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Save smokers

November 01, 2012

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.