One of my mother’s best friends died two days ago. From what I understand, she died from ailments related to her having been a long-time cigarette smoker. She was not very old – just 61 years of age. What a senseless loss. Still, I suppose she was lucky in a way. One of my aunts died from lung cancer from having smoked cigarettes. She was only 48 years old at the time.

And still, despite people dying like this every day, millions and millions of people continue to pollute their bodies and destroy themselves with this shit we call tobacco.

Of course, people who smoke say things like “My uncle Joe smoked three packs a day and he lived to be 95.” Well, lucky for Uncle Joe – but so what? As it happens, today is May 4, 2008 – the first anniversary of my having been hit by a car last year.

That’s right. It was one year ago today that I was crossing the street when a car hit me, knocking me down and causing my head to smash into the ground so hard that I was knocked silly and had to be carted off to a hospital emergency room strapped down to a stretcher, half-choked by the neck restraint they put on me. What does this have to do with smoking cigarettes?

Like “Uncle Joe,” I was lucky. I got hit by a car but managed to escape with a couple of busted fingers and a concussion – not too bad, all things considered. So, just because I managed to get away lucky, does that mean that any of you out there would be willing to step in front of a moving car and get hit just for the fun or the thrill of it? Heck, there’d even be an insurance payment in it for you if you survived. (I got one.) Doesn’t the thrill and the potential for money make it worth giving it a try?

No, of course it doesn’t – but cigarette smokers go ahead and do the same thing every single day by lighting up. The question is: why? After all, people don't generally wake up in the morning and think to themselves, "I'm going to ingest arsenic just for the fun of it," so why should tobacco be different?

Not being a smoker, I can’t really say, but I think a lot of it has to do with image. I once heard that tobacco companies used to place beautiful and elegant looking women (maybe men, too) sitting in hotel lobbies smoking cigarettes to make cigarette smoking appear to be beautiful and elegant. You know: if you smoke cigarettes, you’ll be sexy, you’ll be beautiful, you’ll be hot, you’ll be cool.

Personally, I don’t see what’s so cool about being a patsy. That’s right, a patsy – to a bunch of tobacco company executives who are pissing in their pants with laughter as they happily stroll to the bank, knowing that they’ve hoodwinked you into spending your hard-earned money to buy a product that can bring you nothing but disease and death. (You think the cost of a pound of beef is high? Try figuring out how much a pound of cigarettes costs.)

Naturally, it’s more than just people sitting in hotel lobbies that get people started on smoking. Among other things are all of the films and still photographs made over the years (and that continue to be made) that make cigarette smoking appear to be something desirable. As far as I’m concerned, every single photographer, filmmaker and image maker of any kind who has made cigarette smoking look cool, hot, sexy or attractive in any way has got the blood of thousands on their hands – and if anybody has died as a result of their imagery they can spend eternity burning in the fiery pit of Hell!!!

As for my image at the top here, I can remember how it was made. I was at a workshop in Tuscany ten years ago and we were photographing a local girl, Beatrice. Someone asked her to light up a cigarette – and I was so furious that I stormed out of the room in anger. How dare someone put somebody else at risk like that for the sake of a photograph? Yes, I’m pretty sure that the girl was a smoker, but I would no more give a cigarette to a smoker than I’d give a stiff drink to an alcoholic. If they want to destroy themselves, we don’t need to encourage it.

At first I refused to take a photograph of the girl smoking, but then I relented. I took a few photos of her that way – but only on the condition that if I ever displayed one, I would give it the title “Suicide Attempt,” because that’s what I consider smoking to be. I have never shown it until now, so at last I’m able to follow through with my intention. (Fortunately, most of the photos I made of Beatrice - some of which you’re seeing here, too - were without the cigarette.)

Then there are those people who are afraid to quit smoking for fear of gaining weight after quitting. I once saw a poster at a store in Berlin, Germany, that addressed that pretty well. "Smoking makes you skinny" the poster said (in German, of course) and it showed a picture of a skeleton.

Ultimately, I guess, it’s up to each individual to decide how suicidal his or her behavior should be. Even though governments ban other products as lethal as tobacco, people can smoke themselves to death just as they can drink themselves to death. The main thing is that I don’t have to be affected by their behavior, so as long as I don’t have to breath in the smoke from other people’s cancer sticks, I guess I can’t complain. That still doesn’t leave non-smokers like me totally unaffected, because we feel the pain and the loss when our friends and loved ones succumb to the murderous plans of the tobacco companies and those who support them.

Unfortunately, there are those who still aren’t able to complain – and it really upsets me to see parents smoking with their small children around them. (Not enough to poison themselves; they'll got to poison their kids, too.) Even though smoking indoors is now banned in many places, the outdoors is not necessarily safe, either. Just try walking down the street behind someone smoking a cigarette - or even worse, a cigar - and you’ll end up breathing in the whole stream of smoke (or so it feels).

Sir Walter Raleigh is credited with popularizing tobacco in England after his visits to the New World, so it’s ironic that John Lennon of all people should put it so well in the Beatles’ song, "I’m So Tired":

“I'm so tired, I'm feeling so upset
Although I'm so tired I'll have another cigarette
And curse Sir Walter Raleigh
He was such a stupid get.”

(For another blog posting on this subject, see the one by Fluffytek from last month: http://www.fluffytek.com/blog/2008/04/cigarettes-death-sticks-or-creative.html )

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