Smoking, drinking and playing political games

Mark Wignall

Thursday, October 18, 2012    

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IN the 1987 movie, The Secret of My Success, there is a scene where Michael J Fox is being led into a playful seduction trap by his boss’s wife.

He is driving her in one of the company’s limos to her husband’s sprawling country estate to bed him and she lights up a cigarette. The focus moves to her sultry, painted lips, the cigarette being slowly sucked on and the smoke escaping from her slightly opened lips in a scene where cigarette smoking and sensuality are drawn together as one.

The genre in movies is as old as the hills.

There never existed a big movie actor or actress in whose lips a movie director did not place a cigarette, a conversation between the two and a budding romantic moment. As a child being taken to the cinema by my father in the late 1950s and 1960s, it didn’t occur to me what the smoking was all about until I became an adult.

In 1976 when I gave up smoking cigarettes (my father never smoked), I was convinced that smoking cigarettes was quite dangerous to one’s health, but it also occurred to me that the big cigarette-manufacturing companies were big funders of movies, and even if they were not fully up front in being credited for it, the money was still rolling in and most scenes of mundane conversation or those leading up to a torrid romance would involve a cigarette being puffed on.

Times have changed radically since those days.

At just about the time towards the late 1970s to the 1980s that a more healthconscious world and media began to highlight the dangers of cigarette smoking, the large cigarette companies were actively lying about reams of evidence that cigarette smoking was a causal factor in many respiratory health issues and cancer of the lips, tongue, throat and lungs.

Indeed, I can remember that one enterprising journalist in the US had identified that a large cigarette conglomerate was actually spraying additional amounts of nicotine, the addictive element in tobacco, to increase its hold on those who smoked, especially first-time smokers.

I say that times have changed simply because they have. The days of cigarette smoking being widely advertised as a “glamour activity”, that is, “cool”, have ended. The anti-cigarette smoking, health-crusade politicians who were once heavily lobbied and funded in their political campaigns and the cigarette manufacturers are mostly on the same page with few differences.

One, the anti-smoking lobby is pretty much plain in what it wants – an outright ban on the smoking of cigarettes. Two, governments have been very active in ensuring that cigarette manufacturers advise their consumers exactly what they are getting into their systems. Three, as long as cigarette manufacturing has a market and smoking is still a legal activity for adults, a majority, if not all of the companies, have been abiding by all of the rules which relate to ensuring that those who still wish to smoke do so in spaces as far removed from those who do not indulge.

Personal responsibility must mean that a husband who smokes must leave the confines of his house while he is doing so.

Additionally, cigarette manufacturers are also ploughing considerable amounts of funds in the health systems in the countries/jurisdictions in which they operate. In Jamaica, for example, a Special Consumption Tax (SCT) was imposed on Carreras, Jamaica’s main distributor of cigarettes to fund the NHF. At the time it was imposed, the SCT was funding 75 per cent of all funds going into the NHF!

My position is pretty simple. If people want to eat cockroaches, ingest bush medicine, smoke ganja and cigarettes and imbibe alcoholic beverages, they should be free to do so, just as long as they know the many consequences of their actions.

In all of this, I have noticed not just what could be construed as a reasonable bias against cigarette smoking, but a rank hypocrisy in the marketplaces of ideas where alcohol is involved. About a month ago, all of Jamaica’s prime ministers or their representatives met to launch a special rum that would be available 50 years from now. That I have no problem with, but when placed alongside the loud noise that some in high places were making about politicians accepting funding from cigarette companies and breaching an international protocol, the hypocrisy was laid too bare to resist comment.

First, I agree that our politicians should not be accepting funding from any company manufacturing cigarettes. That said, is there an internationally accepted protocol which rules that politicians cannot accept funding from manufacturers of alcohol?

If there is no such protocol, is that an admission that the consumption of alcohol is not damaging to one’s health when the overwhelming evidence is to the contrary?

And even with the hypocrisy that is afloat in the system now, why is it legal for adults to smoke cigarettes, technically a manufactured product and yet, if one plants ganja, reaps it, rolls up a bud or two and smokes it, that is illegal?

The difference? The cigarette lobby is more powerful than the ganja lobby. To take it further, the rum lobby is more powerful than all of them. It has absolutely nothing to do with health reasons and more to do with who wields power in which domain.

I would not adopt the ultra liberal view that all drugs, especially the “hard ones”, should be made legal, but at some stage it has to be accepted that if adults, weak or not, feel a need to ingest a drug, they will do so, law or no law.

I have sat on scholarship committees for Carreras, a company manufacturing cigarettes. When bright youngsters seeking scholarships sit at the head of the table and make their pitch, some nervously, I do not suddenly get the impression that they are unaware of what the company is producing.

I am certain that companies producing alcohol also award scholarships, and I know of a few ganja “druggists” who have assisted youngsters through university. My point is, there needs to be consistency among those criticising Carreras. Why have they not come out to criticise those who produce ganja or drink rum or big fast-food companies stuffing people’s arteries with raw fat?

They cannot lead because they are too good at following.





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