Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Better Side of Nicotine!

Each pack of cigarettes has a warning about the brutal truth of harmful effects of tobacco, but it does not inform that smoking bans around the world are creating a new trend – the number of marriages, friendships and close relationships is increasing between the people that are pounded in the rooms for smokers.

Each pack of cigarettes tells us that smoking causes cancer of all possible internal organs, that it has negative consequences for pregnancy...  But, the pack does not say that smoking, in a way, modeled today’s culture of entire civilization and that in recent decades it shaped the lifestyle of modern men and women.

Anti-smoking mania that is currently affecting the western world came to the extent in which the cigarettes are thrown out of the cultural and social life.

Besides prohibiting the advertisement of cigarettes, their display in films and on television also is avoided, and recently, a great "rewriting of history" is in fashion.

In the United States, they erased a cigarette from the hand of the famous Beatle, Paul McCartney, on the cover of re-released album "Abbey Road", and the French have removed cigarettes from the paintings of Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, that adorned their ceremonial post stamps. If smokers, hundreds of years ago, were so "notorious", the question is, how would the present-day popular culture look like, and who would, for example, instead of Humphrey Bogart, stand for a cultural icon of the 20th century. For, although Bogart died back in 1957, every kid now knows that he was a great charmer, who never took a cigar out of his mouth. He based his image on a specific method of smoking, holding a cigar in his mouth between two smokes. Such smoking even entered in the Oxford Dictionary, as a verb “bogarting”.

If the new technologies initiate remastering of the old movies, like the French did with their stamps, it would be likely that "Casablanca", from a cult film, will become a comedy, in which the main actor is doing something strange with his hands. Richard Klein, a professor of French literature and the author of “Cigarettes are Sublime”, a kind of history of smoking, said that “Casablanca" is a type of a film in which cigarettes are providing specific light and character. Klein noted another significant "contribution" of Bogart’s cigarettes; if there was not so much smoking in Casablanca, Franklin Roosevelt would not be so thrilled with the film in 1942, and he would not set up a meeting with Churchill and De Gaulle in Casablanca at the beginning of 1943, where there was made a significant improvement in the U.S. and France relations. America, then, ceased to maintain relations with the Government in Vichy and De Gaulle’s move was acknowledged,  and who knows how the course of World War II would have been if Roosevelt and De Gaulle had not met in Casablanca.  Klein also noted that Hitler was sworn anti-smoker, and that, because of this, smoking at that time was accepted as a kind of patriotic duty.

When it comes to popular culture, one should ask what would happen to the famous scene from the movie "Basic Instinct" in which Sharon Stone crossed legs and, close-up, showed her crotch and became a symbol of sexuality for teenagers. To reiterate, this is performed at a hearing where she was a suspect for murder, during which she lit a cigarette, although they cautioned her that it is prohibited. And, in the fatal moment, she uttered a "cult" line: "What are you going to do, arrest me for smoking?"

Smoking, however, is not only an integral part of the cultural heritage of human civilization. Cigarettes did for a long time kill our internal organs, but with an extremely proactive marketing of tobacco companies, cigarettes became a significant social factor. Hypothetically speaking, if no one smoked, the men around the globe would not have a significant advantage in winning the women. For years the older seducers teach kids that you should always have a lighter with you even if you do not smoke, because you never know when a girl needs a fire. For a long time, the first lit cigarette usually went after the first intercourse, and for boys it was the entrance into the world of men.

Cigarettes, on the other hand, had a significant impact in the "conquest of freedom" of weaker gender in their fight for gender equality, and, eventually, they became a symbol of female emancipation and independence. Puritans in America, in the first period after the Second World War thought that there is a subconscious link between the consumption of cigarettes and sexuality, emphasizing "the rigidity of the situation in which a woman puts something between the lips."

So, during the seventies, picture of a woman with a cigarette represented a symbol of independence and freedom from the conservative morality, and that was embodied in an advertising campaign for cigarettes, "Virginia Slims" with the slogan "You've come a long way, baby." This send a message: a woman that smokes a cigarette is a free woman, she enjoys it independently from the man who wants to approach her with a lighter.

