Is it too early in the morning for such an inflammatory post title?
Katie at Will Race for Carbs (go check out her blog.. it is hilarious and one of my very favorites) had an awesome, thought-provoking post the other day about China encouraging young people to smoke.
In her post, Katie talks about seeing an article in Businessweek about the smoking rates in China, accompanied by a disturbing image of a little boy smoking a cigarette. In China, they are marketing cigarettes to elementary school children, and the smoking rates are skyrocketing. Katie made the very astute observation that it's not unlike the partnership that Coca-Cola and other soda manufacturers have with schools in the US, and how while drinking soda may not be as bad as smoking, it's a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. (Don't rely on my synopsis, go read her full post here.)
I started to comment on her post - but as it gradually grew to take up the whole screen, I realized I had too much to say about the cultural perception of smoking... and other vices, and I wanted to dedicate a post to it.
Everything about what the Chinese government is allowing the cigarette companies to do is so very wrong, I'm not even going to delve into it. This article brought up all of these feelings for me about how relatively socially acceptable it is to be obese in this country, yet smoking is demonized.
Full-disclosure: I'm a former smoker, and I've never been overweight (except a little of my post-babies days, and I got cut a lot of slack.)
Here's the crux of the issue for me: it has become socially acceptable to be openly rude to a smoker due to the recent anti-smoking marketing campaigns.. As a smoker - you get harassed all of the time for smoking, and here's a not very funny story about that. In my college days, I was working at a restaurant, taking a break in the smoking section, and a customer walked up to me, took the cigarette out of my mouth, and ground it into the ashtray with a haughty "You shouldn't smoke." I felt violated, ashamed, and very, very angry.
For those of you thinking, "Yeah, probably not the best way to go about that - but smoking is SO WRONG!" I get it. But this is a slippery slope. Imagine me again, sitting at a table on my break in that same restaurant, but imagine me at 250 pounds. And imagine I'm eating a cheeseburger. I know you know where this is going... Can you imagine someone walking up to my fat 19 year old self and taking my food out of my hands looking down her nose and saying "You shouldn't eat that."
Sugary drinks and fast food and all of the fake food GMO bullshit on the other hand are arguably just as detrimental as smoking, but are totally socially acceptable. The dichotomy is baffling.
I want to be clear here - I'm not arguing that smoking is OK. It is horrible, and horribly addictive. I wish we lived in a world without cigarettes. But we don't, and I think the smear campaign the government has spearheaded in the past decade has effectively turned the country against smokers. Not cigarettes, but smokers. Have we forgotten that most smokers are in the fight of their lives and would love to be non-smokers?
We now live in a world where "smoke-free" workplaces are ubiquitous. But that doesn't satisfy the anti-smoking lobbies; now we are gradually shifting to "smoker-free" workplaces. Smoker-free? Is this a joke? Apparently, by refusing to hire smokers (and firing those unable/unwilling to quit), some companies believe they will save money. If that's the rationale, perhaps we should also refuse employment to other high-cost groups of people: Obese people, definitely. Cancer patients? That probably gets pretty expensive. How about people with depression or anxiety? Pregnant women? They get paid to not be at work - the outrage!
And before you say that smokers should just quit - let me say that I couldn't agree more. But we need to understand - truly understand - that for some people, the addiction is so fierce it is nearly impossible to quit. When I quit smoking for the final time, I was so addicted that I was physically ill for more than a week, and not smoking was the hardest thing I've ever done. I am not confident that if I started smoking that I would be able to stop again. When I quit, I was a happy, healthy RUNNER with tremendous family support and very little outside stress. It was probably the environment most conducive to quitting smoking, and it still was terrible. Not everyone is as lucky as I was.
I can only hope that when the mob-like tendencies of the collective American spirit turn on obesity, that we keep our rage and disdain focused on the problem - obesity. Not fat people.