Smokers feel the world’s wrath

Dear Uma: Mid-winter excitement in Watson Lake! A petition is circulating; all petitions should raise questions and cause discussion but this one is worded as though such endeavours are totally unnecessary. "The government of the Yukon's expressed intent

Dear Uma:

Mid-winter excitement in Watson Lake! A petition is circulating; all petitions should raise questions and cause discussion but this one is worded as though such endeavours are totally unnecessary.

“The government of the Yukon’s expressed intention to transfer ownership and/or operation of the Watson Lake Cottage Hospital, in whole or in part, to the Yukon Hospital Corporation, does not have the support of the citizens of Watson Lake; the undersigned believe the proposed transfer will be detrimental to the well-being of the residents and will adversely affect the staff of the Watson Lake Cottage Hospital, thereby seriously damaging the delivery of health care in the community.”

The post office poster wall featured a letter from a local doctor, who stated this proposal has his support. Like the petition, he did not seem to feel the need for reasons or explanations.

No meetings, no website indicated for the curious to find more information.

It appears this ship has already sailed, though with rumour of a mutiny.

Not having much to do with medical services in this community, I am uninformed as to the pros and cons of this change, but I do hope the signatures collecting on various copies of the petition represent individuals who have asked the obvious questions.

Like any other change, it will have those who feel passionate about it and the reverberations will be the stuff of conversation for many months. There are always those who feel vindicated and those who feel ripped off.

One of the big frustrations of life in the First World has got to be the difficulty in finding someone to blame for things gone wrong. Poor service, no service—where is the management, the body, to talk to about one’s dissatisfaction?

In a world where breast milk now has the distinction of being the most toxic food, where do complaints go? Corporations and governments have become very slick at avoiding responsibility and they are increasingly responsible for the many ills that beset our beleaguered species.

It is virtually impossible to get to a person in business or government who has real power. They cannot be e-mailed or telephoned, and a mailed letter generates another letter, a form letter, that too often does not even address the issue.

So, we grump and grumble amongst our lowly selves, and sometimes we post complaints on the internet. This eases, but does not really satisfy, the need to have a human body at which to point our human finger.

We are beset with emotions about injustice and unfairness and there is nowhere to go with it. All the old avenues for the venting of the spleen have been sealed: no more racism, no more homophobia, no more spewing of bile at different religions or cultures. Nasty gossip is now more often frowned upon than enjoyed for its quality of schadenfreude. Road rage, that newly developed avenue of expression is denied to those of us who live in areas of no traffic. With few outlets for negative responses to a world of growing frustrations, we were choking on our own bile.

Enter the smoker.

A person who smokes was a social pariah even before the news came out about secondhand smoke. And now, there is thirdhand smoke, with fourth- and fifthhand smoke to come.

At last! A target! Everyone knows a smoker; they can always be found when one needs one, huddled outside office buildings, or out on the patios and balconies of homes hosting a gathering. They can be seen in stores, furtively buying packs of their noxious weed, or sitting in vehicles, puffing, shamefaced, on the cigarettes that will poison future generations and drive up the health-care costs for all of us, whether we smoke or not.

Smokers have been attacked before, and with this new information on thirdhand smoke, it is open season.

Now there are real people to vent on: real people of the best sort—helpless to defend themselves with any argument that cannot be flattened with no more information than “thirdhand smoke”.

What possible argument can a smoker muster to justify a habit that is hurting everyone around him or her? A habit not only sickening and dangerous but due to its increasing cost to maintain is very likely taking the bread from the mouths of his asthma-ridden children trying to sleep in sheets soaked with thirdhand smoke? What about his wife, ridden with blastocysts triggered from doing laundry and vacuuming rugs permeated with the first-, second- and thirdhand smoke from his habit.

It is not only the smoker’s immediate family members who suffer but it is his co-workers as well. Now we know it is also the innocent buyer of his old, smoke-soaked van and the grateful homeless person who gets his secondhand coat with the thirdhand smoke from the donation box at the Salvation Army thrift shop. There is no end to the harm the smoker selfishly visits on his world while sucking up a large part of his or her shrinking income in pursuit of the buzz, the lift, the calm, the feeling of well-being, the oasis of pleasure reachable several times a day through the simple act of lighting up.

When I was a smoker, before there was secondhand smoke, I was witness to one or two incidents of a smoker being accosted and berated.

The one time I was the focus, I was enormously embarrassed and pathetically apologetic.

That memory made me squirm for weeks afterwards, and not with regret about my smoking but with the wish I had not been so meek.

The next time, I resolved, I would defend myself. I wasn’t sure how, but would rely on the appropriate words to occur when needed.

The next raid happened at a dinner party: we smokers had voluntarily gone out on the deck to enjoy our after-dinner cigarette and were gathered in that typical “smoke pit” aura of smoke and bonhomie when a nonsmoker entered our group and began to orate on what a foul deed it was that we were engaged in.

One of our number wasted no time but immediately pulled out the words that are sharper than a sword and attacked back.

Are you an activist? she enquired, voice dripping with sarcasm. She knew perfectly well he was not; this was a dinner party where we all knew each other.

Do you demonstrate? she went on. Do you sign petitions? Write letters to the editor? Do a lot of volunteer work? Is there any way at all that you demonstrate your concern for others, or is going after a smoker your sole action for the good of humanity?

And by the way, that extra 60 pounds you’re packing is going to cost the health-care system a lot more than my smoking. I’ll die fairly quickly, but your fat will be causing all manner of obesity-related illnesses that incapacitate but don’t kill.

He was utterly silenced, as was everyone within hearing of the diatribe. I quit smoking a few weeks later.

As an ex, I will not be participating in the persecution of smokers; I will save my ire for worthier opponents and not spend my ammo on friends, family and neighbours.

Now, if we really wanted a smoke-related issue, how about the smoke from our burning garbage?



Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.