Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Harassing Smokers, Part 2: This One Touched a Real Nerve

By Scott Mowbray

Last week, as we kicked off our new How to Quit Smoking section on, I asked this question: Is It OK to Harass the Smokers We Love? The response was overwhelming—from smokers, former smokers, nonsmokers, children of smokers, parents of smokers, educators, and hospital workers.

Now the word “harass” raised a lot of hackles (I intended it to). Sarcasm was a common response, as from reader MAS: “Sure, harass away! Next we’ll turn the kiddies loose on the oldies, fatties, drunks, and anyone else who might ultimately become burdensome to society.”

JF wrote: “The problem with allowing kids to harass the smokers they love is that it gives kids carte blanche to harass everyone who smokes—including strangers and parents’ acquaintances.”

Many smokers said that harassment simply makes them light up, out of annoyance or spite. As Jessica put it, “I was at a party and some random person put up a huge stink about me smoking (outside). She told me secondhand smoke kills and I told her I was counting on it.”

But some ex-smokers said campaigns by children or spouses had been decisive in their quitting.

Awareness of the effects of secondhand smoke (SHS) on children also leads some parents to quit. Good thing: A CDC summary released last week noted that although antismoking legislation covering public places has significantly reduced SHS exposure among adults, “a higher prevalence of SHS exposure was still evident in the groups aged 4-11 years and 12-19 years” from 1999 to 2004. Kids are among the most vulnerable, and many parents smoke where kids breathe.

Some users asked why smoking was singled out—why not obesity, drinking, and other well-known dangers? “So don’t throw stones, dwellers in glass houses,” said one. “Hello, Brave New World,” wrote MAS.

But some of the most thoughtful posts reflected a sense of love, concern, and propriety. Sue wrote of a smoking friend, age 50, whom she gently encourages: “Should we paper his computer with Post-it notes, stage an intervention, email him photos of diseased lungs, shame him into quitting? Our motives are pure, but those actions would surely damage our friendship. He is struggling with his addiction. He doesn’t need us to point out the obvious.”

And Stephen concluded: “I absolutely believe that as humans we have an obligation to the people around us. This includes telling them when they are harming themselves and others such as smoking and other destructive behaviors. I don’t know what works but I know that supportive talking is at least a start.”

Read my first smoking post, Is It OK to Harass the Smokers We Love?
Read 97 Reasons to Quit Smoking. (You can email it to a smoker.)

Read the latest science on quitting.


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