Have no doubt, smoking is dangerous

Yet another study in the U.S. — on smoking signs this time around — debunks our perception of them. Reported a couple of months ago, the finding says, ‘No smoking’ signs have only the contrary effect, making people crave for more tobacco and driving them to light up, instead of dousing the lighted cigarette. This news must be feast to the eyes and music to the ears of cigarette manufacturers and tobacconists, coming as it does at a time when the world is becoming increasingly aware of the ill-effects of smoking. The ineffectiveness of signs need not surprise us, anyway, because we are not the ones who care for signs. We drive through red signals, we spit and litter wherever we want disregarding the prohibitory signs, we honk at the no-horn zones, et al.

At times, admitting an uncommitted misdemeanour can be a cause for relief rather than embarrassment. I experienced it once in my house. It was in the context of my being asked to open my schoolbag to verify if the money missing from the cupboard landed in it. I admitted having taken it for buying notebooks to pre-empt my mother opening my bag. (In fact, my elder brother, who pinched it, also benefited from my lie). Else, she would have found to her consternation that my schoolbag was home to not merely schoolbooks and stationery, but a packet of cigarettes and matches as well! Merely imagining its consequence made me shudder then. Smoking, I knew, would be considered worse than thieving.

Many a cigarette has rolled off the production lines of factories since then. And the truth is that for all the anti-smoking campaigns and incentives, cigarette has not been stubbed out of human life ever since its invention. I lighted my first cigarette when I turned 13 and doused it at 30 for keeps. Since one smoked very niggardly — by fits and starts — one’s contribution to the tobacco industry’s exchequer was nearly nil. To cut corners on cigarettes, I halved them, smoking only one half at a time, taking my cue from my grandfather who was a light smoker. This way, I reduced consumption, thus economising on cigarettes and harmful effects of smoking.

Fear of and respect for elders prompt the young to smoke stealthily. And they enjoy clandestine smoking. As you know, the proverbial forbidden fruit is the sweetest. Once a friend, a teenager, was enjoying a cigarette in the solitude of his house. Unexpectedly, his father showed up out of the blue, and would have caught him red-handed. But no! The mortal fear made him act like a conjurer, performing a vanishing trick. The burning cigarette, protruding from his mouth, disappeared into it. For him singeing his mouth was less agonising than the embarrassment he would have experienced had his father witnessed his smoking escapade.

It won’t be off the mark to say that in the Indian context, boys in small towns and villages take to smoking as they plunge into adolescence to show off their manliness to girls.

When it comes to smoking, a study says, boys tend to emulate their fathers and girls, mothers. So, smoking parents should get the habit out of their hair lest their sins (read the smoking habit) be visited upon their children.

Smoking, we are told, takes years off your life. But it was otherwise for politician Winston Churchill and philosopher Bertrand Russell. They lived long albeit they smoked heavily. Churchill lived to be 90, and Russell spanned almost a century — two years shy of it. However, you can’t instance them for generalising. Let’s liken a smoker to a man who walks along the middle of the road and a non-smoker to one who invariably treads the footpath. While the former is doubtless at the high risk of being run over, the latter is relatively safe.

Mumbai’s famous cancer surgeon, the late Earnest Borges, employed this analogy to drive home the truth about smoking’s cancer connection. And he seemed to have the last word on it.

Leave a Reply