Smoking in America and Europe

By Tina

I have recently been on a school exchange trip to New York, and then I stayed on for a few extra days with my family. I had been looking forward to the trip for a long time and it was very exciting and interesting. Of course I noticed lots of cultural differences between Switzerland and America but for this blog I am just going to talk about the different attitudes to smoking, but it does involve other things as well.
There were sixteen people in our group, aged between sixteen and nineteen plus two teachers who were about thirty years old. Altogether there were ten women and eight men. Twelve of us were regular smokers and another three were occasional smokers. So the first thing we noticed when we got off the plane after a very long journey was that it is very difficult to find anywhere you are allowed to smoke. Inside the airport it was impossible and even outside it was difficult to find a spot where people didn’t shout at us for smoking. Not the most friendly welcome considering we’d been about ten hours without a cigarette and some of us were a bit desperate!

We stayed with host families. My host family were lovely and very hospitable. The family consisted of a mother and father and two children a bit younger than me, the girl was 15 the boy was 13. Non of them smoked, which was okay and it would never have occurred to me to smoke in their home anyway. However, on the first day the father had a private chat with me and said he knew it was normal for Europeans to smoke but he would appreciate it if I never smoked in front of his children. I agreed of course.  Later that evening he gave me a key and an ashtray and showed me how to let myself out into a back ally behind their house so that I could smoke after the children had gone to bed!

It did make me feel a bit strange though, as if I had to lie and keep secrets from the children of my host family. Truthfully I never smoked in front of them, but of course they weren’t stupid and they knew I smoked. I got on well with the daughter and I found out that she did smoke sometimes. I felt like I was keeping secrets from everyone. It also seemed strange because when I was her age I was already smoking regularly and I didn’t have to keep it secret from my mother or my family; they just accepted it as part of growing up. I don’t think the daughter of the family felt comfortable about keeping her smoking secret from her parents, I think it just made a barrier between them in what was in all other ways an honest and loving family.

The subject of smoking came up in a class discussion we had at the exchange school in New York (well New Jersey actually, we were just across the border from New York City). This discussion made me see clearly the difference in attitudes to smoking we had compared with our American hosts. To sum it up we had the attitude that smoking “can” be bad for your health and that smokers are more likely to get some diseases, but that smoking is a lifestyle choice that has some advantages as well as the well known disadvantages. The Americans seemed to think that smoking was “always” bad for your health and that you will certainly die of a smoking related disease if you start smoking. Moreover they thought that only stupid, bad or rebellious people ever started smoking. They seemed a bit perplexed that we were not particularly stupid, bad or even rebellious!

One thing that seemed odd to me was that both at school and in our host families they didn’t seem to think it was odd that you could have a gun in the house, but they thought cigarettes were really dangerous!

Another thing that seemed odd to me was the political and philosophical attitudes. We will not mention Donald Trump, but generally in Europe we get the impression that Americans are (or think they are) more libertarian and individualistic than us. But when it comes to personal choice about smoking, it doesn’t seem that way. They seem determined that everybody should have the same opinion on that subject.

When the school part of the trip was over, Sophie and Cassie flew out to join me for some shopping and sightseeing for a few days. For that part, we booked into a hotel. I thought at least there we would be able to book a room where we were allowed to smoke. But it seems no such rooms exist anywhere in New York! Not only that, but there wasn’t even a smoking area in the hotel lobby. We had to go outside to smoke and even in the street there seemed to be lots of places where smoking was forbidden or where we got disapproving looks from people.

One evening my mother Sophie got into an argument with a total stranger about smoking. We had gone out to eat in a nice restaurant “downtown” and Sophie and I popped out for a cigarette in the street (because you couldn’t smoke in the restaurant obviously). This woman started talking to us but when she found out we were a mother and daughter she started criticising my mother for allowing me to smoke at all (I’m 17 FFS!) and she accused Sophie of being an evil woman who was leading her own daughter to death! I had to drag Sophie back inside before she could fully demonstrate her vocabulary of English swear words!

I suppose the Americans think they have the right attitude to smoking and that in Europe we have got it wrong. But even though I had a great time in the USA and really liked many of the people I met (especially my host family) I came away feeling very European and actually quite pleased to be European. It’s just my opinion but I think we are actually more grown up and more open minded over here. And I don’t think our lives are any shorter than the clean living, non-smoking Americans.

