I deserve to be heard!

Last night I celebrated St Patrick’s Day like the rest of the world – drinking terrible beer and wearing silly green hats.  And like an Irishman to potatoes, redcalifornia here needed her nicotine hit to complement the beer drinking. I bought a packet of Marlboro lights and when I ripped open the foil packaging, I found this card:



The front of the card depicted a scene that smokers are all too familiar with – huddled together, looking cold, miserable and lost as a result of being treated like pariahs due to their unfortunate habit. The back side explained what this was all about. It was a campaign called “I Deserve To Be Heard” calling for smokers to unite against all the barriers we’re faced with in order to indulge in our dirty habit. It was essentially a campaign organised by the cigarette manufacturers to fight back for our right to smoke! My first thought was, is this even legal?

Gone are the days of when we used to see commercials or billboards of the hunky Marlboro man light up, then jumping on his horse riding away into the sunset as he enjoys the flavour of his chosen tobacco.  Nowadays, with advertising and sponsorship bans, It makes me wonder what kind of things go on in the boardroom when marketing execs of tobacco companies get together to discuss advertising campaigns for their products. I imagined a scene similar to the one in the satirical movie Thank You For Smoking, where Aaron Eckhart (who plays a tobacco company executive who makes his living defending the rights of smokers in an effort to increase sales) and his boss yells at the marketing staff: “People, what is going on out there? I look down this table, all I see are white flags. Our numbers are down all across the board. Teen smoking, our bread and butter, is falling like a shit from heaven! We don’t sell Tic Tacs for Christ’s sake. We sell cigarettes. And they’re cool and available and *addictive*. The job is almost done for us!”. Of course,  I don’t think this is exactly how it goes down, but I can imagine the challenges that a marketing manager might have over at Philip Morris in these modern anti-smoking times.

But I digress. So, after some more thought (and another cigarette), I realised this little card hidden in my ciggy packet could may well be the start of a revolution by smokers. I agree with the need for the government and health officials to warn us of the dangers of smoking and to discourage all of us from taking up the habit – and I’m happy to put up with being exposed to nasty ciggy packet pictures of deformed feet or rotten lungs every time I reach for a smoke (so as long as its not a photo of a dead baby fetus, like they have in Argentina!) – however I am disturbed that there are many groups and individuals who make it their own personal mission to vilify smokers – there are even groups in the States that campaign for smokers not to be allowed to adopt children, or even be employed – these people seem to believe that our choice to smoke makes us undeserving of a having normal life.

So I do think its important we smokers get our say too. We’ve put up with the rising prices and taxes. We put up with the smoking bans from the restaurant, bar, pub, beach, cars, everywhere. We put up with being treated like diseased second class citizens, like drug addicts, who are constantly exposed to a barrage of criticism and naysayers. I’m a good person. I’d like to think I’m a good member of society – I love my family, I contribute to charity, I work hard, am intelligent, kind to others, recycle my bottles and generally am a decent human being. But to some people, as soon as I tell them I am a smoker, their perceptions stop them from seeing who I really am, because I’m immediately stereotyped as a non-healthy, lazy, dirty, slacker. Believe it or not, I do know that smoking is damaging to my health, and possibly to others, but I do also have manners – I don’t light up indoors, or in front of children. I make it a point to respect those I’m with who don’t like the smell of smoke to not light up around them, or ask their permission if I want to. I treat non-smokers with the same dignity and respect that I hope to be treated in return, regardless of whether I am a smoker or not. Unfortunately some people are all to quick to judge.

The laws have forced us all outside in the cold, both in the physical sense but in a larger metaphorical sense. We cough up to $17 for  a packet for the honour of being treated as social outcasts, lepers and child abusers. And Im kind of glad I discovered this campaign – because we do deserve to be heard.

I hope one day that smokers and non-smokers can live in harmony;  I believe its just all about using common sense. I agree no one should have to put up with my second-hand smoke when they’re trying to eat a meal, but I think I abso-frickin-lutely should have the right to have a smoke while I’m drinking my gin and tonic at a bar, and shouldn’t have to feel guilty while doing it.

If you’re a smoker, check out the site – www.ideservetobeheard.com.au. If you’re not, then I’ll await the barrage of criticism I’m sure to get about this post.

P.S. Just to be clear – In no way am I glorifying smoking, or support that anyone – especially children – take up smoking.