In Europe, tobacco control is gaining momentum in the last decade, while in America this struggle is far more present in people's lives, which is why America has become known as a country where smoking is forbidden even in your own apartments because the neighbors may sue you because you are poisoning them through the ventilation system.

Since 1965, the percentage of smokers in America dropped from 45 to about 20 percent of the total population. Hannah Arendt, German political theorist of Jewish origin, had once written that the smokers in line reminiscent her of an unpleasant scenes from her youth, when Jews were still entering the cattle wagons on their way to the gas chambers. That feeling smokers may experience at any airport in Europe, where visitors are forced to seek special rooms for smoking, and where they are pushed as in a nature reserve.  In these “smoking reserves” , however, it is easy to see that relations among people are somewhat closer, because, as non-smokers mind their own business around the airport, smokers chat in a small space.

In America there is a phenomenon of "smoker's lobby" in large corporations, where the closest relations are made  in the very smoking rooms. This is, maybe, best shown in the most popular sitcom in the last decade, "Friends", when one of the main characters deliberately starts to smoke because she saw that those colleagues of hers who go on smoke-break are getting along better with the head of the company.

Therefore, among smokers who are becoming a new legal category, a new kind of solidarity and opportunity for bonding is created. It is interesting that Ireland was the first country in Europe to introduce a general smoking ban, and that included smoking in pubs, which was seen as a major blow to their local culture. The first effect was a decline in visits to pubs, but in the long term, sociologists have noted another effect - increase in the number of marriages. This was explained with increased interaction between the smokers who were, after the ban, forced to attend small spaces for smokers. In simple words, the average guy in smoking zone has better chances with a girl.

United Kingdom also adopted a total ban on smoking in 2007, which led to the closure of many pubs, particularly low-profit local "holes" for fun for the people in the neighborhood, who felt that it was not right to drink beer without a cigarette.  The respected British weekly newspaper The Economist noted that in the first two years of ban existence, about 27 pubs per week was closed on the island. Some pubs have managed to adopt by attract wine lovers, and almost all pubs have started to serve food (which until recently was unthinkable).

With a change of pub character, "lifestyle" of an average Briton was also changed.  Until the smoking ban, 75 percent of Britons has visited pubs, of which two thirds were considered as regular guests. This is how the journalist of The Economist described a new situation:  “The tables are sticky with half-dried beer. There is a wide range of beers to choose from, but often it tastes as if the pipes have not been cleaned for weeks. Until smoking was banned from pubs in 2007, the front half of pubs stank of cigarettes while the back half was suffused with a smell from the toilets. Sadly, today, the tables are as sticky as ever and, while the cigarette smoke has gone, that has only allowed the toilets' odour to pervade the entire place.”

The only argument which "fighters for the rights of smokers" can not deny are many medical reports that prove that smoking is not only harming health of those who smoke, but people around them to. This is why these bans are slowly conquering the world. Greece is one of the last European countries that was scheduled to introduce a ban in restaurants from September 1 this year, but that was unrealistic in a country that still has 40 percent of smokers. Association of restaurateurs responded with initiative “ashtrays on the tables again”, and the Greeks continued to smoke like chimneys. Most bizarre ban on smoking in Europe is certainly the one in Amsterdam. In front of a certain coffee shop, housed in the middle of Red Light District, opposite to the local church, stands a large sign: "If you smoke marijuana, which is mixed with tobacco, then smoking is permitted only outside. If you smoke marijuana without tobacco, then smoking is allowed inside."

The first ban

The first known smoking ban was introduced in Mexico, in 1575, and involved the use of tobacco in the churches, in all the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. Then the Turkish Sultan Murad fourth banned smoking in the Ottoman Empire, and Pope Urban Seventh threatened to "excommunicate anyone who is caught taking tobacco in the church, whether he is smoking, chewing or inhaling it through the nose."

The first "secular" building where smoking was prohibited is the old government building in Wellington, New Zealand, where smoking was prohibited in 1876. The reasons for this prohibition, however, were not medical but in fear of fire, since this building is still the second largest wooden building in the world.

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