I like a good smoke. Just sitting down and reflecting while having my cigarette to myself. Have a drag on my smoke while drinking my Starbucks and staring into nothing. Or sipping my beer with a fag in my hand. Of course, that’s just a story. I don’t smoke. Hum, really I don’t.
I used to smoke. And I enjoyed it so much. Especially with a cuppa Joe. Thinking of my horse and the land before me. Ready to explore and take on the wild west. I smoked Marlboro – when I could get hold of it. And I loved the Marlboro man. He reminded me of the land before it got so busy. I fell for their advertising 100%. But it was stupid. Come on. I am South African. We couldn’t get Marlboro for over 20 years. But still, I remember the images of this cool guy on his horse. I wanted to be a cowboy like him. And that meant I had to smoke his brand. But I was stuck being Egyptian – smoking away on my Camels. Those were the days. The days before my kid looked at me and asked me to quit. She would like to have her dad around for a few more years.
Even if I did smoke it would be even more difficult to have a smoke over here in the US. You can’t smoke anywhere. At least not here in Boston. They stopped that from happening anywhere. I never smoked in my home (I have kids) but still, nowhere to go for a man and his “little vice”. And the same when I was over in England. We used to huddle together us smokers. The new underclass. Frowned upon by the reborn crowd and laughed at by the clean ones. But come rain or snow – we used to huddle together outside for our communal habits. I made some good contacts at the outside ashtrays. Now you can’t even have it in pubs anymore. The poor English. They never have much to smile about – living on their little island where it is always rains as if it’s god’s urinal and you can’t afford anything because it is so bloody expensive and your teams is always losing. (Hint: who won the Rugby World Cup and who didn’t make it to Euro ’08?)
They even clamped down on smoking in South Africa. As if we don’t have enough to worry about. But now you can’t smoke anywhere. Of course, the problem is trying to police that when you have so many other things to police – one of the highest rape and hijacking ratios in the world. Policing smokers isn’t much of an issue then.
It could be worse for the police. You should try France. How the hell did that law pass? The French were born with a baguette in their one hand, a glass of wine in the others and a smoke hanging from their lips. It’s impossible to get them to stop smoking. It will be like asking an Englishman to cook a decent meal, a German to tell a funny joke and an Italian to win a war. It just doesn’t work that way. What response do you think you will get if you ask them to stop smoking at the cafe? A shrug of the shoulders, a wave of the hand and a “C’est la vie“. The resistance movement could have learned a few things from their addiction. All they had to do was tell the French that the Nazi’s will take away their baguettes, wine and smokes. Those Krauts wouldn’t have survived a day in France if that happened.
But a few years back the world got together and decided that they have had enough. Time to call it quits on smoking worldwide. And the solution? Make all smoking laws the same worldwide. It doesn’t matter if you are in Boston or Bamako, London or Lusaka, Paris or Port Harcourt – everyone will have the same rules. No problem. Global rules to get rid of a global problem.
And it is a global problem. According to the World Health Organisation more people die from smoking than TB, malaria and HIV/Aids combined. Okay, most of those deaths happen in the West with malaria, TB and HIV/Aids still being the big killers in Africa. But the idea was a good one. Get rid of a killer before it gets completely out of hand in Africa. We have enough other problems to worry about.
But it didn’t work out now did it? Nope. Africans governments have largely ignored this agreement. We still don’t have a standard global set of rules for the tobacco industry. And tobacco companies have used this opportunity to target African countries and other developing nations to advertise and market like its the 50’s in America. But why haven’t they introduced these rules? Let’s have a look at some of the ‘practical’ proposals that made up the guidelines.
1. Very high taxes on tobacco companies.
Easier said than done. Many African don’t have the luxury of a solid taxman. So bringing in new taxes on fags won’t make it any easier to collect taxes. But the biggest problem will be the backlash by the people. See, there are very few pleasures left in life in a continent where so many people fight diseases, natural disasters and conflicts every day. One of the few things people can still ‘enjoy’ is a quiet smoke at the end of the day. Share it with their friends and just relax. Yes, I know, it isn’t really relaxing, but try and tell that to someone who is hiding from the local warlord or who just saw their crops fail. Or in crazy cities like Port Harcourt where it is one of few things you can enjoy at the end of the day. A smoke, a beer and some friends. Day complete.
2. Total ban on all advertising and promotion.
Yeah, this will help rake in the extra cash. Advertising and promotion brings in extra cash for the government and other industries. Small business start by selling smokes – one guy next to the road or at a traffic light. Advertising agencies develop. And government make some cash as well. Oh, don’t forget the health services also benefit… Of course the biggest plus is sport events. Tobacco and alcohol companies (don’t dare touch my beer) sponsor major sport events all over the place. Pulling them off the shelf would mean no money for sport events and sponsorships. That’s right, say goodbye to those Kenyan athletes, Nigerian soccer players and Angolan basketball players (okay the last one was a stretch).
3. A ban on smoking in all public places and workplaces.
Ha. Don’t make me laugh! The police have more than enough other things to worry about. You think they can go and try and police smoking in public places? I am not even going to go there. And when you get paid so little for the back breaking work you do, the last thing you want is someone to tell you where you can and cannot smoke. And I don’t want to be the employer that tries to bring in that rule either.
4. Large, scary warning pictures on packs.
How scary do you want it to be? Maybe some dead bodies? Been there, done that. Seen it. In real life. What’s a picture going to do? We watch Fight Club and think it is a romantic comedy. Those scary pictures won’t work. Hey, wait. Maybe you should put a picture of Brown or Bush on there and tell us we will look like that if we don’t stop. That should do it. No way we want to look like that. Or go for Paris or Britney if you want the women to stop. That will make them stop in no time. Now those are scary pictures.
5. Strong programs to help people quit.
Again. We got this money problem. Programs paid by who? We can’t even pay our teachers and doctors decent salaries, how are we going to run programs to educate people? We have leaky borders, how are we going to run efficient programs? We have to spend our money on more important things. Borders, education, health, infrastructure… tell me when you want me to stop. And don’t you dare take that aid and put it anywhere near smoking programs. We struggle enough getting the money and already have our hands tied by your tied aid. So don’t spend it on something we really don’t need right now. I’ll put that smoke where the sun don’t shine.
That’s why smoking bans will never work in Africa. Not now. Maybe in 20 years or a 100 when we can look back and only remember these dark days. Bloody hell. I think I need a smoke.
Note: Fag – what the English call cigarettes.