Of Smoking

I have been having an interesting email conversation with a well-known Melbourne ethicist on the matter of smoking. I was on the defence. He was very seriously trying to persuade me to give up one of my delights, ie. the daily puff on the pipe, and this on the grounds that this activity was unethical and immoral. He made a good case.

Nevertheless, I was not convinced. Of course, before very long, I won’t need to be convinced. Pipe smoking will have gone the way of the dodo (it is on its way there already) thanks to legislation and burdensome taxation. The Sunday Age, well known for its sensationalism, has a front page story on the plans of the anti-smoking campaign to abolish this ancient practice for ever.

Of course, the article doesn’t mention pipe smoking. It is all about cigarettes. I have never smoked cigarettes. I don’t like them (I tried one once). I like my tobacco in more traditional forms. Cigarettes are like fast food. I don’t mind a cigar every now and again if someone gives me one – I can’t afford them – but they are a bit smelly. Pipe smoking is, I would argue, a culture. There are competitions in Europe for making a pipe last the longest (which I can see the point off) and the quickest (which I can’t). Nevertheless, this is proof (to me at least) that there is something in the art of pipe smoking that is quite unique.

But the plans outlined in the Sunday Age article – by putting an end to cigarette smoking – will also kill this ancient culture. The suggestions are:

1) A licence for smokers
2) a complete ban at a given date in the future (I find it interesting that the Finnish government has planned a total ban by 2040 – long enough in the future not to affect any of those who legislated for it)
3) even more taxation.

The first seems to me silly, the second patronising – I will come to this, and the third… well, I can see how appealing that might be to governments: more money, less smoking.

However, despite all the arguments (and I acknowledge they are good ones to do with health etc.), I do see this as an infringement upon my personal liberties. I agree that legislation that bans smoking where it might affect others directly (eg. in cars and in enclosed spaces) is a good thing. But I feel particularly annoyed at the draconian efforts of non-smokers to completely curtail what is an extremely pleasurable pastime for the minority of the population who are smokers. It is the nanny-state trying not only to tell me what is good for me, not only trying to persuade me to give up the pipe, but actually forcing me to comply. It rankles.

Truly, I don’t expect legislation to ban smoking to succeed completely. It is too profitable as a means of revenue raising. But I do think our governments will probably push taxation to the limit whereby they reach some sort of equilibrium between income and reduction of smoking.

I don’t expect many of you to sympathise with this little complaint. But just imagine how you might feel if, at some stage in the future, it was decided that coffee was “bad for you” (which it probably is) and they try to ban coffee drinking. How would you cope with that?

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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18 Responses to Of Smoking

  1. Christina says:

    Although I am not a smoker myself, the moralistic tone of the anti-smoking advertising and various initiatives that have been launched both annoys and concerns me.
    It annoys me at work that there is a huge push from our HR department to quit smoking by having ‘QUIT’ paraphernalia everywhere, so that wherever I am in the office there is a poster telling me if I smoke I am not being a good parent, friend or indeed, person. This moralistic tone has been further emphasised by emails from our company director telling us that giving up smoking was the best thing he ever did (seriously? I wonder if his life has been rather devoid of fun) and we should think of the people we are harming through our smoking.

    It concerns me also in my uni classes (I’m an Arts student at Melbourne Uni) that there is a rise in the attitude that smoking is a moral issue because our moral obligation to helping those suffering medical illnesses possibly resulting from smoking is diminished by the fact that “they brought it upon themselves”.

    Of course, the latter example is a result of far deeper issues than the moralising of a health issue, but it is certainly very interesting and serious to see what kind of territory this moralistic push takes us into.

  2. Matthias says:

    Well SchutzI do not smoke and as a nurse I cared for people dying from lung cancer,but really the push to ban smoking is just another example of the public health fascists. afterall it comes down to personal choice and responsibility. I also hold a posy graduate degree in public health but most of the subjects were about trying to get people to change their behaviours rather than about establishing health services etc.
    Hence the reason that I ‘wandered’ into training and development with a charitable agency.
    The Puritans did not die out-they underwent metamorphasis as eitehr greenies or as health nazis

    • Stephen K says:

      Now, now Matthias! Your final tag was a bit selective, I thought. To paraphrase a saying, “one man’s puritan is another man’s John the Baptist”.

