In Hindsight

Smoke Signals

Looking through a month of news can reveal a lot about what’s going on in the world. And in July 2007, everybody was smoking or quitting smoking.

When England’s smoking ban went into effect July 1, it seemed the world was approaching a unified anti-smoking stance. Brits threw “last night of smoking” bashes and mourned the blow to their gritty, working-class, hell-with-the-law images and their distinguished, high-class, above-the-law images. When smoking was uninvited to the party this July, I couldn’t help but wonder: Are smokers the world’s new pariahs? If so, will they go quietly into social exile, or will they storm smoke-free bars and restaurants, lit cigarettes in hand, and demand a table?

According to the American Cancer Society, smoking kills approximately 440,000 people a year in the U.S. alone—as a reference point, that’s the population of Sydney, Australia. But there are over 300 million people in the U.S., and over 46 million of them were smokers in 2001. There’s some math for you, but what does it mean?

Maybe governments are right: We need to take up arms against nicotine addiction. This month, smoking bans were a popular way of encouraging people to break the habit. From Pennsylvania to Illinois, in July smoking bans were being argued, adopted, supported, and loathed across the U.S.

Bans will change the lives of social smokers everywhere. Already, a new art of pick-up has been born: “Smirting.” Smoking and flirting go so well together, bar-goers are lighting up each other’s cigarettes and bedrooms. As you approach, just remember to “have a drink on hand to calm the need to cough.”

But maybe smokers are fighting the good fight. On the very first day of England’s ban, smokers in front of a bingo hall thwarted a robbery when they saw a man with a samurai sword walk inside the hall. Had they been inside, carefree and puffing away, they might have become steak tartare.

Despite all the sex and citizen arrests, for some reason towns still want to lean on their smokers. On July 12, a Marin County, Calif., town council decided smoking in private homes could be used against someone in a neighborly dispute if the smoking is deemed a “nuisance.” If neighbors deem my Journey tribute band practice a nuisance, they can knock on my door and ask me to turn down the amp—and now the same goes for my smoking.

However, some smokers aren’t willing to just roll over: Several “renegade pubs” in England defied the ban this month. One couple drove in from miles away and booked a room near one of the law-defying pubs so they could flaunt the law without having to drive home drunk at the end of the night.

Bar owners in Oregon are concerned they’ll lose revenue because of their state’s smoking ban, scheduled to go into effect in 2009. But don’t worry too much about them: Camel may foot the bill for outdoor patios at the bars, making it possible for smokers to legally imbibe and inhale at the same time. With that kind of consideration for the interests of small business owners, perhaps tobacco companies aren’t the evil death-lords they’ve been made out to be. In the EU, cigarette manufacturers have agreed to back a plan to make all cigarettes fire-safe—they self-extinguish if not smoked quickly enough. These measures could prevent “fire-related deaths” from smoking, helping people lead long, safe, tobacco-rich lives.

According to a July 4 article, sixth-graders can become addicted after their first cigarette. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that any sixth-grader who smokes is also probably a liar. Kenyan cigarette maker Mastermind Tobacco is even more invested in protecting people’s right to “enjoy what they want to enjoy.” In July, while many have jumped on the bandwagon in support of Kenya’s public smoking ban, Mastermind Tobacco has defended our right to smoke as much as we want, wherever, and whenever we want to smoke—strike that—need to smoke.

Yes, these bans do have a parental feel to them. Don’t we deserve to be treated like adults? That must be how the teachers at the Tideway School in East Sussex feel. Beginning July 16, they could be fined 50 pounds if caught smoking on campus, while students guilty of the same offense escape with mere detentions. Won’t this just make the already difficult job of teaching more stressful? Imagine monitoring a detention hall filled with troublemaking teenagers who reek of cigarettes and adolescent body odor (which is just the worst, really), and you can’t even unwind with a smoke in the parking lot afterwards. It just doesn’t seem fair.

But fair is only in the eye of the public—and nothing can change its mind faster than a good old-fashioned advertising campaign. As of July 25, Senate legislation is pending to put graphic anti-smoking warnings on cigarette packs in the U.S. On the same day, Disney announced it would prohibit all depictions of smoking from Disney-labeled films. What will Cruella DeVille’s cigarette be replaced with, I wonder? In the interest of preserving realism, I nominate a handgun—or a gin and tonic.

On July 17, studies reported that smokers who are suspicious of the tobacco industry can be swayed by anti-smoking ads, and are more likely to try and quit. This is very reassuring; however, when it comes to children, we can’t expect the same kind of susceptibility to advertising. For teenagers, anti-smoking advertising has the opposite effect: It makes them want to smoke more.

Plenty of students assume they’ll quit—eventually. But for kids, smoking is so potentially habit-forming and cool-looking that, according to a July 4 article, sixth-graders can become addicted after their first cigarette. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that any sixth-grader who smokes is also probably a liar.

Young or old, addiction to nicotine can disrupt your life. Just ask the thief who, on July 24, stopped in the middle of a police chase to pick up a pack of smokes, or the Niagara Falls “petty criminal,” so desperate for cigarettes on June 30, he snatched a carton off the counter of a convenience store and left his driver’s license in its place. Maybe he’d learned of England’s impending smoking ban and was revolting in solidarity?

With all this negative imagery and lawlessness, perhaps it’s just time to face facts and quit. July gave us a few promising ways to break the habit. Scientists in Tampa, Fla., are studying something called “cue exposure therapy,” where quitters hold cigarettes while watching people smoke on a screen, helping them become immune to the temptations of smoking.

However, not all smokers are so creative. For some, it merely takes being hospitalized or the death of a loved one to reflect on their own mortality and stop smoking. On the other hand, some smokers may take joy in knowing that continuing to smoke could keep them out of the hospital—and I don’t just mean the waiting rooms. In July 2007 we also learned smoking lowers your risk for developing Parkinson’s Disease.

So put that in your pipe and, um.


TMN Editor Nicole Pasulka believes she could beat a lie detector. When she sits in a chair she almost never puts her feet on the floor. Even though she likes the internet a lot, she is convinced that people will always read magazines and she is secretly building one in her basement. More by Nicole Pasulka