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Save smokers


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Photo credit: Creative Commons.

Tobacco. It’s the last thing a mother wants her children to indulge in and the first thing a wife wants her man to quit. The doctor, the teacher, the colleague and the state, all bark in unison when hit with a whiff of tobacco smoke.

As a result, smokers are officially a dying breed now. And while there are plenty of hearts that bleed for other endangered species, smokers don’t get a sliver of public sympathy. Even the distant and unsightly man’s cousins – the mountain gorilla – has an international conservation project working in its name. But no one speaks for smokers. Not even smokers.

Species are threatened with extinction when their natural habitat is taken away from them. In Pakistan, the newsroom used to be the regular digs of smokers, while in the free world it was the friendly neighbourhood pub. Just a few years ago it was impossible to imagine that ale and beer could be enjoyed and quality media content could be produced, without smoking. Both places have been declared out of bounds for smokers by the nazi-like champions of a smoke-free world who are totally blind to the dreadful consequences of their actions.

Chased away from their word processors and lagers, smokers are now seen puffing away in the parking lots of media houses and pubs on their way to extinction. Decent and honest men and women made to stand in rain and snow as a punishment for consuming a perfectly legal commodity, is a blot on the conscience of humanity and a shameful departure from the scriptures of holy capitalism according to which demand is to be met with supply, not scorn. If the emotional trauma of the persecuted community is not enough proof that the law makers got the wrong end of the stick, consider the economic cost.

A 2009 study published by Forbes concluded that a smoking ban lowers the market value of the hospitality industry. More aptly, the English who enjoy a constitutional right to have a pub at walking distance from their home and work place have seen several public houses close down since the smoking ban in 2006. In Pakistan, the news media has suffered a similar fate: all media houses, public and private, are running in so much loss since they banned smoking that they can’t even pay the staff their salaries on time. In banning cigarette smoke, these establishments also banished talent and professionalism. Any opinion poll will make it plain that consumers find a majority of post-ban media personalities extremely boring and a pain in the lower back.

Of course every non-smoker has the right not to be fed second hand smoke, if they don’t like it. But saving the non-smoker doesn’t have to mean killing the smoker. Technology has answers for everything. Why do you think manufacturers make huge extractors that quietly suck the dense air out of a room? So that people in the hallway, or the next room are not offended by smoke. There are decent places in today’s world – there was one in Islamabad back in the 80s – that provide separate areas for smokers and non-smokers. Both enjoy the environment they like and everyone is happy.

A smoking ban is also a dodgy business in legal and ethical terms. A government taxes the manufacturer, distributor, and seller of tobacco products, then taxes the individual who buys tobacco, and then tells them they can’t light up in public! If this is not a blatant violation of basic human rights, one wonders what is.

To be fair, this criticism does not apply to the Pakistani government.

As a rule, Pakistan enacts laws not because they are needed but because our lawmakers find it more convenient to pick a law from the West and replicate it here in order to feel closer to the West. And they are usually out of time in this pursuit. Take for instance the use of cannabis, which has been a part of the Eastern culture for centuries. Till late 70s Pakistan was a larger and more organised version of Amsterdam in that there were licensed shops called ‘theka’ that sold opium, cannabis and other soft drugs. Then some smart fellow felt ashamed of his native tradition and followed the West into banning all ‘drugs’ soft or hard, natural or chemically altered. And guess what, that was the time the West was coming to realise that soft drugs do no harm, some even have medicinal benefits.

Ditto with the smoking ban. But while the government does come out with anti-smoking laws every now and then, thankfully they are only laws, not something that needs to be implemented, though the government doesn’t mind if some fancy organisation or two voluntarily adopt the ban. Half a dozen cigarette stubs found in every cup of tea cleared by the peon in every government office, every day, is testimony to the wisdom of our lawmakers who have placated the demands of international anti-smoking nazis without infringing on personal freedoms of native smokers.

What it can be blamed for though, is bad taste, atrocious taste to be precise, in putting pictures of damaged human organs on packs of cigarettes. It’s quite an irony that the bleeding heart conservationists are urging African gorillas to procreate more frequently, I imagine, by showing them erotic pictures, while the equally endangered smokers in Pakistan are being made to carry medical pornography in their pockets at all times, in order to hasten their extinction.

