Care for a smoke?
Why does the state permit people to kill themselves slowly by smoking cigarettes but not in one go? It would appear that we have ‘pocket’ ideologies, changing for every scenario.
I recently questioned the state’s right to dictate how we treat ourselves. If the majority feedback I got is at all representative (and the recent PG status of the nikahnama would suggest that it is), then we as individuals feel the need to be intensively governed. We feel that the care we take of personal health, or the safety measures we take to maintain it, should be the concern of the state.
I would like to extend this argument to smokers. Should the state outlaw smoking? While some safety measures like the seat belt are debatable in their efficiency, smoking has no positive effects at all. A person sitting in his room and smoking is actively harming himself, and by our established majority ideology, should be stopped. But suddenly the majority opinion shifts, suddenly we hear the argument, “what I am doing to myself is my own business”. Personally I agree with this notion, and it is the strongest defence a smoker can offer. But let me take this golden argument and step it up a notch. What if a person wants to cut himself? Or commit suicide? Is it still “his own business,” or does the state now come into play?
I realise that it is an extreme measure, but smoking can very easily be defined as a diluted form of suicide. Doctors estimate that each cigarette shortens a person’s life by 11 minutes. So while a smoker forgoes his life 11 minutes at a time, a person committing suicide does it all at once. The effects of smoking may not be as instant, but even the manufacturers agree enough to print on their boxes: ‘SMOKING KILLS’.
So it would appear that we have ‘pocket’ ideologies, changing for every scenario. This makes it very easy to define our own actions as ‘correct’ and those of others as ‘wrong’. But consistency of thought raises questions to which there are no comfortable answers. Should a person be free to do to himself what he pleases, or should the government continue to play nanny? Should we outlaw smoking, or should we remove the legal penalties of attempting suicide?
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2010.