Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Hating smokers doesn't help anyone

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Professor Stanton Glantz made me want to go out and buy my first packet of cigarettes. Photo / Thinkstock
Professor Stanton Glantz made me want to go out and buy my first packet of cigarettes. Photo / Thinkstock

I want to be a smoker. Listening to Professor Stanton Glantz, eminent cardiologist and director of the Centre for Tobacco Control at the University of California, San Francisco, made me want to go out and buy my first packet of cigarettes.

Professor Glantz is an educated, scholarly man on a mission. He is in New Zealand to try to get us to start what he calls a de-normalisation campaign against smoking. Sounds good so far I know, but stick with me.

Professor Glantz doesn't approve of the way we gently try to encourage individual smokers to give up. What were we thinking?

We should stop doing this forthwith and instead mobilise the entire population, even people who don't smoke, to be angry and and hate tobacco companies because they are, in Professor Glantz's words "evil".

These people are despicable and working "in the shadows", he says.

The good professor is also lobbying to stop anyone portraying smoking in mainstream films - even Hobbits smoking pipes - and to ban e-cigarettes being used as an aid to stop people smoking.

I understand smoking is bad for your health, but am not clear about why he thinks electronic cigarettes, which emit only water vapour, are so bad, except that he is a zealot.

But why did this erudite tweedy man make me, a non-smoker, want to drive straight to the nearest dairy and buy a pack of fags with a picture of rotting teeth on it? It could be just that I am bloody- minded and contrary.

But there is something else as well. Smoking is bad. But going around trying to make people - even non-smokers who don't smoke and may never smoke - angry and hateful strikes me as being a really unhelpful thing to do. Not to mention banning screenings of Casablanca.

It seems to be taking one bad thing - some people smoke - and adding another bad thing, everyone gets worked up and angry and full of hate at "them". It is easy to make people hate "them". Professor Glantz is using shame and belittling as a way to make smokers "other".

This is a dangerous strategy. As TED talk superstar Brene Brown says in her life-changing book Daring Greatly: "It doesn't matter if the group is a church or a gang or a sewing circle or masculinity itself, asking members to dislike, disown or distance themselves from another group of people as a condition of 'belonging' is always about control and power."

We should question the intentions of any group that insists on disdain towards other people as a membership requirement.

Not that I can talk. I'm just as bad as anyone else. I have lots of people I can't stand.

People with hand-tooled leather signs outside their houses, people with Swiss watch collections, Hooray Henries, yoga bores, wine bores, Louvretec bores, slow walkers, slow talkers, people who wear three-quarter length pants, people who say "Cheer up, it may never happen", soccer moms, skiers, rich socialists, Gwyneth Paltrow, people who clean their cars with a toothbrush, people with novelty coffee cups, parents of "gifted children".

I could go on and I haven't even got to the Sensible Sentencing Trust or my Die Yuppie Scum sub-genres. The point is, that we all have our own list of "them".

The trick is learning not to focus on seeing people as a group who are annoying but instead learning to connect with individual people. Even ones with stick figures of their families on the back of their cars.

And I know two people who have worked for tobacco companies and they don't appear to eat broken bottles and wear barbed wire next to their skin. Perhaps they should meet Professor Glantz.

It would be good to encourage smokers to stop. But using shame is not the way to do it. Smoking is bad for your health. But so is Professor Glantz.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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