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Smoking is a Matter of Choice

By L Murbandono Hs

The pros and cons on “smoking is haram” is still being discussed in our country. The issue is not new. It is only a small part of the anti-smoking wave of the “first” world, which has been promoted for more than 50 years: protection of nonsmokers, health promotion, assistance for those who want to quit smoking, increasing of cigarette tax, regulations on cigarette advertising, research in many sectors of cigarettes, for example.

In this context, Indonesia has had an anti-smoking law together with 191 WHO member states.

Arguments for anti-smoking are abundant and have become classic: smoking is a slow suicide and makes other people passive smokers (in 1981 there was a massive research about it in Japan). Because of cigarettes, the world economy lost more than US$200 billion each year.

Smoking invites death and impotence, causing tuberculosis, lung damage (China philosopher Fang Yizhi spoke about this in 600), stomach injury, liver and heart damage and cancer.

Cigarettes make you smelly, weak, thin and poor. Moreover, cigarette smoke contains around 4,000 chemicals causing massive air pollution.

However, smokers have a self-defense argument: smoking helps thinking, spurs creativity, calms the nerves, eliminates fatigue and grief, is social, invites chumminess and healthy emotions.

Criticizing regulations that restrict their rights, smokers argue: the anti-smoking law is unjust, inhumane, violates privacy, restricts expression and is discriminatory — siding with one and denying the other at the same time.

The two sides are equally strong. It is impossible to disregard either. Is the attitude about smoking similar to the stance on religion?

For the health circuit such as WHO, “religion” of cigarettes is of course nonsense that must be “saved” by “verses” of medicine, psychology, economics and demographics.

But it is not easy! However weird and irrational it is, religions always have their believers. Followers of the “religion” of smoking in the world is currently about 1.3 billion smokers, more than 200 million of them women.

Predictably, in 2030 there will be 1.6 billion smokers (15 percent in developed countries and 85 percent in developing countries), with 10 million deaths each year (70 percent in developing countries) because of smoking. In that year, 770 million children become passive smokers.

What does it mean? It means that more than half a century of the antismoking mission has failed to produce a cultural transformation in the process of civilization. No correct philosophical status-questionis has been laid out that can deal with smoking issues.

We have only surfaces of issue that are quantitative, empirical, phenomenological, informational, formal-legal, and often by forcing a specific doctrinal regime in which its objectivity and comprehensiveness are still big questions. This, among others, deals with three important pillars of the “history of anti-smoking”.

First, the birth of prime information. In 1950, two major publications of the adverse findings of smoking to health were published. Since then, information about dangers of cigarette has increased.

Second, the increase of information about the negative effects of cigarettes. According to the WHO, tobacco is causing of 3.5 million deaths each year or 10,000 deaths each day.

In the US, about 346,000 people die because of cigarettes each year. In Indonesia, the fourth highest smokers in the world with around 141 million smokers, about 57,000 people die of cigarettes and about 500,000 suffer from various diseases annually.

Third, dangers of smokers who smoke regularly. According to the World Bank, with the regular pattern of smoking nowadays, 500 million people — more than 50 percent are children and adolescents — lives are threatened.

If the epidemic chronic disease and premature deaths continue in developed countries today, with the increase of smokers in developing countries, in 2020 the situation will be reversed. Seventy percent of people who die from tobacco will come from low and middle-income countries.

The three pillars formulated above is of course informative still far from the real issue. It does not question the basic issue of smoking or not smoking dealing with humanity as an entity of correlation. This discloses the confusion of tobacco or cigarettes issue in the public area.

The fundamental in the anti-smoking issue is not cigarettes or the smokers, but the way we smoke in public areas. An ocean of information reporting that cigarettes are bad is factual, but the difficulties of smokers who want the choice to smoke is also factual.

Thus, it is clear that pros and cons on smoking issue from, let’s say, 1950-2010, is a matter of civilization dealing with humanity, which is crucial and massive.

Morally, smoking or not-smoking, is a matter of personal choice.

Socially, whatever laws are imposed, the problem of cigarettes is impossible to stop if tobacco, commercial activities of the cigarettes industry and their taxes are still interrelated issues.

Psychologically, smokers will feel discriminated against if regulations are not based from principles that are psychologically wise. Many smokers have been “married” for a long time to cigarettes and say that they cannot work or live without them.

The social policy and smoking-law dealing with behavior and deeds in public areas is a must. But, the law must be in line with the “constitution” of civilization and humankind. This holds in any country. Including in Indonesia.

L. Murbandono Hs

The writer is a journalist.

Source: The Jakarta Post, Thursday, 04 January 2010

Categories: L Murbandono Hs
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