Reposted from: The Philippine Online Chronicles Buhay Pinoy Section.
My first ‘puff’ of yosi came when Papa (during his ‘one case of beer slash five packs of cigarette per day’ phase) asked me to buy cigarettes from the gareta of Kuya Carlos and to have one stick lighted by the owner of the store. On the way back from the store which is about 50-60 meters from the house, I observed that the cigarette’s light was about to go off -- so I curiously puffed the cigarette and the rest is history.
Today, I still smoke but only because it goes soooo well with that bottle of ice-cold beer. I can no longer count how many times I attempted to quit. So I quit trying to quit as I live my life ala Harvie Krumpet who said ‘Life is like a cigarette. Smoke it to the butt.’
If you ask the smokers and ex-smokers, they could vividly remember their first yosi. It could be a story of curiosity, peer pressure, wanting to look more mature or macho, or that ‘rebel without a cause,’ full of angst puberty. All it takes is that first stick and the nicotine does its magical and evil work. Each has his/her reason for continuing to smoke -- social status, the feeling of being ‘in’, masculinity and to the famous ‘anti-stress’ chuva. Or is it the irresistible nicotine fix?
Smoking is part of the Filipino psyche. The tobacco industry has penetrated the socio-economic and political systems in the country. It is part of our history. Spaniards brought tobacco to the Philippines through the galleon trade. The tobacco monopoly was established in 1782, which generated for the Spaniards a huge amount of money that strengthened their military might. It is even said that during that time there were more people converted to smoking than to Christianity. The Katipuneros who went against the Spaniards and Americans had cigarettes with the KKK emblazoned in the pack. Smoking emboldens them to fight while at the same time thecigarillo wrapper served as recruitment propaganda. We have tobacco plantations in the Ilocos Region and Cagayan valley and it has been a big industry up to now. Our economy has been a beneficiary of the taxes even before it was labeled as ‘sin.’ I can even remember Bai Osao, my paternal grandmother smoking tobacco (with the lit part of the stick inside her mouth) while telling stories or doing house chores.
Smoking marginalizes the smoker in one way or the other. It is unpopular. It has been associated with defiance, rebelliousness and nonconformity. With all the diseases associated with smoking, it is considered plain suicide. In the olden times, a chain smoker who smokes in a balete tree is called a kapre. During the Spanish occupation, it symbolized slavery and exploitation. The French say ‘fumer c’est etre l’esclave du tabac’ which, translated, means ‘smoking is like being tobacco’s slave.’ It is addictive and smokers become slaves literally and metaphorically. Men who smoke are labeled as ‘astig,’ ‘barumbado,’ and ‘amoy ashtray.’. Women who light up are branded as ‘liberated,’ ‘pa-sosyal,’ and ‘pasaway.’
Yes, there are 18 million Filipinos who smoke. 18 million marginalized citizens. Smokers are blamed for variety of reasons: global warming, air pollution and the stereotyped smoker’s disease - lung cancer. Mind you, not all lung cancers are smoking-related. Smokers are called names- ash tray breath, pugoneros, sunog baga, ‘smokers are jokers,’, and plain stupid. Smokers are discriminated and stigmatized. Some companies prefer to employ non-smokers.
The Philippines is a tough place for smokers. I could still remember the early ‘90s when one could buy cigarettes in the school canteen. Smoking inside the conservative Dominican run U.S.T. Main Building was once tolerated. Now, you could not even buy cigarettes within a 100-meter radius of any Manila school. Gone are the TV commercials which featured cowboys, sportsmen, and the man who, with the snap of his fingers, always magically saves the day. Today, all we have are commercials that promote vanity and obesity and endorsements by politicians and their kin. Smoking used to be a symbol of high status and taste; now it is an indicator of poverty and lack of self-control. I read in Michael Tan’s Pinoy Kasi column that jeepney and taxi drivers say they smoke ‘because life is hard.’
The war against smoking has escalated. RA9211 is in full force. Almost all cities and towns have their own anti-smoking ordinances. The imperial forces of anti-smoking unleashed their best soldiers, Yosi Kadiri and Mr. QuitsS. Excise tax is on a rampage. Smokers are scorned and relegated to smoke outside buildings, cramped spaces and in parking lots. One casualty is Tanauan City, which got the flak for naming a street after a cigarette brand.
The anti-smoking war though is not totally one-sided. In fact the tobacco industry recently won a round. Truth is, the government warning in the pack of cigarette: ‘Smoking is dangerous to your health’ does not really work. Who believes the government anyway? Raising sin taxes is not enough. The e-cigarette is just a fad. Outcasting the smoker could work for and against smoking.
Smokers are people. Smokers have rights too. It’s their choice to poison their lungs and succumb to whateverdisease smoking thrusts on them. Raising hell over Ardi Rizal, the two year old Sumatran kid who smokes is a desperate attempt. This is not the fault of the millions who puff their lives away in reckless abandon but the parents who allowed this to happen in the first place. Maybe they wanted to be discovered on youtube. Talk about what 15 minutes of fame could push people to do.
Do not push smokers. If banded together as a marginalized sector and with the imperfect if not hilarious party list system that we have, those who enjoy their yosi could form Sunog Baga Party. If Mikey can represent security guards and become a congressman, why can’t I for example represent the marginalized smoking society?
Quitting is hard. Quitting smoking is in itself stressful. The most convenient (although not the best) way to curb stress is to put that yosi between the index and middle finger, light it up, and puff away. Just ask PNoy. I pity him as people incessantly bug him to quit. He doesn’t hold the fate of the nation in a stick of cigarette, no? Or does he?
To bring back smokers to the fold is to help them quit. It is not an easy task and nagging them to death will not help. Marginalizing them won’t work either. We are a rebellious nation, aren’t we? Provide a health care system that renders quality and compassionate care. Make the situation conducive to quitting by providing support services. Quitting should be gradual. Undoing habits takes a long time and needs patience. The smokers are actually pawns in this war between the big tobacco industry and the anti-smoking movement. They need understanding. This is not just a health issue but also socio-economic and political. Hate the smoke. Love the smoker. As they say: ‘if you can’t stop smoking, cancer will.’
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