You think you’re cool because you smoke?

Published: March 21, 2017

A woman smokes a cigarette in this illustration picture taken in Paris, October 8, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

Picture this: Brad Pitt puts a cigarette between his lips; he takes a puff and blows smoke out of his mouth. Tom Cruise takes out a pack of cigarettes, lights one up and for a moment, his face stands illuminated behind the flame of his lighter. Heartbroken Shah Rukh Khan smokes a cigarette one after the other, the ashtray on his side full of cigarette butts as he sits thinking about his beloved. Or better yet, Robert De Niro throws a cigarette butt on the floor and crushes it aggressively.

How appealing does that sound?

Now imagine this: a skeleton lying on a death bed, frail and ferociously coughing, dying a slow death from man’s worst killer – lung cancer. How does that feel?

It isn’t so appealing now, is it?

Yesterday, I was waiting in my car while the driver got off to get something from a shop and I saw two children around 14 or 15 smoking. They had one cigarette, which they shared. I could see one of them taking a puff and passing it to the other as they giggled.

I sat watching them, wishing that I could tell them that the smoke wasn’t the only thing they were blowing away – it was also their futures. I didn’t say anything but I also didn’t forget. The smiles on those two faces lingered in my mind all day.

If we take a minute to look around, we’ll notice numerous people around us smoking. From family members to friends and colleagues, to strangers at bus stops – the list goes on. The trend of smoking is increasing day by day. College and university goers are especially falling prey to this menace, which is quite alarming. Therefore, it’s high time that we reflect and realise where we are heading.

Previously, when encountering a smoker, people would open their eyes in armament but today, the common response to smoking is blasé. Even when people ask someone if they smoke, and they respond saying no, this response is typically followed by a demeaning laugh. Maybe the person would even go on to bully you, and say things like, “man, you haven’t really lived,” or “its due time you grew up”.

How is smoking synonymous with growing up?

In the past, cigarettes were cheaper and people could smoke pretty much everywhere and the advertisements endorsing smoking were well-marketed. However, back then, we didn’t have the kind of technology that we do today. Information was not as easy to get our hands on and people did not know the hazards of smoking.

Smoking kills six million people a year and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), if it continues at this rate it will be killing more than eight million by 2030. Approximately 22% of cancer deaths are caused by use of tobacco. According to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, every year more than 1.6 million deaths are caused by lung cancer which is more than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined.

Today, the cost of cigarettes has increased and people cannot smoke as openly as they once did. Smoking is banned in numerous public places, indoor offices, hospitals, and educational institutes.  Furthermore, cigarette companies are not allowed to endorse smoking on TV or the radio anymore. There is an open flow of information, which means that everyone is informed about the health hazards caused by smoking. Even though the situation is not ideal, people have begun to realise that smoking reduces one’s lifespan greatly and is a burden on one’s pocket as it costs people thousands of rupees annually. Then why do people still smoke?

One answer is the content that Hollywood and Bollywood movies as well as our Pakistani dramas are churning out. Media advertisements promoting smoking have been banned but that only sounds like a joke since the media still glamorises the act of smoking. No one can deny that these movies and dramas are influential and impact the youth adversely.

Almost all Hollywood and Bollywood movies have sequences where the hero creates magic on the screen by smoking. As if it can make us solve our problems, forget our worries and can help us mend our broken hearts. Now is there anyone who can deny that these scenes don’t influence young innocent minds?

Someone might point out that there are always warnings and disclaimers flickering on the screen whenever there is a character smoking, but honestly, who even cares? It’s not like people are reading the screen when they could be watching Brad Pitt flipping a cigarette between his lips. Most of the youngsters smoke cigarettes because they think it’s cool and that it will make them popular among their peers.

A friend of mine told me that he was 17-years-old when he began smoking. I asked him why and he replied saying,

“Because I thought it was cool and also because all of my friends used to smoke so I had to fit in”.

“And now it has been 15 years since the day you light up a cigarette for the first time, why do you still smoke? Do you still think it’s cool?” I asked.

He replied with a helpless smile,

“Because now I am addicted to it, although it’s hurting me now in many ways and only I know that”.

Teenagers from well-off families start to smoke to exert their independence and to prove to the world that they have grown up. There are others who smoke simply due to their curiosity. Some studies also reveal that children of smokers are more likely to smoke when compared to children of non-smokers. Therefore, no matter what makes people start this habit, the results are addiction and health problems in the long run.

It is up to us to decide whether we will lead a smoker’s life, endangering not only our own health, but that of those surrounding us. If we want to save our loved ones, our friends and our generation, we all have a role to play including the government and non-government organisations.

Parents need to have open relationships with their children so that they confide with them, this is especially essential during formative years. They should concentrate on character building, and teach them how to steer clear from peer pressure. Parents should also stand as examples for their children by not smoking themselves.

The government of Pakistan having ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) needs to deal with the situation. Even if it views the tobacco industry as a source of revenue, it must understand that the revenue this industry generates is far less than what people spend on the treatment of tobacco-related diseases. Furthermore, it must check the illicit trade of tobacco. In Pakistan, smuggled tobacco is readily available and it is cheaper and does not carry warnings as per the laws of the land.

Non-government organisations should also think beyond the celebration of ‘no tobacco day’. They must launch larger campaigns against smoking and take the message to schools, colleges and universities through doctors and public health officials.

People need to decide how they want to live their lives. If they want to lead smoking free lives, they should stick by that. If not, they should reconsider how they’re affecting their own lives as well as those of their loved on.

So next time, if you see a child smoking, don’t be afraid to say something because that image cannot be diluted from your mind – it’ll continue to haunt you.

Asma Bangash

Asma Bangash

The writer is a peace activist and a law graduate from Khyber Law College, Peshawar. She has been a fellow at Swedish Institute Stockholm Sweden and is also a Fellow at Social Justice Institute of Case western Reserve University Ohio USA.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Khurram Jamil Siddiqi

    A very good thought but a very bad move, You took your brain and heart out to write this article but on the spot you didn’t tried to stop those children. Here you are trying to convince I must say about thousands of people, unfortunately you were hesitated to convince those two lads.Recommend

  • Nauman

    Smoking was n always be cool Recommend