Smoking: Brazil’s Gift to the World

 Smoking: Brazil's Gift 
  to the World

Tobacco smoking was
the great indigenous legacy to civilization.
Not every cultivated person dares to affirm that tobacco was
imported from Latin America natives, to France by Jean Nicot,
hence the name nicotine. Today’s cancers and emphysema are in
large part the heritage of the noble savage of our continent.
by: Janer

We have just celebrated a day of fighting smoking, a date which occasions
some reflections on the subject.

A president declares,
on magazine covers and the front page of the newspapers, that he is not an
alcoholic. A minister, caught smoking in an area where it was prohibited,
asks to be forgiven by his wife and children.

What country are we in?
Brazil, of course. Which, it seems, is going to end up becoming an immense
U.S.A., where drinking and smoking became sins a long time ago. We are going
through an unusual moment in time.

As far as I know, in the
history of Brazil, a president or minister has never been seen to apologize
for drinking or smoking. It must be the Larry Rohter effect. The king has
no clothes—as it once was said during the monarchy. In the republican
version of the old fable, the journalist simply points his finger and says:
the president drinks.

Soon the courtiers in
Brasília will be whispering in the corridors of powers: "That
minister smokes." We are headed, with giant steps, towards the institutionalization
of the politically correct. Blacks, just because they are black, are already
replacing whites in university classrooms.

The parliamentary commission
investigating the sexual exploitation of children in Brazil already wants
to punish sex between adults. The deputy Maria do Rosário, a gaúcha
from the PT, wants to criminalize those patronizing prostitutes, in the best
Yankee tradition.

"Presently there
is no clear characterization of this conduct in the laws of Brazil, so that
in many cases, the user is not punished", says the deputy. The governor
of Rio de Janeiro wants to include classes on creationism in the curriculum,
a theory that claims that the universe and life are divine creations.

And suddenly, quite suddenly,
smoking has become infamous. Everything seems to indicate that we are in the
midst of a revival of that 70s mentality that what is good for the U.S. is
good for Brazil. The worst of it is that we only import the worst of what
the United States has to offer.

According to a recent
report on tobacco smoking from the American Department of Health, smoking
affects practically all of the organs of the body, and causes a variety of
diseases that were never previously suspected to be related to smoking, including
cataracts, myeloid leukemia, and cancers of the cervix, kidneys, pancreas
and stomach.

"We have known for
decades that smoke is bad for health, but this report shows that the damage

is even worse than we imagined," said the Secretary of Health of the
US, Richard Carmona, recently.

"The toxins from
cigarette smoke go every where that blood goes. I hope that this new information
will help to motivate people to stop smoking and convince young people not
to start."

Now, the fact that that
tobacco kills is old news. But it would never occur to me to tell an adult
who can read that he should stop smoking. I begin from the proposition that
he knows what he is exposed to. Every person has the right to choose not only
how he wants to live, but also how he wants to die.

This is not what the Nordic
democracies think. The Swedish parliament approved the total prohibition of
smoking in bars and restaurants beginning June 1, 2005. The Norwegian parliament
beat them to the punch. It prohibited smoking beginning June 1, 2004. "Smoke
here, only in salmon", says a Norwegian poster.

The two countries are
following in the wake of Ireland which prohibited smoking in public places—bars,
offices, hospitals, universities, public transport—in March of last year.
These states decided that the citizen is incapable of deciding the way in
which he prefers to die.

They seem to have forgotten
that alcohol kills as well. In the seventies, Sweden prohibited drinking in
bars. Now alcohol is prohibited, and tobacco prohibited. And they are already
banning paid sex as well.

Like Lepers

The USA alleges that smoking
costs the country $ 157 billion per annum—$ 75 billion in direct medical
costs and the rest in lost productivity. I don’t have figures for the costs
of alcohol, but they must be similar. To prohibit tobacco and not alcohol
is a stingy moralism; after all both kill and cost the state dearly.

And of course sugar is
lethal as well. Just a little more daring and the militants of discomfort
will end up banning chocolates. It is as if suddenly the West, in some strange
fit, decided to deprive its citizens of pleasures that kill, it is true, but
provide euphoria and well-being as long as life lasts.

I don’t smoke. I have
never smoked. Not cigarettes, not pot. But I don’t like seeing smokers treated
like lepers, isolated in virtual cages. In the winter in New York, I saw them
frozen in the streets, temperatures below freezing, holding their butts in
their bare hands, because they are not allowed to smoke in their offices.

Teachers are already demanding
the Hollywood films in which there are characters who smoke be classified
as films for adults only. At the Zurich airport, I saw them isolated by a
rope, gathered like hounded animals, to be viewed by those passing by.

My worst experience was
in a train between Rome and Florence. Since there were no seats to be had
in the non-smoking car, I had to buy a seat in the car with the lepers. The
concentration of smoke was such that even the smokers were feeling bad.

At a party in Rio, I saw
a guest forbid cigarettes to all the other guests, just because he didn’t
smoke. The circle closes and intolerance reigns. Strengthened by the media,
the non-smokers become people’s commissars, always at the ready to denounce
the abominable crime.

Tobacco smoking was the
great indigenous legacy to civilization. Every cultivated person knows, but
not every cultivated person dares to affirm, that tobacco was imported from
Latin America, where it was consumed by the natives, to France by Jean Nicot,
hence the name nicotine.

Today’s cancers and emphysema—may
the politically correct forgive me—are in large part the heritage of
the noble savage of our continent. For some time, tobacco smoking has become
a practice of poor people. According to recent research, almost 33 percent
of American adults below the poverty line smoke, in contrast to 22 percent
of those above the line.

We are entering another
period of Prohibition. This time, it is cigarettes. Legislators, in their
anti-tobacco moralism, will end up making the merchants of the illicit rich.
Soon tobacco will have the same sort of cachet as marijuana or cocaine.

One cannot fight deeply
rooted social practices by prohibiting them. If you want to reduce the level
of tobacco smoking, it is simple. All that one needs to do is link cigarettes
with poverty. Even the poor will think twice before lifting a touch of cancer
to their lips. In this epoch which worships money, it is more effective to
stigmatize the smoker as poor. Prohibition only increases consumption.

Janer Cristaldo—he holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne—is
an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São
Paulo. His e-mail address is

from the Portuguese by Tom Moore. Moore has been fascinated by the language
and culture of Brazil since 1994. He translates from Portuguese, Spanish,
French, Italian and German, and is also active as a musician. Comments welcome

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