That’s naked cruelty. Such is the contrary nature of this world that the developed countries have outlawed cruelty against animals and the unwilling-to-develop states fund charities that promote animal rights, even plant rights, but neither is ready to acknowledge smokers as humans, and the right of choice to smoke as an adult human right.


Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (41) Closed

Mir Bilal Nov 01, 2012 07:16pm
cant imagine the writer to be a non smoker
Ali Nov 01, 2012 05:25pm
Smoking affects people around you as well. Whether you want to clog up your lungs and arteries or not is up to you, but second hand smoke affects people that may not want that. Hence, smoking is different from eating unhealthy foods and other "vices". The cost to society, however, is high with any unhealthy lifestyle as it leads to an increase in disease burden and premature deaths.
ZZX-1 Nov 02, 2012 10:08am
Yes, he writes exceptionally well.
Zehra Nov 02, 2012 11:05pm
Hassan - USA Nov 02, 2012 03:16pm
I dont think you realize the reason behind creating designated smoking areas and banning smoking from public areas. Not allowing smokers to smoke in public areas is not a violation of their right but is actually for the protection of rights and health of several others who dont want to inhale/smell/stink. PS...i am a smoker :)
Anonymous123 Nov 02, 2012 10:18am
He writes with intelligence, empathy, wisdom...and yes, pain. Says so much without saying so much. And its not all about smoking...
MinMax Nov 02, 2012 10:20am
No. Hearing.
Reply123 Nov 02, 2012 10:22am
No. Dead serious actually.
hari Nov 02, 2012 10:26am
smokers don't need sympathy, instead they need support and help from others to help them quit smoking.
Seeb Nov 01, 2012 02:46pm
As a Smoker in London and dreading the upcoming winter, your article provided a nugget of warmth in my heart that at least someone is looking out for us all. Thanks.
Yemeen Zuberi Nov 01, 2012 10:20pm
The very first paragraph of the article reminds me that once Late Mr. Ghousi, a senior reporter of Dawn and once president of Karachi Press Club, told me that his mother wanted him to quit smoking, he continued; but his mother became angry when he quit smoking on his wife's request just after his marriage. I sometime enjoy a pipe without fire, I think I look impressive.
Exsmoker Nov 02, 2012 12:39am
Nicotine talking!
Patsy Nurse Nov 02, 2012 06:12pm
We can speak for ourselves and we say thanks but no thanks. Keep out of our lives and we'll keep out of yours.
Hassan Nov 02, 2012 03:56am
As an Ex-smoker I can only say that its better to quit smoking however I still remember some non-smokers (co-workers) enjoying the chance of humiliating me for mistakenly smoking in their presence. Non-smokers should always be in their limits while playing their very much "needed" role to curb the evil of smoking.
asad pirzada Nov 02, 2012 09:25pm
a somker can quit anytime he wants. but u have to prepare yourself mentally to quit smoking. being a smoker i would say that its just a mind game and it needs a firm decision to quit.
QuestionEveryThing Nov 02, 2012 08:33am
Second hand smoke is a known killer in an enclosed is breathing. Go open a window, please.
Ahmed Saeed Nov 02, 2012 07:31am
Strange. Just quit and call it a day.
noni Nov 01, 2012 02:30pm
Ok these high taxes on tobacco is not helping me quit smoking ,Need HELPPPPPP to quit smoking
jam Nov 01, 2012 03:37pm
dont u mean say no to drugs?
Usman Shah Nov 01, 2012 04:09pm
Sir, I am journalist by profession and I am totally agree with you. As you said in your writing "all media houses, public and private, are running in so much loss since they banned smoking that they can
wahab Nov 01, 2012 04:38pm
We are being treated as some sort of aliens these days in the US and other Western countries..... in working place here you have to go down to ground floor and then go to some corner in a parking lot ..... the days when there were ashtrays everywhere are gone. We are really treated bad and I think we are paying now socially as well :)
michaeljmcfadden Nov 05, 2012 08:49am
Masud, very well written! I
Twinkle Nov 01, 2012 05:51pm
