Suddenly the smoker turns socially inferior

April 01, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

There seems to be no limit to the abuse being heaped on those 40 million Americans who still smoke.

They have been banned from public buildings, many workplaces, restaurants and sports arenas and are threatened with higher taxes.

As one who has shaken tobacco -- at least for now -- I have now joined in kicking and stomping those who still indulge in their disgusting habit.

The other day, I visited a tavern and saw an old friend at the bar. He waved at me to join him, but I sat down at the other end.

He walked over and said: "You mad about something?"

"No," I said, looking down my nose at him. "I am not angry at you. It's just that you are my social inferior, lacking high station or birth."

"I'm what?"

"Well, to put it another way, you are of inferior social status. You have been lowered in class, rank and social position."

"When did all this happen?"

So I explained that I had watched a Sunday-morning gathering of Washington deep-thinkers on TV.

They talked about the national anti-smoking crusade. And George Will, one of Washington's deepest thinkers, said that those who still smoked had become "declasse."

Not being of the French-speaking persuasion, I looked up "declasse" in a dictionary.

"And," as I told my friend, "the definition included all the things I have said about you. What it amounts to is that because you smoke, you ain't got no class."

A look of sadness and defeat fell across his face.

"I don't know how much more of this I can take," he said. "I can't smoke where I work. The company allows professional back-stabbing, malicious gossiping, career-climbing and other stress-inducing behavior. But I have to slink outside on the sidewalk for a few puffs. Then strangers walk by and look at me like something they scraped off their shoe.

"I can't smoke at home, even on the back porch, because my wife says the second-hand smoke endangers the health of her cat.

"Some of my favorite restaurants have banned smoking completely. They eagerly sell me all the vodka martinis needed to destroy my liver and enough cholesterol to clog a cannon, but they can't put aside a ventilated corner for smokers.

"So what remains? The tavern, which has traditionally been a peaceful haven for those seeking to escape the everyday woes of life.

"But I come in here and what do I get? You tell me that I am 'declasse' -- a social inferior. Nobody ever called me a social inferior before."

He stared wearily into his glass. "This has all happened so quickly. How did we suddenly become society's favorite whipping boy?"

Because somebody has to satisfy the craving of the modern liberal reformer. The Brady bill has been passed, and there is only limited interest in saving whales, horned toads and spotted owls.

"But are we the worst menace in our society? What about the moronic scum shooting up the city streets, killing children and 7-Eleven clerks? Why not a national crusade to require the death sentence for every violent murder?"

Be careful what you say. Many of those killers you call "moronic scum" happen to be victims of social injustice and society's failure to address their needs and problems.

"You mean I am worse than a gangbanging killer?"

In some eyes, yes, because you can read the surgeon general's warning on a cigarette package, but no similar health warning is printed on a gun butt, and if it was, the education-disadvantaged lad could not read it anyway.

"What about people who eat grease and fat and glop, which are this society's favorite taste treats? Because they become fat and their arteries clog, aren't they also a burden on the nation's health-care program? I don't see Slick Willie talking about putting a $1.50 tax on the belly-busters he is always eating."

Of course not. No sane politician is going to slap a sin tax on something that millions of American parents feed to their kids because it is easier than cooking. Besides, the generation that considers you a social inferior grew up on belly-busters with cheese and fries. It is their soul food.

"Then why don't they go after all the foolish women who have babies they can't support and become a burden on our welfare system, and the fathers who flee their responsibilities; or people who engage in unsafe sexual practices and become a burden on our health programs? Why don't George Will and the other smoker-bashers say they are 'declasse'?"

And be accused of insensitivity and political incorrectness? Those you mention are all victims of society, history, man's inhumanity, etc., and so on. You, on the other hand, are responsible for your own actions and must be punished for your weakness.

"But I am just an ordinary, law-abiding, tax-paying, middle-class, middle-of-the-road, mind-my-own-business, live-and-let-live kind of guy."

See? I knew I could get you to confess and plead guilty.

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