Sacred Cows: Smoke and Mirrors

So, the Shadow Environment Secretary, Kerry McCarthy, has called for meat eaters ‘to be treated in the same way as smokers’, reports The Independent.

Many of you will consider that kind of a big deal – in fact, in any other week it might have been the biggest meat-related political news to come out of the UK. However, notwithstanding the discovery that David Cameron reads Lord of the Flies for the same reason that middle-aged housewives read Fifty Shades of Grey, this news does provide me with as good a jumping-off point as any for a new series of articles.

“…I want to bury myself in you and forget everything but us…”

I’ve been mulling over the concept for a while, thinking how best I can bring my brand of virulent ranting to XWHY with devastating efficiency, and I’ve decided that the way forward was to go for those beyond reproach. To fly in the face of popular opinion and explain to everyone why you’re all wrong about everything. In short, to slay some of your Sacred Cows.

This arsehole.

This arsehole.

Which, incidentally, is going to be the name of this series, because this is as good a week as any for butchery metaphors.

Anyway, you probably think I’m going to take Kerry McCarthy’s side, and tell all you red-blooded males to stop shovelling animal gristle down your rapacious maws. However, I’m as much of a bacon burger fan as anyone – although considering the ungodly effect that mass agriculture is having on our planet, maybe that’ll be a future Sacred Cow.

Instead, I’m arguing against something that’s been ingrained in us since childhood, that’s battered into us every day – so much so that you probably didn’t notice Kerry McCarthy casually invoking it. I’m going to defend the indefensible. I’m arguing against shaming smokers.

Look, I’m not an idiot. We all know that smoking is bad for you, and if you were in any doubt about this you could look at a packet of cigarettes and read the gigantic black and white lettering telling you that “SMOKERS DIE YOUNGER”, or if you’re illiterate you could examine one of the pictures of a hypodermic needle carrying the suggestion that “SMOKING IS LITERALLY THE SAME AS HEROIN”, except you couldn’t really do either of these things because smoking is so evil that you’re now not actually allowed to look at cigarettes within the shops that sell them – they have to be hidden behind a screen so as not to corrupt the eyes of the innocent, because the effects of children seeing cigarettes with their own eyes are apparently the same as if they’d been raised in a hotboxed greenhouse.

Anyway, I’ve made my point – we ALL know that smoking is bad for you, and yet for whatever reason smokers choose to do it anyway. Possibly because it’s legal, despite the fact that it’s objectively more harmful to you and those around you than numerous Class A drugs which haven’t a hope in hell’s chance of being legalised (again, another Sacred Cow). No one considers smoking a good lifestyle choice – most of us are acutely aware of the detrimental effect that it has on our health, because we feel it first-hand. But the fact that I know I should quit doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to; it means that I begrudgingly acknowledge that I have to, because in the long run cigarettes make you die. (As a side note: what the fuck, science? You’re talking about transplanting a fucking human head, and you haven’t figured out how to make cigarettes that, er, I dunno…DON’T FUCKING KILL YOU?!)

This is less than ideal.

Quitting smoking is like telling your significant other why they’re feeling a burning sensation when they pee; we all know we’ll have to do it eventually, but that doesn’t make it any more appealing. What doesn’t help is being patronised and treated like a pariah at every turn. If you’re a non-smoker, you probably don’t even notice how condescendingly smokers are treated because it just seems normal to you. Think about every TV show you’ve seen in the past 20 years. The quickest visual cue to establish a character as being evil or at least morally reprehensible was to have them permanently smoking cigarettes (Sawyer from Lost). If an initially squeaky-clean character is corrupted, they’re often shown smoking to demonstrate their weakness (Skyler from Breaking Bad). Think about the level of opprobrium Chandler received in that episode of Friends when he relapsed into smoking – if any of my friends were that fucking patronising every time I lit up a fag, I’d probably slap them. Kerry McCarthy’s (admittedly paraphrased) idea of treating carnivores and smokers ‘in the same way’ assumes that everyone just inherently accepts the pariah status that we as a society confer on grown-ass adults who are making their own decision to do something that’s completely legal.