With all due respect to Rao, lots of times people consume high cholesterol and unhealthy foods because they are cheaper and more easily available. Compare McDonald's prices for a burger versus any ordinary grocery store for Salads. As a physician I believe there are several basis for obesity, diabetes but there is no excuse for smoking. In fact, I strongly believe that Obama Care should have a clause where smokers should be charged a higher insurance premium than non smokers. Why should the rest of society pay the price for a groups reckless endangerment of their own selved
Imtiaz Nov 01, 2012 11:03pm
An excellent piece of writing. We don't necessarily need more smokers, but we do need a lot more people who are able to see and think with original points of view. That is hard to find in our country - original thinkers, who can express themselves articulately. keep it up!
ahsan Nov 02, 2012 08:42am
Brilliant.. One more proof of what I always argued.. only intelligent species smoke.
Imran Hakro Nov 02, 2012 11:27am
Bieng a Smoker myself to tell you the truth, A smoker doesn't need anyone's help/support to quit smoking. Only self-commitment and dedication to quiting is required. He can instantly quit it anytime if He wishes to.
anand singh Nov 02, 2012 05:00am
Well , at least a voice has been raised to highlight a dying breed. Smokers have become people whom everybody loves to hate. There are two categories of people whom no one raises a voice for - those who smoke & those who drink. Never will you see an agitation on the increase of price of a smoke or a tot. No Raasta Roko, Jail Bharo , no voices in parliament, no agitation of any kind. These two breeds who contribute immensely to the national exchequer by way of taxes quietly tighten their belts another notch after each price hike and quietly puff away or raise an elbow by themselves . Thank you for speaking up Sir.
Rao Nov 01, 2012 03:06pm
Somehow eating high cholesterol food getting fat, inviting all sorts of diseases, becoming a problem for people closer to you and healthcare system, and dying early is okay, but another similar way is not. There are more ways that harm you and kill you, bashing only smoking is mind boggling.
abdussamad Nov 02, 2012 10:00am
What next? Save the heroin addicts?
Igloo Nov 02, 2012 03:40pm
Some people can quit easily, but not others. I have known people to suffer deep mental anguish because they have tried and failed to quit.
Yaas Nov 02, 2012 04:35am
Thank you for venting out for us !!!
sachin Nov 02, 2012 07:02am
The writer is much caring for smokers !!! Hard to digest .....
Tahir Nov 01, 2012 11:02pm
Smoking is a vile, disgusting and nasty habit. If it only affected smokers that would be one thing, but the smell of your foulness reaches people more than twenty feet away in open space, and virtually any distance in an enclosed space. Second hand smoke is a known killer. So no sympathy.
Nasim Nov 01, 2012 06:06pm
thumbs up! good read...
El Cid Nov 02, 2012 03:13am
Your innuendo, double entendre, tongue in cheek risque, irony, sarcasm, satire, figures of speech...par excellence. High intelligence, using the English language as a weapon of 'war' against the establishment...cuts keener than many a political blade here in these pages, ever. It is a pleasure to read, and think about what you write. Beautiful exposition. Thank you, Alam.
Sandip Nov 02, 2012 06:33pm
Made me smile and laugh. Good no one is looking into my cube :-) Excellent article.
sdf Nov 01, 2012 07:28pm
This was meant to be funny, right?
Ahmed Saeed Nov 02, 2012 07:19am
I will have to request NFP to shut down smokers corner.
Farrukh Malik Nov 02, 2012 08:49am
Dying Breed hmmmm ..NOoooo they are not. With an unprecedented never stopping intimidation from the Tobacco Industry prevalence and incidence of tobacco usage is only increasing.
Imran Hakro Nov 02, 2012 11:17am
A smoker will continue to smoke and not quit no matter what steps a government take - including high taxes on on tobacco or some weird pictures on cigarette packs - unless he makes commitment to himself to quit it.
Salman Nov 03, 2012 10:44am
How every smoker feels..