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A world where nobody smokes

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We have just come back to Switzerland from a holiday in England. My daughter Tina was shocked by how strong the anti smoking laws and restrictions are there. Technically she is not allowed to smoke at all there, at least, shops are not allowed to sell cigarettes to her. She is sixteen, a few months off seventeen, but in England these days you aren’t allowed to buy cigarettes until you are 18 or over. This is her view of it.

“It is ridiculous! I’ve been smoking regularly for two or three years.  I’m old enough to get married in most countries. I have a boyfriend. I have sex. I use birth control.In most places I could leave home, leave school and get a job. In some places I could join the army. In some places I could vote in elections. And here I’m not allowed to buy cigarettes! Please!”

Although Cassie and I already knew that England is much less friendly to smokers than Switzerland is for the moment, even we had forgotten how nasty and inconvenient it is to have to go outside every time you want a cigarette.There are literally no bars, restaurants or cafes where you can smoke inside in Britain. It’s awful. Smoking really is bad for your health there, you could freeze to death!

But I know Britain isn’t the worse place. American laws are stricter still and apparently Russia is even more extreme. In Russia they are planning to make it illegal for anybody born after 2014 to ever buy cigarettes!

So it is getting more and more difficult to smoke all over the world. Even here in Switzerland the laws are gradually getting stricter and within a decade I guess you won’t be able to find public places indoors where you are allowed to smoke and even we will have to go out in the cold and snow just to have a cigarette!

Okay… So I know some people are reading this and thinking ‘That’s great!’ One day there will be no more smoking. Not legally anyway. Nowhere. Smoking will be a thing of the past.

Maybe. Maybe my generation and my daughters generation will be the last ones to smoke. Maybe people will think we are idiots because we still smoke when everyone else is giving up. Maybe we will die of some horrible smoking related disease and people can point at us and say ‘You got what you deserved.’

And of course once people like us have gone, everyone will be healthy and happy, won’t they? There will be no more cancer or heart disease. Everybody will live to be a hundred or more. The economy will automatically adjust and everything will be beautiful.We will all be happy sheep who never dream of enjoying ourselves in any way that might be darker or risky. Perhaps we’ll stop drinking as well. And of course nobody will ever invent anything enjoyable that is as dangerous as smoking or worse, will they?

Sorry but people are people. We are what we are. Part of being a grown up is deciding where and when to take the risks that give life substance and meaning. Smoking cigarettes is a social pleasure that has been part of our culture for a while and I will be sorry when it’s gone.

And in a world without smoking what else will people do? Perhaps there are health risks attached to smoking, but what health risks will be attached to the next big social habit that eventually comes to replace it?

Do you really think that humans are going to stop wanting drugs of some sort? If alcohol didn’t exist we would invent it. The same can be said for all other legal and non legal substances that pepper our social and psychological existence. Always has been. Always will be.

And if smoking were to be completely banned by law in the next few years what should happen to us if we continue to smoke illicitly? Should we be put in prison because we smoke? Just what good would that do anybody?

Prohibition has worked so well before, hasn’t it?? (Well at least it is always a bonus for the criminal fraternity).

Perhaps there really will be a world where people don’t smoke anymore. But there will never be a world where people don’t decide to do things which may be harmful to themselves or which other people don’t approve of. Perhaps we need to learn to live and let live. Perhaps with all advances that are being made in science we could make smoking safer. But you know what, even if smoking was made to be completely harmless there would still be a lot of people who want to stop us from doing it. The truth is “health” is for many people just an excuse to justify forcing their will on others. They are people who want a bland, vanilla world, where everyone is just the same as them.

Some of us are not the same and will resist all pressure to conform. We aim to misbehave.

Sophie

 

 

 

 

What if?

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WARNING. This is not a pretty post. It is only for adults who have a strong stomach.

What if you enjoyed a potentially dangerous sport such as rock climbing or mountain climbing? What if there were huge advertising posters at every conceivable entrance to a climbing route that looked something like this…

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Caught on camera just before she died.

What if every piece of safety equipment you purchased had to prominently display a photo like this?

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What if every young person taking up gymnastics and their parents were forced to view this photo before signing a consent form?

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What if every car in the showroom was forced by law to have this image displayed on the roof and doors?

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What if every bottle of wine or can of beer had to carry a warning about the dangers of drunk driving and was legally required to ensure that the following photo occupied half the space on the label…?

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What if every convenience food containing a certain amount of sugar was forced to display the following image together with a warning about diabetes?

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No?

Sick?

Disgusting?

Immoral?

Repulsive?

Again sick?

Then why should adults across the world who perfectly legally choose to smoke cigarettes be subjected to the following every time they exercise their right as informed consumers to purchase cigarettes?

