The defeat of nicotine

Whenever I take the train they announce that “this is a non-smoking train”, which I find funny, because it implies that there actually is a train somewhere that you’re allowed to smoke in.  It’s like they’re teasing the smokers: Oh, we’re sorry, you just missed the train where you can smoke as much as you like.

But there aren’t any.  There are basically no indoor places outside your own home where you’re allowed to smoke any more.  I remember when it was different, but the memories are vague, and I’m not sure which of them are real.  Did I really walk into a train once where the air was full of nicotine smoke?  It’s hard to believe, but I think I did.

The smokers seem to accept their new restrictions, which I guess means we’re winning the war on this particular drug.  When we do, I’ll appreciate the result, but regret the means, and worry about the consequences.

The war on nicotine will have taught us a dangerous lesson.  It didn’t have to: It could have taught us that we should take care of our own bodies, and not fill them with things that will kill us.  Instead we have learned that when a voluntary habit carries some risk, it’s okay to harass people and control their lives until they change their behavior.

If we defeat nicotine, we did it by allying with our inner authoritarian conformist.  Will we be able to put down that which we have called up?  Will we even want to?

7 thoughts on “The defeat of nicotine

  1. abre

    Voluntary habits that are harmful only to the ones having them, should be met with
    information and advice, not regulation. Habits that involve danger or discomfort to others may justify restrictions and control (making it possible to eradicate the habit per se, whether this is a goal or not).

    The question is: which retrictions are OK? They should of course be reasonable and effective, and based on scientific evidence. I’m not sure if this is a good description of the war against smoking. Moralism has probably played a major role, as well.

    In any case: “voluntary” is a somewhat fuzzy term when it comes to addiction.

  2. Bjørn Stærk

    This is difficult to have an honest discussion about, because if you make a list of all the things we have done to combat smoking, the list will _include_ things that protect the health of non-smokers, but it is not limited to that. These are two very different things. But we pretend that everything is done to protect non-smokers. It’s not. Often that’s just an excuse.

    Consider second-hand smoke. If we just wanted to protect non-smokers, we could have said to restaurants and pubs: You have to find some way to make sure that nobody who visits or works at your place is subjected to a level of second-hand smoke that is higher than safe level X. We don’t care how. You may have to ban smoking entirely, but that’s up to you. Just make sure non-smoking guests and employees aren’t affected.

    But we didn’t. We said: Nobody can smoke at all, no matter what.

    Is there a difference? Not necessarily. It could be that there really is no way to other way to protect people from second-hand smoke. But maybe there is, or maybe someone will find a way tomorrow.

    The reason we didn’t do that is because the second-hand smoke laws were only _partly_ about protecting non-smokers. They were also about harassing smokers. I don’t think that’s okay. At least we have to acknowledge that there’s a huge moral difference between protecting bystanders and harassing people who choose an less healthy lifestyle.

    And of course smoking is also an addiction, but there’s a large amount of personal choice involved. I don’t accept _at all_ that just because something is an addiction, and is somewhat unhealthy for you, then the state may limit your personal freedom. Maybe for some extreme forms of addiction, but not nicotine. That’s just a bad habit, you’re still an adult with your mental faculties intact.

  3. Raag Raaum

    The train is a very interesting example.

    What happened is this (at least in Norway):

    Train cars/compartments were divided into smoking and non-smoking. Air plane cabins were split: Smokers in the back, non-smokers in the front.

    What happened was this: After some time even the smokers experienced how nice it is to breathe in a non-smoker environment. So, they booked/took a seat in the non-smoking part – and when they felt for smoking, they went to the smoking allowed area.

    This meant that if you were late booking, you would be seated in the smoking area – smoking or not. And the smoking allowed area would be extremely “smoky”.

    Those thinking that somehow the way smokers was treated was unfair, should really have a look back at how smokers behaved.

    The point is, smokers did claim the right to harass non-smokers. They don’t have that right any more.

  4. Bjørn Stærk

    Raag Raaum: “The point is, smokers did claim the right to harass non-smokers. They don’t have that right any more.”

    As I wrote above, that’s a dishonest way of putting it. You’re pretending that everything we have done to fight smoking has been to protect the health of non-smokers. That is not true. _Some_, or even _many_ were, and in principle I’m fine with that. But not the rest.

    In the case of trains, I agree that having entire compartments just for smokers was a bad solution. (I mentioned it because it shows how far our attitudes have changed in a short time.) But they could have had rooms where you could go to have a smoke. Or, at least, it should be up to train and air companies to offer that service if they want to.

  5. Patrick

    “At least we have to acknowledge that there’s a huge moral difference between protecting bystanders and harassing people who choose an less healthy lifestyle”

    Motorcycle helmet laws, or even seat belt laws for automobiles, illustrates that distinction clearly, without the distracting issue of second hand smoke. Riding a motorcycle without a helmet is risky behavior for the rider but poses no danger at all to bystanders. My government still wants to rid me of my bad riding habits though. They tell me it’s for my own good.

  6. kjell

    Whoever said you won? The fanatics have won a temporary victory, but permanent victory? Never.

  7. Bjørn Stærk

    kjell: “Whoever said you won?”

    Well, judging by how willingly smokers submit to all these new rules, and especially to the new _social_ rules that accompany them, I suspect that the war on nicotine is being won. Look at how the number of smokers have been reduced over the last decades.

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