      • matthias says:

        Yes Stephen but I am a baptist transitioning to the Catholic church, and grew up in a Puritan type denomination where alcohol,dancing and smoking ‘backky’ were just as sinful as being catholic or even another Proddy church that was not in our denomination ,or followed belief in the Rapture.

  3. Christina says:

    Apologies – I forgot to say a bit about myself in my first comment!

    I’m a 22 year old university student, completing my Bachelor of Arts (with a major in history) at Melbourne University. I have been brought up a Catholic from birth and along with my two brothers have enjoyed many a long conversation with my parents about all things philosophical, historical and theological. If sometimes we scare visitors with our discussions, mum’s cooking usually brings them back :)
    Although studying Arts at Melbourne University can sometimes leave one a bit battered from the ideological warfare that seems to take place in every class, I’ve managed to maintain my sanity with many a good dose of Chesterton and J.Budziszewski!

  4. Susan Peterson says:

    I am addicted to caffeine; get really sick by 24 hours without, massive headache and then vomiting. I start getting a headache by 12 hours without, so I have to remember to have some early evening caffeine in order to get through the night without waking up with a caffeine withdrawal headache. So your question hits home. Especially since I radically hate cigarette smoke which I have been putting up resistance to since I was a child and both my parents smoked in the car with the windows shut and refused to open them. It bothers me, or maybe annoys me is a better word, even if people ahead of me on the ski lift are smoking. On the other hand, I like the smell of pipe smoke. I suspect it is something they put in the tobacco to keep the cigarettes burning which bothers me so much, rather than tobacco. I also am a nurse who has taken care of people dying from lung cancer, but more often, of people dying from emphysema and/or the ensuing heart disease, in old fashioned language, cor pulmonale. My mother died of that at 79, although the non- smoking women on both her mother and father’s side lived until at least 85 and many well into their nineties.

    If they ban tobacco anywhere it could be imposed on other people, I would say that is enough. Inside your own house or on your back porch if you live more than so many feet from neighbors, I would say, leave people alone. There is a concern if people have children, especially children with asthma, that they not expose them to intense cigarette smoke. That can be taken care of as an issue of endangering children without separate statutes.

    For my own interest I wish there could be separate laws for pipes, but I really don’t see how it could be justified. And leave my coffee alone! And tea. My father said that during WWII the Aussies he was fighting with took tea breaks even in the heat of battle, men coming up to relieve others so they could go have their tea!

    Susan Peterson

  5. John Nolan says:

    “… A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless”. The conclusion of ‘Counterblaste to Tobacco ‘ by King James I (1603-1625), the original anti-smoking campaigner. His treatise of 1604 did much to popularize pipe-smoking in his realm.

    • Schütz says:

      I love James I’s little rant. At least he had the good sense to write a pamphlet against it and try to use good ‘ol persuasion and reason. He could have pulled rank and just “banned” smoking entirely. But probably if he had, he would have suffered his son’s fate a generation early…

  6. In no particular order:

    1. We in the US tried prohibition and even amended the Constitution to do so. It nearly ruined the country, and after an explosion of organized crime, the amendment was repealed. To those who would ban the use of alcohol and tobacco: Remember Al Capone.

    2. It does seem sensible to control the use of smoke producing products in public places, except for those that are organized around smoking. So, for example, a smoke shop or a bar that declares itself to be a smoking establishment should be free to allow smoking. Those who want to avoid smoke then simply don’t patronize these places.

    3. If it’s good enough for Gandalf and Bilbo, it’s good enough for me. The new puritans want to abort the babies of 13 year old girls without the knowledge, let alone the permission, of their parents, but then they want to ban transfats and tobacco. Enough is enough. Have a bloody steak and some Freedom Fries, and then push back from the table and light a good pipe. Chase with some bourbon or a single malt. The world will be a much better place for it.

