WARNING: The following column contains references to smoking, which is injurious to health and also makes you smell like an ashtray. Developing embryos are advised to stop reading right now.
Cigarettes have always been the most stylish way of getting lung cancer. You know this, I know this and the dumbest dungbeetle on the planet knows this. But recently, a few BJP MPs stunned the scientific establishment by saying that we maybe kinda need more studies to establish a clear link between tobacco and cancer, in the same way that we need more evidence to find a link between gravity and falling off a building.
The gentlemen in question were Dilip Gandhi and Shyama Charan Gupta, members of a parliamentary panel whose job, among other things, was to decide whether or not to increase the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco products from 40% to 85%. Another logical argument that came up during this process was, “I can show you so many chain smokers who do not have cancer”, which is like saying “I saw that one dude on TV who eats tubelights and he seems fine, so maybe swallowing crushed glass is okay for you.”
Fun Fact: Mr. Gupta owns Shyam Bidi Works, one of the largest bidi manufacturers in the country, but I’m sure that’s a total coincidence. Sanjay Jha, aka the Congress’s version of Suhel Seth, weighed in on this coincidence, saying that one did not have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the vested interests at play. At this point, a lesser man would have retired to the mountains, filled with loathing about the fact that he made Sanjay Jha appear sensible.
Thankfully, the government rebutted all of Gupta and Gandhi’s arguments with an official statement saying “Bhai, tu rehn de”, and said that they would go ahead with the plan to increase the size of pictorial warnings. This is great news for all those who believe that smokers actually care about such things. You could sell the damn things with a warning that says ‘THIS IS POISON. IT WILL ROT YOU FROM THE INSIDE AND TURN YOU INTO A HUMAN TUMOUR WITH A VOICE THAT SOUNDS LIKE RANI MUKHERJEE AND FARHAN AKHTAR GARGLING TOGETHER’ and it wouldn’t matter.
By all means, double the size of the images of the mouth sores and lesions and tumours, because that’s just more real-estate for smokers to ignore. Heck, you could sell cigarettes encased inside an actual diseased lung – have them fish out a pack from inside a blackened, slimy slab of cancerous tissue – and their only reaction would be, “Bro you have a light or what?”
This is the part where I get to be smug and say that I don’t smoke, because I have amazing willpower and I should get a medal for it. But the truth is that I can’t handle it, which is the only good thing about having a rubbish respiratory system. My lungs are so sensitive, they perform slam poetry on weekends.
I know this because like every stupid college kid out there, I tried. For a couple of weeks, I checked out a bunch of options to see what the fuss was about. The reviews ranged from coughing and puking (gold flakey nonsense) to nausea and puking (milds) to expensive nausea and puking (“David Hoff”, as a friend put it) to a double shot of impotence (“girly menthol crap”) and of course, the garams, that were lit ten years ago and are probably still burning.
I didn’t try beedis because you’re only allowed to smoke those if you’re squatting outside a building gate with a muffler wrapped around your head. All in all, it was a daft thing to do, especially because I live in Mumbai and I can get free cancer home-delivered to my body just by breathing.
Whenever this issue comes up, there are always people who wonder why you can’t just ban tobacco outright. It’s a complex issue involving agriculture, finance, trade and science but I’m going to try and break it down for you:
Money good. People like money. People no like if you mess with their money. Mmmmm. Money. *frolics naked in a pool of dollar bills*
What works though, are all the restrictions on advertising, public smoking and of course, not selling to minors, which is really the big one. So if you’re a young person reading this, do not even bother trying to smoke. Those things are super addictive, like heroin or popping bubble wrap, and quitting is going to be a pain. Seriously, you’re better off eating tubelights.
(Note: This is my HT column dated 26th Apr 2015.)