the somnambulist

the somnambulist

A Smoking Issue

A serious looking guy in a dark, smoke-filled room, draws deep puffs on his cigarette, while someone croons in the background "... with a cigarette in my hands, I felt like a man".The scene changes and the same man in the same dark, smoke-filled room is shown.But to one's horror, its not a hand to which the cigarette is anchored, its a human skeleton. And in the background someone croons "...with a cigarette in his hands, He felt like a man". Black humour and cliche's aside, what is it about this leaf filled strip of rolled paper that has made it the subject of intense debate? How has this seemingly harmless commodity gone from style icon to an incarnation of Satan?No one knows for sure.

The history of cigarettes has been a roller-coaster ride. After landing in the Caribbean, Columbus and his men noticed the natives' fondness for chewing and smoking the dried leaves of an aromatic plant. The Indians inhaled smoke through a Y-shaped pipe called a tobaga, thought by etymologists to be the origin of the name of the plant. While Columbus scolded his men for sinking to the level of the savages by mimicking their habit, he was reported to have said that, "it was not within their power to refrain". Much to the chagrin of my wife, I fully agree with Uncle Christopher. Tobacco use spread to Spain and Portugal. The ambassador of France to Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain, sent seeds of the tobacco plant to the Queen of France.The plant that grew from these seeds was christened Nicotina tabacura. The U.S.A was the biggest proponent of tobacco in the modern world. After the invention of the cigarette rolling machine in a project sponsored by tobacco baron James Duke in the late 1800's, cigarette sales surged. In the early 1900's smoking cigarettes was considered pedestrian and unmanly. All this changed with World War I. There was a huge demand of cigarettes at the front. The American Red Cross and the Young Men's Christian Association, previously opposed to the propagation of cigarettes, actively supplied them to the troops overseas. With the war over, opposition to cigarettes increased again. This time physicians started to correlate respiratory disorders with cigarette smoking.But not for long. The world got embroiled in war again, and cigarette consumption surged.Surprisingly, the first national campaign against cigarettes was run by the Bad Man of history textbooks, Adolf Hitler. He banned smoking in Germany and raised taxes against cigarette manufacturers. If Hitler had won the war cigarretes would have been a thing of the past. He would have killed fewer people than cigarettes did since WWII. The period after the war was the Golden Age of cigarettes. Everyone, from surgeons to hollywood legends, advertised cigarettes on TV. Cigarettes, formerly a male bastion, now found their way into the dominion of the fairer sex. It was not until early eighties that legislations were in place to prevent smoking in workplaces across the USA. But still cigarettes were the most advertised commodity in America. Americans did in 1988, what Hitler had done in 1939. They passed a resolution to increase the tax on tobacco companies. It was not until 1998 that non-smoking bars became the norm in California.

The history of Tobacco in India is as old as the history of colonialism. Tobacco found its way in India through the Portugese as early as 1600. It quickly esatlished itself as a industry by the 1700's. Having flourished under centuries of colonial rule, tobacco found its way into independent India. Post liberalization, major global brands invaded India and there has been no looking back since. Ironically, Goa, a former Portugese colony, now the smallest Indian state, was the first to pass legislation against tobacco use. Following this, the awareness of the harmful effects of tobacco has increased , with several states passing similar legislations. The center has banned all promotions of tobacco and related products. Recently, it banned any tobacco company from sponsoring any sporting event. In India, tobacco is still a legal agricultural product, and there is a long way to go before it is classified as a narcotic. Global brands, facing tough legislation in developed countries are targeting developing world markets.An estimated 1 million people in India die from tobacco related diseases annually.

The issue of cigarettes and tobacco is not a social one. It is chiefly a political and financial one. Cigarette companies have tremendous clout among the political elite. The Government of India has put 33% of its investment in securities in tobacco related companies. Most of the insurance companies in India invest in tobacco companies. As long as cigarette smoke drifts in the corridors of power, a tobacco free society is a far fetched notion. As for the masses, who is complaining? As you sit and wonder about the evils of cigarette smoking, and try to figure out how you can curb this menace, I will slunk off for a quick smoke.Ciao!


At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as a smoker who has tried to quit several times, I think it would be a great idea to ban smoking from public places. I know that I wouldn't smoke as often and it would make it easier to quit. If people were to try and ban smoking people would still do it just like other drugs that are illegal. Smoking is a big deal but for those who smoke know the consequenses when they start and don't need someone else to tell them about it.


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