  7. Michael Root says:

    I agree with Fr. Scott, which just goes to show the wisdom that comes from living in South Carolina. My daily cigar is my guaranteed reading time; I can’t have it in my office and I don’t smoke in the house, so I sit on my sun porch and get an uninterrupted hour of theology reading done. I am moving to the north and will probably have to give it up, which will be a loss.
    Kipling wrote a great poem on cigars: you can find it at: http://www.yachtcharterclub.com/cckiplin.htm

    • Schütz says:

      Ah, Dr Michael, a man after my own heart… It is winter here and a bit cold and wet outside. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of those great Australian things that are, I believe, fashionable in the American South also: a Veranda. Or even a shed, for that matter. So I am building myself a hut out the back in which I can have a fire, some shelter from the wind, my pipe and my books. See what lengths we go to?

  8. Gareth says:

    I will tell you a funny story, I once came across photos of a Catholic dinner from the early 1970s and lol and behold the well-kown Bishop was sitting there with a fag in his mouth openly smoking in front of the audience – by today’s standards it looked bizarre.

    Also, you probably know the current Pope is a regular smoker and when he visited Sydney, his Australian minders were surprised to see him duck out for his daily smoke.

  9. Robert says:

    Last night I happened to be watching a Fawlty Towers re-run, the most memorable vignette in which was something that nobody would have thought twice about in 1976 or whenever the episode was made: Sybil, in the hotel restaurant, was simultaneously having dinner and smoking a ciggie.

  10. John Nolan says:

    When interviewed on TV, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson invariably smoked a pipe. When he didn’t want to answer a question he would pause to light it and then gravely deliver an evasive answer, by which time the interviewer had forgotten the question. In private he only smoked cigars.

    Cigarette smokers appear twitchy and nervous whereas pipemen exude an air of calm imperturbability. Think of Lt-Col. JP Carne VC , calmly puffing away on Gloster Hill during the Korean War, his battalion cut off by hordes of Chinese. Before his wireless batteries finally gave out the Americans asked him for a sitrep. “It’s a bit sticky” replied Carne. Unfortunately the Americans did not realize this meant “it’s absolutely bloody desperate” and so did not hurry to send support. After spending more than two years in a POW camp he was released and asked to make a statement to the assembled world press. “The food was unspeakable and I was damned bored” was all he was prepared to venture.

  11. Alexander says:

    I am a non-smoker. I presently live in Germany where the smoking rate is considerably higher than in Australia and cigarette advertising is banned. When I arrived a ban on smoking in bars was put in place, but it failed (and seems to have recently—and more successfully—been returned).

    I think Australia could successfully ban smoking in the mid-term, because it has been slowly but continuously working towards it. Unlike the American ban on alcohol, this won’t have been introduced to force a majority of people to give up their pasttime, but because the overwhelming majority of peole don’t do it, and a sufficient majority thinks its a bad idea to risk it coming out of containment. That’s just possibility, mind, not permissability/ethicalness.

    May we ban it? I don’t think there’s any place for an absolute ban on governments doing certain things. In Australian constitutional tradition, one level of government or another has always had the power to do what is wanted, unlike the American tradition in their Bill of Rights. (“The Parliament shall have power to make laws in and for Victoria in all cases whatsoever”, as our state constitution bluntly and unpoetical proclaims—a wording defined by Westminster had come up with the more traditional but legally equivalent “peace order and good government”.) This is an is, not an ought, but don’t really see anywhere to come up with an ought on either side of the coin. Government, at least in its current guise, is just a collectivity of people, so if an informal group of individuals can do it, why can’t the government? All societies must have their rules, and all have some method of enforcement. Ours is democratic government. Mediæval Europe used the church; but most socities haven’t really had any meaningful separation of religion and culture and government.

    Should the government do it? Sure, why not. David’ll have to give up his daily habit eventually, but lots of people have to do lots of things. I think it would be fun and deliciously ironic, and any health benefits are immaterial to me. I have a warped sense of fun, perhaps, but if I derive enjoyment from banning something in a society that would otherwise rather ban bans; well, why should I be deprived because David finds it fun to hurt himself? (I’m not tied to the idea of banning tobacco; alcohol or caffeine would work equally well, despite me consuming them. The important thing is to ban something that in living memory was commonplace. I would also like a government-aided social norm in favor of wearing hats outside, because it, too, would be fun and deliciously ironic.)

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