Friday 06 December 2002

Smokers are selfish scum

Map of Sydney bushfire locations, 4 December, 2002Summer has hardly commenced and Sydney is again ringed by bushfires described as the worst in the last 20 years. A combination of high temperatures, low humidity, and strong winds has led to dozens of serious fires on the outskirts of the metropolitan area. Parents have been advised to keep their children at home, the rail system is in chaos, and major roads are closed (including the main highways to the north and west).

Yesterday I spent the day working in North Sydney, across the harbor. I arrived at the railway station around 6pm, expecting to catch a train back to Newtown where I live, only to find that services were suspended. Bushfires under powerlines had caused problems with the electricity grid, leading to signal failures. The trains had ground to a halt. I was lucky. I took a pleasant two kilometer walk across the Harbor Bridge from North Sydney to the CBD and caught a bus home. Hundreds of thousands of rail commuters were trapped on trains for a couple of hours or more. Other Sydneysiders lost everything they owned.

It is believed that most of the fires were the result of human behavior: either deliberate or from acts of negligence. Tonight the State Premier appealed to smokers not to discard lit cigarette butts from moving vehicles, warning that they faced criminal charges and 14-year jail sentences.

Smokers really are selfish scum. They pollute the air and despoil the landscape with discarded cigarette packages and butts, putting their need for a nicotine fix above the comfort and health of most of the population. The only thing that can be said in their favor is that the tax on tobacco products more than covers the cost of their inevitable need for medical care.

You’d think that even the most inconsiderate arsehole would think twice before tossing a smoldering match or cigarette butt into tinder-dry bushland in the middle of a heatwave. They don’t. If only their homes and cherished possessions were destroyed by fire, as well as their hearts and lungs. (On second thought, maybe they don’t have hearts—just polluted, festering lungs.)

Update. Dave Winer takes me to task in the comments on this post for failing to make the distinction “between smokers who start fires and the vast majority of smokers who don’t.” Fair point: sweeping generalizations like the one I made are neither reasonable nor helpful—though Dave’s plea for tolerance would merit more consideration if smokers didn’t appear to be so monumentally indifferent to the discomfort their habit causes those who must inhale secondhand smoke.

(For the record, although I’m happy to live in a state where smoking is forbidden in restaurants and I’m equally relieved it’s been banned by most airlines, I don’t support banning smoking in pubs or clubs—that seems unnecessarily harsh. As long as smoking remains legal, smokers should be able to enjoy their habit in at least some public places. Nor am I opposed to cigarette advertising; if a product is legal, its manufacturer should be free to advertise it. I accept the inconsistency of my position, preferring to see it as pragmatic. Banning cigarettes entirely would be no more practical than Prohibition was in Twenties America.)

As for smokers who throw lit butts from their cars, reading a review of Keith Bradsher’s book, High and Mighty led me to think that perhaps it’s smokers who drive SUVs who are the culprits. Bradsher says that research by automakers reveals SUV buyers to be:

insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities.

This Salon interview with Keith Bradsher offers persuasive evidence that SUVs pollute and kill. Like cigarettes.

More. Smokers aren’t to blame at all, argues Sydney Morning Herald columnist Miranda Devine, it’s the fault of Premier Bob Carr and the Greens:

We all need a scapegoat right now as NSW burns. But I suggest we make it the guy with the deep voice and the hard hat who has been touring burnt-out suburbs.

Carr has presided over seven years of green-inspired neglect of proper fire management of bushland in NSW, creating an environment exquisitely vulnerable to arson attack, or the careless flick of a cigarette, or a spark from a car exhaust.

She hasn’t twigged to the SUV angle, though.

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Comments

That's really gross Jonathan. Of course smokers have hearts and lungs, and feelings. Your post is very angry and just as selfish as you claim smokers are. Sure, the small number of smokers who start fires are selfish people. But hopefully you can tell the difference between smokers who start fires and the vast majority of smokers who don't. I'm only recently on safe ground in this area, having been a smoker for 31 years until last June. Smokers are even more despised than men, never allowed to speak, and easy targets for this kind of abuse, even from intelligent people such as yourself. It's fine to hate smoking, but be real careful about hating people.

Posted by Dave Winer on 6 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Ooops, sorry for mis-spelling your first name.

Posted by Dave Winer on 6 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Thanks for your feedback, Dave, which I've attempted to address in an update to the post. As for mis-spelling my first name, don't worry. It used to drive me batty but it happens so frequently that now it doesn't trouble me at all. (Now if I could apply that lesson to increasing my tolerance of smoking...)

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 6 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

If the smokers who are decent human beings thought they had a chance at respect from non-smokers I think they would self-police other smokers who aren't so considerate with considerable zeal. There are a lot of lessons in this. Why couldn't I have gotten away with saying this six months ago? BTW, I'm not so generous as you about smoking in public places. I hate the smell. I don't think I should have to breathe other people's smoke. I felt that way when I was a smoker too. In Sept I checked into a non-smoking hotel room that was smoked-up and quite upset about it. Seeya later.

Posted by Dave Winer on 6 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I don't see any correlation between SUV driving and tossing butts out the window. For years, I screamed every time I saw some jackass toss a spent cigarette out the window of his/her car; more recently, I keep the screaming internal. But I am hyper-aware of tossed cigarettes; for some reason, it just sets me off, one of my pet peeves. I haven't actually counted cars vs. SUVs or anything, but I've seen just as many car drivers toss the stinking burning residue of their filthy habit out the window as SUV drivers.

As for whether they're self-centered and self-absorbed, I think maybe that's self-evident. :-)

Posted by ralph on 6 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I smoked for 27 years before quitting several years ago. Now I have very little tolerance for cig smoke. (Not surprising, I had to quit because I had developed a serious allergy to cig smoke.)

Unfortunately, I moved to a state that has the third highest smoker rate in the country, and it shows. Particularly with the enormous number of people that throw their cig butts out the window when they drive (far too common here). And entering a building is an exercise in holding one's breath as you run past the smokers lined up outside having a ciggie break.

Posted by Burningbird on 7 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Ouch.

At least I dont have an SUV ;}

Posted by ray on 7 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

In retrospect, I realize I got somewhat carried away writing this post -- an anti-smoking Mr Hyde popped out from behind my usual (tolerant) Dr Jekyll self. The TV footage of firefighters struggling to contain the flames, weeping men and women standing outside the smoldering embers of what were once their homes, the fact that the police have a tough enough job trying to catch and/or deter the arsonists who are responsible for many of the bushfires...

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 7 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I think you are a jerk. Your one of those guys that want to control other people. Who's to say that some non smoker didn't play with matches. I understand the cig smoke does bother some people. However, if it bothers them then they should stay away from it instead of trying to force smokers to stay away form them. Smokers have rights the same as others and as long as it is legal to buy tobacco products, the nonsmokes can go hell. I'am tired of being told what I have to do all the time.

Posted by Ron on 28 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour