with consequences. Only when there is no way out of a consequence will people pay real attention to the choice they make.

    • Well, you’re gonna hear it from me, Brian!

      Interesting thesis, Ashley. I have some sympathy for the idea that legalising and controlling the manufacture, sale and use of drugs makes a great deal more sense than attempting the impossible – prohibition.

      However, I don’t believe that in a civilised and humane society we can simply abandon wrongdoers to their fate, on the grounds that they brought it on themselves. What of those smokers, probably the majority, who can’t afford to pay for their own medical treatment or even for the drugs that would give them relief from the agonies of cancer in its later stages. What of the young drunk driver who crashes and ends up a paraplegic? Are we to leave that person to die without medical aid or rehabilitation? I think what you’re proposing is a very unforgiving and brutal society in which I, certainly, would not wish to live.

  9. ‘Little Toot’ makes a valid observation. The rise and decline of the smokers’ fortunes can be viewed through the prism of movie-making.

    Smoking has long surrendered its mantle as a sign of svelte Sophistication and Debonairness, as highlighted in those movies from the 1930s and 40s. Where actors such as Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Lauren Bacall, Veronica Lake; Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Gary Grant et al seemed to engage in a precise ritual of extracting a cigarette and — either having it lightened for them, or lighting it themselves. It seemed the epitome of mannered social grace and breeding.

    The TV series Columbo (1968-2003) changed all that. Peter Falk, portraying an unkempt cigar-smoking, quizzical/befuddled police lieutenant in a rumpled trench coat, was the antithesis of all that glamour. It probably was a turning point in public perception – and by default – public acceptance as well.

    Nowadays, smokers are fast becoming social pariahs; exiled to the outdoors, finding favour with no one save for their fellow smoker. On any given weekday, outside any office complex, we see them gather — in an almost circular formation — on the footpath, as a motley bunch engaged in a weird kind of synchronicity; of first raising their cigarettes to the lips, deeply inhaling smoke, slowly reclining heads to a 75 degree angle; then, offering measured mute whistles to the sky. Reminds me of those non-affirming slow-turning clown heads I used to see at the sideshow attractions at the Easter Show.

    When you realise how far our modern-day smoker has fallen from grace, from the elegant settings (as depicted in the Hollywood movies) to the pavements of the urban concrete jungle, then, there’s an unmistakable feeling of abjectness and sadness to the sorry saga.

    • ‘Little Toot’ makes a valid observation. The rise and decline of the smokers’ fortunes can be viewed through the prism of movie-making.

      Elegantly put. I wonder if you’ve ever heard the Bob Newhart track where he talks on the phone to Sir Walter Raleigh in America where he has just discovered tobacco. Hilarious. You can read the script of the sketch at http://www.monologues.co.uk/Bob_Newhart/Tobacco.htm Or buy the record.

  10. The problem with banning smoking is that it completely bypasses the requirment for personal responsibility. It leads to the next ban – ban some light bulbs, ban wasteful showers, ban boy racers, ban, ban , ban.
    Banning is the soft option.

    What should happen is that smokers should be told “You are free to smoke in places where no one else will be harmed” (and dont say ‘but thats everywhere’ – becasue if you take that track , youll have to ban cars) “but you will get no welfare state health cover. If you dont take private cover, then no public health funds”

    Same goes for diabetes from overweight, use of P and the likes.

    Now thats what I call personal responsibility and the consequences of not taking responsibility for yourself.
    It will take a few years for the message to get through, but sooner or later (due to health system costs) it will have to be considered.

    • The problem with banning smoking is that it completely bypasses the requirment for personal responsibility. It leads to the next ban – ban some light bulbs, ban wasteful showers, ban boy racers, ban, ban , ban.

      See my response to Ashley who has a similar idea.

  11. Brian, I have sympathy for your view. But, we live in an age in which medicine can achieve amazing and wondrous things – many, many more things than the state will ever be able to pay for. Decisions are made that treatments will not be offered to people all the time, because they are too expensive, they’re politically unwise, and all sorts of other arbitrary reasons.

    At some point, we make the decision about what the state should and shouldn’t pay for. Personally, I believe “you did this to yourself, you had all the information, all the encouragement not to do it to yourself but you went ahead anyway”, is the sensible place to draw the line at.

    What I suggest could not be brought in overnight – it is a long-term solution. It absolutely requires full access to information and an emphasis on education. It absolutely requires that everyone understand precisely what the effects of the substances they might consider taking are, what might happen to them, and how much it will cost to take out insurance to cover any likely health care needs if they still want to go ahead. It would take at least a decade, probably longer to bring in.

    But there should be no reason why, for example, people choosing to take up smoking now should expect the state to pick up the cost of their treatment for lung cancer, or people injured while under the influence of P should expect an ACC payout.

    Bans don’t work – they simply drive the problem underground and create opportunities for criminals to move in. Which makes everything much worse.

    The choice is between imperfect ways of dealing with harmful human behaviour. I believe prohibition is the least efficient, least effective choice. And I firmly believe informed adults should be allowed to do what they want to their own bodies – as long as they are fully prepared to accept the consequences of those choices and do not expect anyone else to bail them out.

  12. “but you will get no welfare state health cover. If you dont take private cover, then no public health funds”

    Are you also proposing getting rid of the tax on tobacco?

  13. Graeme

    Maybe the solution should be to replace the tax on tobacco and alcohol with compulsory insurance premiums, paid at point of purchase. And slap those insurance premiums on other decriminalised substances (I like evolving ideas!). Imagine if, every time you bought a packet of ciggies you had to pay an extra, say, $15 into a health fund that was used purely to treat smoking-related disorders. Gets around Brian’s objection that you can’t just leave people to die, but still imposes the cost on the people who make the choice.

  14. Nice pros and cons, Little Toot. Smokers are humans too. They have rites too.

  15. Will de Cleene: “Smokers are humans too. They have rites too.”

    Whaddya on about, Dude? “Rites” as in the actual practice/ritual of smoking (affected mannerisms etc?) Or, do you mean “rights” as in the legal/social ‘right’ to smoke? Or, are you just playing silly semantic games? Or is your literacy level real shonky?

  16. I still recall my toddler coming to me at the beach with a bucket of shells and cigarette butts he’d collected – yuck.

  17. Who was it who said: ‘Every time you create a new law you create a new criminal class’?

    I believe there is still a law against using a motorised lawn mower outside your gate without the appropriate licenses …

    The prisons are full! Bring back the birch! Tax ‘em, punish ‘em, make ‘em pay, let ‘em die like a dog in a ditch … when I was a boy etc…

    Really?

    Rites? Rights? Semantics? …is this form of point scoring helpful to the argument?

    Tobacco taxation at 35cents per gram means that my $34 pack of rolling tobacco generates $17.50 in revenue for the NZ Government (www.ash.org.nz).

    If you take into account the Govt levies paid by the tobacco companies, our government gets 70% of the price of a packet of smokes generating $1.1 billion in tax each year (www.nzma.org.nz).

    NZ govt.levies paid by British and American Tobacco totalled $0.88 billion in 2008, and tobacco sales put approx NZ$1.4 billion into retailers pockets (www.batnz.com).

    Where does the government channel this lucrative little earner? You do the research.

    Why bother creating new laws? Why not just stop the import, manufacture, and the immoral profiteering from this product?

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