Opinion: To be a smoker

POSTED: 09/27/11 1:18 PM

Lol, it cannot be fun to be a smoker these days. Banned from smoking in public places in quite some countries, smokers now also come under fire for the consequences of their habit. It’s a bit late, and it remains debatable, but still. Almost 55 percent of people in the Netherlands finds that smokers (and – for good measure – people who drink a lot) have to pay higher premiums for healthcare insurance. Almost 25 percent supports higher premiums for people who do not move enough. We’re not making this up – the figures come straight from the central Bureau for Statistics CBS.

Not surprisingly, non-smokers are most in favor of the measure; among habitual smokers the supper is 38 percent. And the smokers? A surprise here: 18 percent actually agrees, while more than 80 percent prefers to let society pay for the inevitable consequences of their habit.

The Dutch healthcare insurance system is based on solidarity: everybody pays the same premium. But that solidarity is under fire. Not for the elderly or for people with a weak constitution, but certainly for people with bad habits.

If bad habits are the standard, smoking and drinking are not the only ones that ought to come under scrutiny. What about, say, unprotected sex, eating fast food, drinking Coca-Cola for forty consecutive years, over-speeding, drunk driving, high-risk sports (like boxing, formula 1-racing, bike racing), high risk profession (like journalism, policeman, firefighter and lion tamer) …. Should we go on?

We do think that people ought to be confronted with the consequences of their behavior – no problem. But it is not fair to single out two groups – smokers and drinkers – while leaving the fast food junkies and others with health-threatening behavior to their own devices. As non-smokers and non-drinkers, we feel confident making this argument. The last thing we want it to encourage these groups to continue doing what they are doing, not only to themselves, but also to the financial well-being of the healthcare system.

The national healthcare service in Great Britain wants to prohibit children from watching movies that show smoking actors. Hmm. What about films that show drinking actors? Films that show actors that beat up other actors? Films that show actors murdering other actors? Films that show actors with a McDonald’s addiction?

Again, this is an example of selective concern. Protect kids against smoking actors, but not against smoking guns, so to speak. It just does not make any sense.

All the same, we’re not about stuffing information  under the carpet, so we happily inform you that a survey in California claims that smoking in films ought to be treated exactly like swearing and other offending behavior (shooting bad guys is not mentioned here). The researchers watched 775 American movies. With an average run time of two hours, that exercise alone must have cost them more than 190 8-hour working days – more than half a year, if they worked weekends as well.

In movies that were approved for viewers 13 years and older, 80 percent showed smoking actors. In more than half of the movies approved for all ages viewers were confronted with smokers. Movies made in 2002 showed on average eleven times per hour somebody smoking.

Sigh. Bruce Willis played John McClane in Die Hard 4 – and the actor made sure that his character gave up smoking. Note that this was not the case in die Hard 1, 2 and 3.

But what’s the fuss all about? Smokers are on the way out – either to their final resting place, or towards a life as a non-smoker. In New York there are hardly any smokers left. Just one in seven New Yorkers, or 14 percent, is still smoking. Among youngsters up to the age of 18, only 7 percent is smoking. Percent of New Yorkers, and 18 percent of youngsters below the age of 18 smoked.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a staunch anti-smoker. He banned cigarettes from restaurants, public buildings, most places of work, and even from parks, pavements and beaches. At the same time he increased taxes. A pack of smokes now costs almost eleven dollars.

Bloomberg stopped smoking thirty years ago. He expects that his policy will set a new standard for the United States. Many people follow the style of New York City, Bloomberg said, thereby making a distinction with Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in New York finds its way to other states and cities.

Bloomberg apparently saw no need to impose higher healthcare premiums for smokers, or to forbid kids from seeing smoking actors. It goes to show that bad examples are not always followed. Kids are smarter than anti-smoking campaigners think possible.


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