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
    Cristaldo

    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 cristal@baguete.com.br.

    Translated
    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
    at querflote@hotmail.com.

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