Monday, November 23, 2009

Politics, smoking and bullshit

As soon as the man closed the door, Montalbano felt a violent need to smoke. But it was forbidden, and rightly so, since, as everyone knows, passive cigarette smoke kills millions, whereas smog, dioxin and lead in petrol do not.
– Andrea Camilleri,
Excursion to Tindari
As in Vigàta, so in Philadelphia. The city where I live was in the forefront of the movement to ban smoking in public places, and the most recent former mayor may be best remembered for urging the city to lose weight.

These are worthy goals, but I can't help suspect that they were at least in part diversions to take the city's mind off its shrinking population, constant threats of reduction in city services, and winking disregard of laws that are supposed to regulate billboards and mandate public access to sidewalks, among other things. One could make the case that Philadelphia has been in decline since the middle of the nineteenth century, but to acknowledge this would be unoptimistic – that is to say, un-American. Alternately, elected officials may have gravitated to mom-and-apple-pie issues like smoking and obesity because they felt helpless in the face of larger economic forces.

It's no stretch to suggest, as Camilleri does, that individual smokers make easier and safer political targets than do big industries.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Labels: , ,

26 Comments:

Blogger Fred said...

Really?

Guess I was wrong when I thought that gasoline no longer had lead in it.

Or, perhaps he was speaking of Italy and not generalizing to the US?

November 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The book was published in its original Italian in 2000; I don't know what the smog, lead and dioxin scene was in Italy then, and Stephen Sartarelli's informative end notes shed no light on the subject. But the general point is applicable in our own place and time, I think. Individuals make easier targets. (And no, I don't smoke, I never have, and I don't even like the smell of cigarettes. But I'm dubious about the zeal with which everyone seems to be embracing anti-smoking regulations.)

November 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I forgot to mention that Camilleri's own political leanings are of interest here. He's a man of the left, and it's usually conservatives who complain about the nanny state, at least in the U.K. and the U.S.

November 23, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

They can take my Montecristo Habanos from my cold dead hand, or my throat cancer riddled mouth which ever is easier.

I saw an interview with Billy Connolly where he was talking about the city of Vancouver, he mentioned the fact that they had just closed the outdoor smoking area of a cigar bar he liked, whereas they have a government room where heroin addicts can go to shoot up with clean needles.

November 23, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Well, considering the health reports that have emerged from places that have banned smoking in public facilities, I'm not dubious about its value at all.

I'm surprised at the comment as it is nothing more than a "cheap shot."

It's a way of denigrating something by making disparaging remarks about it, such as--"we should focus on something more important than second-hand smoke."

Obviously, reduced incidences of pulmonary problems, reduced sick days, etc. in employees in these places are not really that important.

[Rant mode off]

November 23, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Perhaps Camilleri is trying for a broader audience.

November 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I'd once heard or read that Vancouver had the world's highest per-capita population of heroin addicts. What would happen to an addict who lit up a cigarette while waiting his turn in the clean-needle room?

November 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, do you mean Camilleri's comment was a cheap shot? If that was your intention, why not give him the benefit of the doubt? For one thing, the comment was a passing remark; Camilleri does not explore the theme in any depth. Who knows what he'd say if he did? He does not deny the harm that smoking to do, but I think he does invite readers to wonder whether public health was the only reason for any smoking ban in Italy.

November 23, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

Sorry, I wasn't clear. I didn't mean Camilleri, but Montalbano.

That may or may not represent Camilleri's thinking, since writers, as we all know or should know, frequently have their characters express opinions or ideas they disagree with.

November 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I'm willing to accept Camilleri at his own sarcastic face value. His novels are full of bitter, funny allusions to Italian governments' moral banruptcy. Sartarelli's end notes flesh out these references for we non-Italian readers. Given successive governments' complicity in massive and costly crimes, I might well react with bitter laughter if the same people who awarded construction contracts for highways to nowhere, who worked hand in glove with killers, who ran media monopolies and who tailored laws to help their friends suddenly professed concern for my welfare and ordered me to put my cigarettes away. It is no coincidence that the "Smoking strictly forbidden" sign in Camilleri's scene is posted above a portrait of the Italian president in the office of a most officious official.

November 23, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Personally I think the decline of the west began when men stopped smoking cigars and wearing suits to baseball games. We may live longer and be more comfortable but we are spiritually adrift.

November 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Wikipedia article on Camilleri says that he "is well-known for his love of tobacco."

November 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, you probably would have been a big fan of Connie Mack. He wore suits in the dugout!

One unfortunate result of the crackdown on smoking as an everyday activity is the rebound of cigars as a luxury accessory. When I was a kid, regular guys smoked cigars. Even my father lit one up from time to time. Now, at least in big American cities, only assholes smoke cigars.

