Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Up In Smoke

There's been furore over the video of the little China kid who was smoking while his elders stood around him and watched and at times encouraged him. I've noticed words like 'disgusting' and 'disappointing' being used, with someone going so far as wanting to 'bitchslap the kid's parents'.

I think an alignment of cultural perspectives is in order. When I was in China in the summer, one of the things that struck me was that people smoked there because it is what they do. There are probably many reasons for this, some of which I would speculate to be smoking being one of the ways people deal with the cold climate there, smoking as a social lubricant, or simply that smoking is so culturally ingrained in their lives it is actually a necessity there. A China person I spoke to speculated that the average age one picks up smoking in China is around 14. Mind-boggling stuff for people (mostly local Singaporeans) who can't conceive of such an alternate reality.

And China isn't the only country that has such a strong smoking culture. Japan, Mongolia and Korea are also countries with high smoking populations, and I even think it's silly that I'm trying to list countries because I think that almost every country except ours is a smoking country.

The reality is that we, as Singaporeans, are the ones who are different. I'm not even a smoker myself, but I can see where most of this anti-smoking sentiment is going. We are trying to look at the behaviours of people in other countries with our own holier-than-thou, I've-got-scientific-proof-so-I'm-right-you're-wrong mentalities and then getting upset because they are different. We need to wise up more than this.

We may have our scientific evidences to tell us that smoking is harmful because we have our own ideals of trying to develop a country that doesn't smoke. We have the right to such a goal because we are collectively striving for it (at least from what I can see, the majority do not like smoking, and even smokers are aware of the harmful effects of smoking). But it's just silly to try and impose a moral high ground on the behaviour of people from another country who do not share these ideals. None of these other countries are going to buy the idea that one could actually live longer if one stopped smoking. It's just not an issue to them.

If anything, most of these countries with high smoker densities do not smoke for pride's sake. They do it because it is normal that they smoke. I am less inclined to give Singaporeans the benefit of the doubt that smoking isn't a matter of pride.

A friend recently did a psychology report on social smoking in Singapore. In our society, there is a growing stigma against smoking. The interesting thing he found about social smoking is that most social smokers often make the claim they can smoke as and when they like to without succumbing to its addiction (isn't that an interesting point to make? A smoker wouldn't have to do this if he did not buy the stigma against smoking himself). Many social smokers often say that they're not smoking because they're addicted but, rather, it is because of the occasion that they do. So my friend concluded, rather well, that while most social smokers often take pride in the ability to resist addiction, the fact that they need to smoke while socialising reflects an inability to resist peer pressure.

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