Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Talking to kids about smoking

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We were only out for a family lunch in Napier in the holidays. We didn't expect to be facing moral dilemmas about the corruption of youth and how the tobacco industry targets children but that's exactly what we encountered at the well-reviewed Mister D restaurant one sunny Wednesday.

Our nine-year-old couldn't believe her eyes as we perused the menu for on the reverse was a nostalgic photograph of a curly-haired child smoking.
Her questions came thick and fast.

Q: "Is he smoking?" A: "Yes."
Q: "How old is he?" A: "Um, about five, maybe four."
Q: "Is the cigarette lit?" A: "Yes, there's smoke coming off it."
Q: "Why is he smoking?" A: "I don't know. Now stop with all the questions and decide what you want to eat."

Out of the two of us, my husband possesses the most hardcore anti-smoking stance.

"Don't do that," we'd shouted in unison when our daughter had once jokingly pretended to smoke a lollipop stick.

However I immediately followed it up with: "That's not how you smoke. This is how it should be done," as I demonstrated the action with my palm facing towards my mouth rather than away. My other half was not impressed that what initially seemed like a fine example of harmonious parenting deteriorated into instruction about correct smoking technique.

We don't smoke and pretty much no one we know smokes so if our daughter sees someone puffing away in the street she is captivated.

"Look at that person smoking," she'll whisper with a disapproving tone that could have been authorised by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). And the imagery at lunch of the small boy smoking was even more seductive to an impressionable child. She'd never seen such a sight.

The scene that played out at our table over the menus was shortly replicated at a nearby table, this time with a twelve-ish-year-old boy as the fascinated protagonist. His parents ended up wearing the same nonplussed I-only-came-to-lunch- and-now-we're-discussing-the-merits-of-children-smoking expressions.

I'd noted this subversive photograph on previous visits to Mister D and given it no more than a passing thought. But with a child in tow we were forced to confront it and consider the message it sent. We decided it was inappropriate in a busy restaurant in which about half the tables contained a child under the age of twelve. If it had been on the cocktail menu of a seedy bar it might have been okay but it was totally out of place in a family environment - as evidenced by the reactions of the children present.

When my husband paid the bill he mentioned this image to the maître d' and questioned its suitability. She replied that it was meant to be "tongue in cheek". Yet in a world that is home to Indonesia's famous "smoking baby", ASH's fact sheet on youth smoking which says "Almost all smokers start as children", and (US based) articles such as Big Tobacco Wants Your Children which advise that: "Each day approximately 3,800 kids smoke their first cigarette and about 1000 become daily smokers," such a cavalier attitude is surely of concern.

What's your attitude to imagery of children smoking? Is it acceptable in a popular restaurant? For that matter, is it ever acceptable?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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