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Indeed it is sick and it should be ended.

Written health warnings ok. Disgusting photos no. Not unless everybody who chooses to take on some risk in their life is subject to the same lack of humanity and sensitivity.

Why I Smoke and why I want to write for this blog

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I’m Tina. When my mother and Cassie started this blog I was 13 and I was already smoking cigarettes occasionally. It started as just one or two cigarettes with friends at parties and gradually built up. After a while I was smoking quite regularly although still only a small amount. Now I am sixteen and by this stage I am smoking quite a lot; at least ten cigarettes each day and sometimes quite a lot more. Nicotine is very addictive I must admit I am totally addicted. If anybody reading this does not want to smoke the best way is to never start.

However, I did want to. I knew I would get addicted. I also know that smoking can damage my health, it can make me less fit and one day I might die of cancer or another disease that is connected with smoking. But even knowing all this, I always wanted to smoke and now that I do I like it very much. I will smoke until I get pregnant and have a family. Then I will stop. It will not be easy to stop because I like it very much and of course I am addicted. But my mother stopped when she was pregnant with me and I have just as strong will power as she does. So there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that when I decide to have a family I will stop smoking. I don’t know if I will start smoking again when my children are older. Perhaps not.

But for now I really enjoy smoking and I am glad I live in a place where I am still allowed to decide these things for myself.

I am sixteen. I know that is not very old and I still have a lot of growing up to do. But while I might only be a young adult, I am in fact an adult and not a child. That is what the law says in respect of many things and it is how I feel. I have serious studies and exams to think about. I could get a job if I wanted to. In some places I could join the military. I do have a boyfriend and a sex life. So with all these things in mind it seems ridiculous to me that in some places I wouldn’t even be allowed to buy cigarettes, let alone smoke them!

I think that in order to grow up and grow as a person you have to be allowed to decide things for yourself. Taking some choices away just stops people thinking for themselves. I want the freedom to be myself. I don’t want to be a Disney Princess, I want to be something very different than that. I want to be a person who smokes and drinks and has tattoos and piercings and does things that other people disapprove of. And at the same time I want to be one of the best students in whichever university I go to, I want to be one of the top vets in Europe and, when the time is right, a good and kind mother. I think that is possible. I know who I am and what I want to be.

And that is why I want to contribute to this blog. Smoking is just a small detail in some people’s lives but to me it is kind of symbolic. I feel like there are powers in this world who want us all to conform to some kind of sickly, whiter than white, Disney image of what a good person should be. I could never be that and I would never want to be that; and I don’t think I am alone. When my parents started smoking and when Cassie started smoking I guess some people didn’t like it, but at least they were allowed to make that choice. And they were allowed to choose what brand they liked and see what other brands were available. Well those choices are being taken away from my generation and I don’t think it is right. I don’t think somebody who has never met me has the right to say how I should live my life. Being an adult is new for me and I admit some of the decisions I will have to make about things now are quite mind blowing, but I don’t want the possibilities to make my own decisions taken away before I even get started. What will be next? Will they make smoking completely illegal? Will I be called a criminal just because I smoke? And then what? Maybe they will decide we are all too stupid to decide for ourselves what we should eat or what we should drink or what music we should listen to… Well let’s face it, maybe we are too stupid to know what political party to vote for; so they could just remove some choices to make it easier for us!

No; I smoke. It is already part of who I am and it is a symbol of my attitude to this world and this life. I think this blog is important because here you have three people who refuse to be sheep and just follow the line. We smoke because we like the taste, the feel and the sensations that come from smoking. We also tend to like other people who smoke. We know we are taking a bit of a risk with our health but we are okay with that. We have this little corner on the web to say things that a generation ago you could say anywhere but now it’s not “politically correct”. Maybe we just want to talk about what brands we prefer and stuff like that without other people saying “Oh you shouldn’t say that out loud, smoking is bad you know!” And maybe we want to complain a bit about the fact that smokers have less and less rights because the ones who want everyone to be a Disney Princess and have perfectly white teeth are in control. (Actually my teeth are perfectly white and it really annoys me)!

I think people my age should rebel a bit more, not about stupid things but about the ways we are all under pressure to be the same, to like the same things, to have the same opinions and values… The problem is the people with power are clever, they take away options and alternatives before you even know they exist.

Anyway I will do my best to be the person I want to be and help others to do the same. If you agree with me on that you might like some of the things you read here even if you don’t smoke. Yes, smoking is the main theme of this blog but on another level I think it is about allowing people the freedom to be and express themselves.

