The Ills of Tobacco and TV in Brazil

 The Ills of Tobacco and 
  TV in Brazil

A judge in São
Paulo, Brazil, found against Souza Cruz and
Philip Morris for omitting information about the dangers of
smoking and the transmission of deceptive advertising.
Damages were estimated at US$ 17 billion. People are asking
to be reimbursed for what they willingly paid to get sick.
by: Janer

More on tobacco. A few years ago, a friend, a recently converted non-smoker,
rushed up to me in a bar: "For the love of God, you have to quit smoking."
In his zeal, he didn’t even remember that I had never smoked. Knowing that
he had discovered the truth, he went out to catechize even those who had already
been saved.

Last week, I defended
the idea that smokers, in this anti-tobacco age, were being treated like lepers.
I received indignant mail from ex-smokers, more mail than when I wrote about
the PT, at the time when the PT was running Lula as a candidate for President.
It is good to specify the date, since already in those days it was sacrilege
to criticize the new Messiah. Today, even the PT labels him as a neoliberal.

From the tone of the messages,
I deduce that my irate letter-writers would not hesitate to end a friendship,
just because the friend is a smoker. Which reminds me a little of Sartre,
in talking about Camus: "Friendship tends to be totalitarian as well;
there must be agreement on everything or there is a break in relations, and
even the unaligned act like militants for imaginary parties."

Sartre, of course, was
talking about ideology. It happens that current ex-smokers have, in relation
to cigarettes, the same attitude as the French Stalinist philosophizer.

There was a time in which,
here in Latin America, people ended friendships because of things that were
happening in Vietnam or Cambodia. Now that ideologies are dead—or at
least moribund—what divides men seems to have become cigarettes.

Personally, it has never
occurred to me to abandon someone just because he smokes. I stoically put
up with the smoke, and preserve my friendship. I am also never going to tell
him to stop smoking. That is not something you say to an adult.

In this new holy way,
the anti-tobacco hosts have gone overboard. Last February, a judge in São
Paulo found against Souza Cruz and Philip Morris for omitting information
about the dangers of smoking and the transmission of deceptive advertising.

Damages were estimated
at 52.5 billion reais (US$ 17 billion). The suit was brought by the Adesf
(Associação em Defesa da Saúde do Fumante— Association
in Defense of the Health of the Smoker). This estimate was made taking into
account the minimum value of 1,500 reais (US$ 484) for each year the person
spent smoking, since 1990.

This is referring to how
much you spent on the product, and the material damage stemming from the constraints
that a smoker experiences, for example, in being prevented from entering a
restaurant. That is: you are asking to be reimbursed for what you paid to
get sick.

Further: You are asking
to be indemnified for the constraints that you—and no one else—caused.
According to Adesf’s lawyer, this decision should cover all of Brazil. The
suit, initially a civil suit, became public, so that any smoker or ex-smoker
in São Paulo would be a beneficiary.

You don’t even need to
be sick to get a piece of the pie. You just need to have been on the team.
If the decision of the judge is upheld, anyone who never smoked will be tearing
their hair out. As long as the sentence is carried out, the government will
no longer have to worry about hunger or poverty.

O tempora, o mores!
You go into a tobacconist, buy, pay, and consume your cigarettes without anyone
making you do so, and then you sue those who produced them, alleging that
the cigarette made you sick. Soon it will be the churrascarias’ turn,
since a picanha or fatty ribs are not exactly good for your health.

It would be better, perhaps,
to make the cattle-raisers pay, since they are at the source of the problem.
I am no longer responsible for my cholesterol levels. That diabolical churrascaria
on the corner is to blame, or perhaps—to use an expression that is beginning
to be popular—reactionary agribusiness.

The trend comes from the
United States, where the obese are suing McDonald’s, as if someone or something
had forced them to go in and eat their sandwiches.

In Brazil, there has already
been thought of suing the owners of restaurants in the case of accidents stemming
from the inebriation of a client. You are not even permitted to have the same
inclinations as the President of the Republic. Or the restaurateur that lovingly
serves you will run the risk of being taken to court.

It is true that the idea
has not yet been successful. But the believers are always at the ready, vigilant
and organized. And there is always a judge who will see things their way.
Last week, common sense returned as far as tobacco is concerned. Judge Afonso
Celso da Silva, of the 19th Vara Cível (Civil Court) of São
Paulo, suspended the judgment in the case.

Innocent Smokers

Something unusual has
been happening since the end of the last century. Adults, in full possession
of their faculties, reject responsibility for their acts, and throw the responsibility
onto third parties.

Those who buy and smoke
cigarettes are innocent. Those who sell them are villains. It must be comforting,
for a certain type of human being, to live in a world where you do not feel
responsible for what you do.

One never fails to hear
the crybaby argument: ‘I was deceived by advertising.’ Now, you don’t have
to be a genius to get a sense that all publicity is deceptive.

If some educational campaign
is necessary to free smokers from tobacco, it would be better to broaden the
campaign to free all those who are exposed to advertising.

If you open a magazine
or turn on the TV, you are automatically drowned by advertising that is not
only harmful to the body but also, which is worse, to the spirit. It is very
trendy to talk about the damage tobacco does to the body. No one talks about
the damage that television does to the intellect.

I don’t know what the
reader thinks, but I would rather maintain—and do maintain—relations
with any smoker, in preference to any faithful watcher for the novelas
(soap operas) on Globo TV.

The smoker is always an
intelligent person. The same is not the case with the "global" viewer.
There are already separate rooms for non-smokers in restaurants. But no law
requires a room for those who don’t like television.

You can escape from smoke.
Escaping from TV is more difficult. Today, in Brazil, you must pay very dearly
to eat without television. Only in luxury restaurants, and even then, only
when there is not a World Cup in progress. On these occasions, even the elite
don’t worry about behaving like idiots.

I was born and raised
among smokers. My father smoked, and so did my uncles. My aunt loves to smoke
and is a walking chimney to this day. My cousins, even before they began to
shave, were already smoking. I spent all of my adolescence seeing American
films, where it was hard to tell who smoked more, the hero or the villain.

It never in my life occurred
to me to smoke. Once I put a cigarette in my mouth. I didn’t like it and I
threw it out. I am sorry, may the market forgive me, but no advertising is
going to make me like something that I don’t. Advertising is credited today
with more power than it possesses. Advertising simply suggests. It does not
order nor oblige.

Smokers today are being
seen as poor wretches deluded by advertising. It is not only the smokers that
are poor wretches, but anyone who chases after the promises of advertising.
Even more effective than preventing smoking would be to vaccinate people against

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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