Shaffer: Smokers are people, too

Everybody blames the smokers. One little fire in Branford and the hegemonic, white-lunged majority hurls hatred at a threatened and dwindling, black-lunged minority. The comments on the News’ Web site disturb me. One poster, an anonymous coward, even used the slur “hipster.” That hurt.

Then things got worse. Last week, Julie Kunrath SPH ’11 lashed out in a fumophobic column (“Making our Campus Tobacco Free,” Oct. 28). If she had her way, smokers wouldn’t be welcome at Yale. It’s like when Sarah Palin tried to deport every Muslim after September 11. I suspect the religious right is behind this, too. (Curse you, Bush! Is there no end to your evil?)

Every generation has its own moral panic. Once, leagues of Virtuous Victorian Mothers invented elaborate surveillance techniques and physical contraptions to stop their darling boys’ onanistic transgressions. Today, Virtuous Modern Mothers demand exorbitant taxes and sophisticated propaganda to stop smoking.

Victorians devoted entire industries and genres of literature to the cult of chastity. Today, multi-million dollar lobbies and vast industries promote the cult of health fetishism. “Keep your lungs clean! Buy our healthy product! Aerobic exercise is the way, the truth and the light! Only the toned and soft-skinned shall achieve salvation!”

In New York, my home, the mothers are particularly virtuous, particularly desirous of raising virtuous boys, and particularly adamant in ensuring that the legislature cooperates. So, in high school, we don’t learn American history, or math, or grammar, or other reactionary subjects, but instead do three things: watch anti-smoking videos, make banana-condoms, and celebrate the diversity of our nearly all-white suburbs.

As far as I could tell these were the only requirements for graduating. If you were really good — applying a sex-ready condom in 5.0 seconds flat, and never thinking about considering trying smoking — you got sent to the Ivy League. My friend got so sick of the propaganda he smoked for spite. He got sent to a state school. I, however, kept the faith. Once I saw a man smoking while driving. I told my mother to call the cops. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was thinking. But, boy, did I hate smokers. I got sent to Yale.

Smokers are a marginalized minority here. Literally marginalized. They pepper the edges of courtyards, cast out by intolerant suitemates into the frigid and perilous outdoors, where there is weeping and chattered gnashing of cigarette butts. They’re not allowed in restaurants, and some people won’t hire them.

Let’s fight back. Across campus there are bags of free condoms. If you’re going to copulate, do so safely. Why not add bags of elegant cigarette holders? If you’re going to smoke, at least do it in style!

And how about a smoker’s center or at least a lounge? Everyone just needs a health-fanaticism-and-judgment-free zone in which to assume an elegant posture, hold fire between the fingertips, savor that succulent flavor, watch that blue-gray smoke dance like Salome, and enjoy that hit of nicotine, without fear of medical students, or the beautiful, toned people from magazine covers. We could have a veritable Lethe in which we forget our many troubles, our problem sets, our joblessness and the withering of our youthful vitality. How better to capture that old Yale aesthetic of squandered privilege than a lounge for gratuitously squandered health?

For the record, I’m not a smoker, in case you were wondering. But it’s not like there’s anything wrong with it, so I wouldn’t be ashamed if I were. But I’m not. Just so you know.

I respect the smokers, though. Some of history’s greatest figures were smokers. Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Sherlock Holmes — evidently nicotine helps you solve problem sets and murder mysteries — Sartre, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and our current President, Barack Hussein Obama! If smoking were banned at Yale, none of these people would feel welcome at our esteemed University. They would get headaches after a couple hours.

Why do anti-smoking zealots really want to keep Barack Obama away? I don’t remember them whining about smoking when FDR was President. So is it really about smoking, or is it just that Barack is Hawaiian? Let the reader decide.

Fight fumophobia. I have a dream that my fellow Elis will one day live in a dorm where they will not be judged by the color of their lungs but by the content of their character.

That day isn’t here yet. I blame Sarah Palin.

Matthew Shaffer is a senior in Davenport College.

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