We wish smokers would be more rebellious!

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We don’t write in this blog very often and to be honest we have some moral worries about what we write here. Sophie and I are adults who choose to smoke. Smoking has been part of our lives since we were teenagers and it would be fair to say that the fact that we smoke is a part of our identity and perhaps a physical manifestation of some of our character traits and inner philosophy. We accept that there are health risks attached to smoking but we are libertines and we believe very strongly that adults should have the right to make their own lifestyle choices. We started this blog as a voice for people who share that view and actually enjoy smoking. We also felt and still feel that the momentum of the anti-smoking lobby has got too much and that the increasing restrictions on smokers are wrong, unfair and unbalanced. What we didn’t particularly want to do was to encourage anybody to start smoking and certainly not give the impression that smoking was a habit that was healthy or free of serious risks to health. Hopefully we have managed that but since we admit to being fans of smoking on a personal level, it is a difficult line to walk. Moreover, our own daughter is now smoking regularly and we cannot deny that in some ways we may have influenced her in that. So perhaps the easiest way to avoid controversy and the charge of leading people into bad habits is to just shut up and say no more on this blog…

But clearly that is not what we decided. A long while ago I wrote a post about the time that I “officially” started started smoking. Well, at least it was the first time I smoked in front of my parents and it happened when we went out to celebrate my sixteenth birthday. I was reminded of that recently when Sophie, Tina and I went out for a meal to celebrate Tina’s 16th. Tina has been smoking off and on for about a year or more and Sophie has written already about Tina’s campaign on behalf of the smokers at her school… So when we went out for her birthday meal her smoking was no secret or surprise. But because I recalled the time when I started smoking we began talking about the subject and Tina was shocked by the suggestion that Sophie and I might stop writing this blog. After a while she convinced us not only to continue with this blog but also to let her become a regular contributor to it. I think she is going to bring some new energy with her! And with that I am going to hand over to Tina for her first official post as one of the authors of this blog…  (Cassie)

Hello, it’s Tina writing now… The first thing I want to say is that if anybody starts smoking just because I do or because my mother (Sophie) or Cassie does, then they are stupid. Or to put it another way, whatever happens to them is their responsibility not ours. Considering their philosophy, sometimes my mum and Cassie are too nice or too considerate for their own good! Everybody is an individual and everybody is responsible for their own choices. Just because we like smoking doesn’t mean the people who read this blog can blame us if they have some nasty consequences because of their smoking. We might die of cancer or heart disease one day. But still for the time being we decide to smoke because we like it and whatever anybody else decides, it is their business not ours.

Cassie and my mother both started smoking when they were about the same age as I am now. Back in those days, from what they have told me, it wasn’t such a big deal. A lot more people smoked. Cigarettes were much cheaper. There were more brands to choose from. You could see advertisements for cigarettes in magazines and newspapers, on billboards and posters and even still in the cinema. You could smoke in most cafes, bars and restaurants. You could smoke in trains and buses. You could still smoke in some cinemas and theaters. And in my country you could smoke in school during the break times. It was all normal. I guess it wasn’t very nice for non smokers in some places and maybe if smokers and businesses had been a bit more responsible then and had made it easier for non smokers to have places to go where they didn’t have to smell cigarette smoke, things today wouldn’t be so bad now. But now it has gone too far!

I’m lucky that I live in Zurich where our laws aren’t so bad as in a lot of places, but even here there are less and less places where you are allowed to smoke and more and more restrictions on who can buy tobacco and how it can be sold. In Cassie’s home country (United Kingdom) they are beginning to only sell cigarettes in plain packaging where you can hardly even see the name of the brand you want to buy and there are just disgusting pictures of people with cancer. Recently I read that in California they are going to make it illegal to buy cigarettes until you are twenty one! How ridiculous is that?? At sixteen here in Switzerland I can have sex and maybe even get married, in most countries I could leave school and get a job and pay taxes, in some places I could vote in elections, I could drive a motorbike or maybe even a car in some parts of the world, I could join the military and die for many countries;- but in California I wouldn’t be allowed to buy cigarettes! That is insane!

And when all these restrictions started it seems like smokers just accepted it. Maybe smokers thought it was only fair that non smokers should have more rights. Maybe they thought that because smoking can have bad health consequences it wasn’t such a bad thing to make it a bit more difficult for people to smoke. But maybe they didn’t realize how far things would go and eventually all their rights to smoke would be gone.

