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During my last trip I bought very little, which is not really usual behavior for me, normally I go crazy shopping whenever I travel (or when I am at home, for that matter…). A lighter is one of the few things which I brought back with me. Because of the contradiction that it represents. I found it at the airport in San Francisco as I was leaving for New York. I am not sure if they still have this thing where you can not take lighters with you on board planes in the US, but obviously the person who left it there thought that they did and got rid of it before he went through security. (Which I did too with mine btw – couldn’t face the potential aggro). I already wrote about New York earlier this week, and also that the reason why the scales finally fell from my eyes while I was there was connected to the newest smoking ban, which basically decrees that you can only smoke outdoors if you are standing up. You can no longer enter parks with cigarettes at all, and sidewalk cafes and benches are also out of bounds. And much the same in San Francisco. I mean, it does change one’s perceptions if you are relegated to leper status in a situation where you are actually doing something which is completely legal… In the United States it is legal to smoke…

And this is the first point: If smoking is such an evil, such an unspeakably degenerate act, one which you are only allowed to do whilst standing up, away from all others like the class dunce – then why not outlaw tobacco altogether? They are after all one of the largest manufacturers of the stuff in the world and 2 of the 4 big international tobacco cartels are American. Which is exactly why they will never make it illegal of course. The cost of that is way too big… Far more efficient to play a cat and mouse game through harassing the few remaining smokers at home, whilst merrily exporting cigarettes to the rest of the world!

Second point: If a nation does not sign the Kyoto protocol, and then gets all sanctimonious about environmental pollution and health and whatever, and furthermore allows its cities to impose sanctions that humiliate people who dare to light up under a clear blue sky – sorry, but I think some very serious self-evaluation of motives is in order over there! Such as wondering about whether there may not be a deliberate strategy of diverting public awareness from the real evil of total environmental melt-down by focusing them on something related but relatively very minor? By creating a context in which people can feel good about themselves by venting their righteous indignation at others, who in their estimation are the ones who pollute their world? While they themselves remain squeaky clean?

Whereas in the face of the impending calamity it really doesn’t matter in the slightest whether some poor sucker enjoys a smoke and a coffee, sitting down somewhere in the open air, even if it happens to be in your immediate vicinity, and even if the smell may come drifting over to where you are from time to time? With exhaust fumes from millions of vehicles billowing all over the place? Given that in all likelihood you will be going belly up with the rest of humanity in a few more decades anyway? (Not to even mention all the flora and fauna which between us we – smokers and non-smokers together – have managed to decimate en route…)

Smoking is bad for you. But of course it is! I really do not need a nanny state to lecture me about it – trust me, I know! I also know that if said nanny state is really watching out for my best interests (and for the interests of those around me, as they proclaim) – why, then they can outlaw the stuff altogether, can’t they? But so long as they don’t… As the old Catholic joke goes – most things that give pleasure are either unhealthy or morally suspect. Like food, for example. Obesity, they say, is the biggest health threat in the US. Far bigger than smoking it seems. The argument there may be that nicotine is addictive whereas food isn’t. Oh really? Are you so sure about that?

Don’t get me wrong: I do not advocate smoking in closed public spaces. In fact (and funnily enough like most other smokers that I know), I am very much in favor of no smoking indoors in restaurants, bars and so forth. Cigarettes, lovely little critters that they are, do stink terribly and the fug is extremely bothersome even if you are contributing to it yourself. So, we have the indoors smoking ban here as well. When it was first brought into effect I thought that there might be a public uprising, given what a nation of dedicated smokers Turks are. Nothing like that – people stopped lighting up indoors immediately. Know why? It makes sense, that’s why. It is something that one can immediately understand! It is highly reasonable.

But making it into a heinous act to smoke outdoors? Apparently the reasoning behind it, Dina told me, is the litter that it causes. Please… Don’t make me laugh! I was in Singapore a few years ago. Cleanest place I have ever seen in my life. Even the trees look like as if they are given a daily polish – which I am sure they are btw ;-). Not the tiniest bit of litter in evidence, and Singaporeans smoke quite a bit, I noticed. Lots and lots and lots of trash cans (always one within easy walking distance more or less) and also they have a special litter police. Problem solved! And even around here: This is a very crowded city. There is one area in particular which gets about one million people every night which only spread themselves over a couple of square kilometers at the most. Weekends it goes up to about 3 million people over there in Taksim. Most of them smoke. So, you would expect mountains of butts to pile up, right? Wrong. Again, plenty of trash cans – without even a need for a litter police, I might add – end of story.

So, this little thing that they have going across the pond – sorry people, I will now call a spade a spade: It is a social hysteria. And in view of the Kyoto thing it is also hypocrisy with a capital H. It is a “better than thou” mindset carried to ridiculous extremes. It is ridiculous – period.

However, for me it is also very sad on a personal level: I really used to love the States. And unfortunately I no longer do as much… And having had to smoke standing up while I was there this last time is what did it, I’m afraid. Of course, lots of truly great people over there whom I love – but… Somehow, just this tiny little thing (or so any non-smoker may think) has made me feel rather unwelcome, if not indeed downright shunned and unwanted. And really, all this for no good reason that I can identify. That I can see sense in and accept.

(And please do not ask me why I do not just quit. The answer is because I absolutely love it! And after all, I do not hold others to task over their particular vices either, you know?)


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