I’m not saying that smoking is A Good Thing – I actually fully support the smoking ban in pubs. I’m saying that smokers don’t deserve the level of condescending bullying that’s directed at them. Let’s put it this way: it’s an obnoxious behaviour that people are allowed to engage in. There are quite a lot of those, funnily enough. If you’re a sports fan, you probably don’t care whether anyone feels uncomfortable going into a bar where everyone is noisily watching a football match.

These arseholes.

These arseholes.

You’d probably argue that if people don’t want to watch the match, they shouldn’t have come to the pub, and I can accept that. After all, behaviour doesn’t become illegal by virtue of being merely obnoxious – and nor should it become worthy of victimisation. No one’s going to form a lobbying group for people who don’t like team sports (for starters, I’d imagine they wouldn’t work too well as a team) that campaigns pubs to stop people behaving like twats during sports matches. Because that would be petty victimisation of people who are just periodically indulging in something that they enjoy, but others find mildly objectionable. Remind you of anything?

Picture the scene: you’re sitting in a sunny beer garden with some mates, having a pleasant catch-up, but trying to ignore the gobshite kids running around screaming. Your mate Bob emerges from the bar, carrying a tray of pints, and starts towards your table. Before it happens, you see it happen. One of the kids careens towards Bob, each oblivious to the other’s presence. The kid’s on a fucking scooter, because apparently there’s enough space for scooters in a beer garden even if there’s not enough air for smokers. “Booooooooob”, you yell in slow motion, because your life always looks like a movie in hypothetical scenarios. But Bob is as unaware of you as he is of the fact that you could easily be yelling ‘boob’ according to the script – it’s difficult to tell when there are that many o’s. Your distress is such that you can’t even giggle inwardly at this revelation, for you have foreseen the terrible consequences of Bob’s imminent encounter. The kid looks behind him at one of his similarly gobshitey siblings as he barrels towards Bob on his scooter. It’s one of those ones with two wheels at the front for extra stability, because apparently parents are OK with making their kids recklessly mobile but not OK with teaching them the consequences of combining extra speed with a total lack of spatial awareness.

And then it happens. The impact. The cataclysm. You watch helplessly as Bob stumbles forward, eyes bulging, swearing at the sudden unexplained pain coursing through his kneecap, and watch helplessly as your plastic pint glasses jerk upward off the tray for a split second before tilting earthwards as their delicious bounty waterfalls helplessly down, spattering your new Chelsea boots as the glasses clatter emptily onto the flagstones, failing to shatter like a proper pint glass as a final expression of futility. You feel utterly destitute. Bereft. That was YOUR pint. You were going to enjoy it. With Bob. Dear, sweet Bob. And now you have nothing. Not even crisps. And it’s all that kid’s fault.

This arsehole.

This arsehole.

And if, at this juncture, Bob turned around and hurled a Malcolm Tucker-esque torrent of abuse first at the kid and then his mother, how would you react? He’s just voicing how you feel, right? Venting his frustration? Reprimanding the kid for his recklessness, and the parent for her negligence?

No. Because if he did that, Bob would be a motherfucking psychopath who you are no longer friends with. Jesus Christ, Bob. Get a grip.

Because belittling, victimising and attacking someone for doing something that is well within their rights to do is not acceptable. Sure, you can argue that smoking is harmful or unpleasant to be around, but you shouldn’t take the moral high ground against behaviour that you deem obnoxious without considering how others might perceive your seemingly innocuous lifestyle choices. And if you’re really that bothered about the health concerns of second hand smoke in pub beer gardens, maybe knock back your fifth pint of 6% continental lager, polish off that rugby ball-sized hamburger – which mercifully doesn’t yet carry a massive B&W health warning – and go to another pub.

Still not convinced? What if I put in terms of society leading us to believe that it’s OK to victimise a minority group due to their esoteric rituals, despite the fact that they’re technically free to act however they like? Am I comparing smoke-shaming to religious persecution? Apparently. Have I taken this article a little too far? Definitely. Like, already way too far. Did you not notice that I talked about verbally abusing a small child a few paragraphs ago?

Still, all I can hope is that my point wasn’t entirely lost on you. If you’d like to see me brutally dissect some more things that you’ve been conditioned love, then tune into XWHY for the next article in my Sacred Cow series! Which will be…I don’t know. What do I look like, a paid journalist?! Follow us on Twitter or something.


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