When Cassie and my parents were the age I was now they were allowed to make the adult choice to smoke or not. For me and for people of my generation that right is being taken away. For future generations it will be even worse. So all the sheep will have the same choices to be good little sheep! I wish smokers of the past and smokers now would be a bit more rebellious.

Nobody would accept it if you couldn’t tell the difference between one brand of beer or another. Nobody would accept it if all cars had to be the same shape and be painted with pictures of what can happen to you in an accident or what damage you are causing the environment. Nobody would accept it if tattoos were made completely illegal until you were twenty one and even then everybody had to have exactly the same tattoo. Maybe you should be twenty one before you eat a McDonalds (with all that unhealthy fat) and even then you should not be allowed to see the difference between McDonalds and Burger King…

Well smokers are consumers and I think we should have the same consumer rights as anybody else and I am pretty angry that the smokers before me didn’t protest enough when their rights were being taken away. And now they are doing the same to vapers. Well I smoke and vape so I feel like it is an attack on my life choices.

So I think smokers and vapers should start getting organised and should protest more. We shouldn’t be treated as second class people just because we smoke and vape. It is time to start fighting back!

Smoking At School

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I guess that in some parts of the world people will be surprised to know that until very recently (and still now in some places) both teachers and older students were allowed to smoke in designated areas in school grounds here in Switzerland. Recently there have been changes, as a result of which my daughter has found herself at the centre of a little controversy in her school.

But first a little background information about some of the laws and culture related to smoking in Switzerland. Basically for a long time we have been a country of smokers. Laws relating to smoking differ from Canton to Canton (state to state) but there is no minimum age when people are allowed to smoke. In my youth most teenagers smoked and it is not so different now. There are laws relating to the age at which it is legal to sell cigarettes. These laws used to vary from zero to sixteen but now in most Cantons it is sixteen or eighteen. Where we live it is technically sixteen, but the laws are only liberally enforced and still anyone can buy cigarettes from machines in the street.

In my daughter’s school it used to be permissible for students to smoke in a designated area of the school from the age of 14 upwards providing they obtained a letter of permission from their parents which was always followed up by a phone call. Getting such a letter of permission has always been a kind of right of passage. Tina will be 15 soon and has been smoking regularly for about a year (about one pack per week). I had already agreed to give her the letter. However, her school has just decided to implement the law more strictly and forbid all students from smoking in school. (The teachers will still be allowed to smoke in their own room). This has caused many of the students to protest and start a campaign to be allowed to smoke again. Tina has been nominated as their spokesperson. I think this is because although she is one of the younger regular smokers she is seen as a good, well behaved student who usually gets good grades and therefore not “just” a rebellious teenager. The fact that her mother (me) is known to be a teacher too may have something to do with it. I’m not sure that she really wants to be in this position, but it might provide her with some off the curriculum life lessons.

Now I fully understand the school’s position and I fully concede that school should be an environment which promotes healthy living. I suspect that within a few years all students in Switzerland will be forbidden to smoke while they are at school. I don’t think there is much chance my daughter and the other students at her school will be able to change the minds of the school authorities. I suppose overall it is a move in a good direction. However, something will be lost…

Smoking has been part of our culture. Perhaps it isn’t the most healthy part of us Swiss but it has been part of our social and cultural life for several generations. I started smoking about the same age as my daughter and I must admit that smoking with my friends at school and getting that letter of consent from my family was a part of the whole process of growing up and starting to behave and think more like an adult. And being able to smoke at school meant that we didn’t have to sneak out. As a mother I would prefer to think that my daughter can stay within the safety of the school grounds during the day and not have to sneak off somewhere in the break times to have a cigarette. I am also a realist. Banning smoking in school will not make anybody stop smoking. Will it discourage some people from starting to smoke? Maybe, but I doubt it.

In my school the students are still allowed to smoke and I hope that doesn’t change soon. I teach in a school for students who have serious social and psychological problems. Believe me when I say that the fact that most of them smoke is the least of their worries. Often in the classroom environment it is difficult to break down some of the barriers that can make them under-achieve, become anxious, disruptive or even occasionally violent. Yet it is amazing how quickly those barriers can come down over a cigarette in the break time. Psychologically I think that when they see that we accept their smoking, it gives them the feeling that we are accepting them as people who are growing into adults and respecting at least some of the choices they are making. To put it more simply it is a valuable point of connection between us and them. I think it is genuinely therapeutic. And if nicotine remains the worst of their addictions, we call that success.

Well in the meantime my daughter will fight her battle with the school authorities. It is a battle I think she will lose but in fighting the battle she will learn and grow up in other ways. And symbolically at least, she has my letter of permission.

Sophie