A bunch of loud-mouthed cigar-smoking blowhards were in the Pen & Pencil Club one recent evening. As I left the club (not because of them, though their presence did nothing to enhance my evening), I ran into two acquaintances on their way in (both Italian, as it happens -- Italian Italian, and not Italian American). "There's a lot of stronzos in there," I said, and nothing more.

Giancarlo rolled his eyes and said: "You mean guys with cigars?"

November 23, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Cigar Aficionado is a very useful publication for those seeking the answer to the question: "Who will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes." A lot of first class wankers on the cover.

However in every country on Earth bar the one you are currently living in you get can cheap, relaxing Cuban cigars or cigarillos that are a nice antidote to the travails of ordinary life.

November 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

There were some fine cigar factory/shops in the Dominican Republic when I was there. Almost made me wish I smoked. Some of these touted their cigar makers or at least their cigar-making formulas as having come over from Cuba after or just before the revolution.

And not all the wankers are on the covers of Cigar Af. Guys who smoke them always do so with their chins thrust high. Might as well hang a little sign on them that says: "Punch me."

November 24, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Not only are we smokers easier political targets, we're easier tax targets. The price of a pack of Marlboro Lights went up by $1.75 in a single month earlier this year out here. The Feds decided we smokers should pay for the Children's Health Insurance Plan by ourselves, and then the state increased taxes by 2 or 3 cents a cigarette two weeks later.

Price for a pack at Safeway? $8.58.

November 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, thank heavens for you smokers. You spare lawmakers and other elected officials many tough decisions.

November 24, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

I stand corrected.

November 24, 2009  
Blogger Dana King said...

Maybe I missed the point of Camilleri's excerpt. I took it as a well-placed jab at politicians who are happy to take on those who really can't do much about it (in this case, smokers) rather than those who make large campaign contributions (polluters), not as a comparison between the relative damages done by each.

Full disclosure: I'm in favor of designated smoking areas, from personal experience. I'm highly allergic to cigarette smoke; my eyes and nose can remain irritated for hours. Cigars don't bother me as much, for some reason, except for the truly foul-smelling ones. I actually have fond memories of smelling (some) cigars at baseball games when I was a kid. Today, though, too high a percentage of cigar smokers are, as Adrian said, wankers.

November 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, you'd only need correction if you got the impression that the Camilleri of "Excustion to Tindari" opposes or belittles crackdowns on smoking. He and his protagonist both enjoy a smoke, but, at least in the relevant passage in this book, his target is decidedly the Italian government rather than smoking.

November 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, that's exactly how I read the passage. Camilleri's Montalbano novels are full of sharp jabs at the Italian government. This is one of them.

I took an occasional puff of a cigarette when I was a kid, I smoked one cigarette in college to shock my friends, and I bought a clay pipe as a souvenir in the Netherlands and took a few puffs from it. Other than this, I have never smoked, and I hate the smell of cigarettes. I favor designated smoking areas, too, and I am much happier in smokeless areas than in smoke-filled ones. I support regulation of smoking but remain suspicious of the motives of the folks who make the regulations, at least in this case.

And yes, cigar smokers are at least as toxic as their cigars.

November 24, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking quotation. Even though I am a non-smoker, I think there is quite a lot of hypocrisy to the recent witch-hunt of smokers.

November 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The problem may be more opportunism than hypocrisy, but in essence we agree. And then there is plain old bad manners. I've never smoked, but I've seen some non-smokers so rude and self-righteous that I wished I could light up and blow a cloud right in their faces.

November 25, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

I rest my case about attitudes re anti-smoking laws. Recent messages have proved my point. The real point is an attack on anti-smoking laws, and government hypocrisy (whether real or imagined) is only an excuse for dumping on them.

November 25, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Camilleri _is_ Montalbano in this instance because Camilleri himself is a proudly unregenerate smoker. From an article in the LA Times earlier this year: He's a chain-smoker, a habit he describes as "imbecilic." "On the other hand, I have made it to 83," he says. "Maybe if I quit cigarettes today, I would drop dead."

I recall a Harry Bosch novel in which he is a passenger in a car, lights up, and gets the disapproving stare or harangue from the nonsmoking driver. Harry offers to roll down the window to get some of that nice, clean, fresh LA air into the car instead...

Early on in Ian Rankin's "Dead Souls" (which I'm reading now): Rebus inhaled, holding the smoke as he examined the tip of his cigarette. Exhaling, he shook his head. "Christ, I love smoking."

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Good for Rebus and Rankin. I've said it, and I'll say it again: I've never smoked, and I much prefer a room without smoke. I also have little disagreement with anti-smoking laws — as long as they are unaccompanied by self-righteousness.

December 02, 2009  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home