The Nation, Lahore

20 Jamadi-us-Sani, 1418 - Thursday, October 23, 1997, Lahore


Don't ostracise them

Dr Rana Jawad Asghar

I slapped my best friend and the sound was so much that it echoed in the whole cinema. He did not utter a word, also did not smoke another cigarette till the movie finished. After the film, we were again best friends. Looks strange? Well, we were in the school at that time and the school-time friendship is always a 'real' friendship. Knowing my temperament, I would say that it is very difficult for people to annoy me so much that I become physical. It only has happened a few times in my life. Coming back to the slapping incident - we were just kids then and had gotten our liberty as we were in a scouting camp in the Murree hill resort. We got the chance to watch a movie and as it is normal for every young person, he wanted to enjoy his newly achieved liberty and independence by smoking. That was fine with me but then, he was exhaling right on my face. I told him not to do so but when he continued to do the same, I slapped him on his face. I narrated the whole incidence to express and convey my hatred towards smoking from the very beginning.

I have never smoked a cigarette, cigar or a huqqa in my life. I have tried very hard most of the times unsuccessfully to persuade my friends to quit smoking. My friends know while going out with me that they will have to refrain from smoking. Now, I am so sensitive that I feel nauseated if someone is smoking close to me.

As a physician, I am fully aware of the health hazards smoking causes. From a stroke to a cardiovascular diseases, from asthma to pneumonia and lung cancer, it has been proven that smoking increases the risks significantly. I am also aware of the dangers of a second hand smoke and support the measures to limit it.

I also don't trust these big cigarette companies who lied to the customers for so long and added some addicted material in their cigarettes so that people find it difficult to quit the smoking. I am also against their tactics, which they use to recruit the young smokers. I fully agree that they should pay the damages because they deceived their customers. I am appalled by their methods of creating markets in the developing countries.

But now I see things with which I do not agree. Cigarette smokers are not and should not be considered as 'scums' of the society. I am saying this because a few days ago, a big hospital or HMO in the Washington State has decided not to recruit new employees who smoke. As the Washington State, contrary to other states in the USA, does not have legal protection for smokers, there is no fear of legal action against them. I watched with disgust when the spokesperson of this group told the viewers that because their health education programme failed to change the behaviour of the smokers so, they have decided not to hire people who smoke in the first place.

As it happens when any intervention in the public health fails, we are too eager to put the blame on ignorance and on the population itself and do not accept that we were ignorant and arrogant in not devising a good campaign. If a person is smoking, that is his choice and if he is not harming others (no second hand smoke) it looks ridiculous not to hire him. It may not be illegal according to the Washington State law, but is immoral according to any standard of human rights.

I don't know of any study, which shows that cigarette smokers have less IQ or have less energy to perform. In fact, there were very few creative minds who did not smoke. All of my friends who smoke are no less than us who don't smoke. Smoking, contrary to the alcohol, does not slow your reflexes but makes you more alert (because of nicotine, I suppose). If the social pressures are still there which encourage a person to smoke, elimination of smoking means that people will go for more dangerous things like liquor or other dangerously hard drugs. I know, smoking is bad for your health and we should try to eliminate it but I don't think that this is a single issue worth so much action and legislations. There are many other preventable diseases.

Its just like, if I have a high level of cholesterol my employer may consider sacking me. Or the government start putting extra taxes on all my favourite double cream ice-creams (Bryers Butter Pecan). So, there would be no more stakes, Mcdonald Cheeseburgers, pizza, and French fries. I personally don't like diet sodas and drinks. I try to drink the originals but I drink in limitation. I don't eat fat free ice-creams, I find them horrible in taste. Instead, I go for the home-made ice creams which are only made of milk, eggs and butter and does not have the ingredient list of 50 odd looking chemicals in them. I know the ice cream I eat has more calories and more fat but, I eat little portions of it.

Humans are capable of making right decisions for themselves if they have proper information. Societies and governments also need to make certain rules to have an order in the life. But when this intrusion is too much, then it is no longer a free society where you are trusted to make good decisions for yourself and instead, becomes a big animal farm where everything for cattle is decided not by cattle themselves but by their owners, from food to exercise because they want 'good productivity' from them. I want to live like a free person, I know, there are dangers in the jungle but I know what to do when.

ŠThe Nation Publications (pvt) Limited, 1997


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