A Laoag City executive was unabashed in smoking in full public view during grand parades in last month’s Pamulinawen Festival. While school boys and girls passed by to show respect for the VIPs, there he was at the middle of the stage, puffing no end, stick after stick. And he was even seated beside the Sangguniang Kabataan Federation chair, a minor.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire this public servant, as he has received prestigious awards, for him and for the city, for his outstanding leadership. His productivity even increased when, lately, he is said to have controlled his drinking problem, which is, or was, one of his very few waterloos. Given all his achievements, he has my respect.
However, I fervently hope our leaders really become more sensitive in this respect. Come on, smoking is not really something we could be proud of. I would not urge the city official to quit the vice as he has his own mind and we respect it. But, smoking in public is just so off, especially if you are a person looked up to by many. Presidents Aquino and Obama are known smokers, but they are never seen engaging in the vice. Indeed, gone are the days when senators were allowed to smoke during legislative sessions, and gone, too, are the advertisements that make us believe that cigarettes help one become better in sports or in hooking up with girls. Smoking, dear karikna, is just so out of fashion.
Other cities are already strictly implementing ordinances against smoking in public spaces. In Baguio, you could not puff on the streets. The city’s Comprehensive Anti-Smoking Ordinance prohibits smoking in public utility vehicles, government-owned vehicles or other means of public transport, accommodation and entertainment establishments, public buildings, public places, enclosed public places or any enclosed area outside one’s private resident or private place of work except in duly-designated smoking rooms. The ordinance metes violators with fines ranging from P500 to P2,000 or imprisonment or not less than one to six months or both upon discretion of the courts. And even if no enforcer would catch you smoking, you would really be ashamed to light up, unless you can stand the dagger looks of non-smokers around you.
In Iloilo and neighboring provinces Guimaras and Capiz, all of which I visited last week, anti-smoking campaigns are also gaining momentum. Posters and placards, reminders that smoking is an enemy that needs to be beaten, are abound.
A few years ago in Laoag City, there were also attempts to impose penalties on public smoking, but the implementation was short-lived, most probably because of lack of political will, and I am not wondering why.
Lito was a close friend at a Malacañang office where we both worked some years ago. With very good communication skills and a bedroom voice, he could easily be a radio talent. He smoked one pack a day. He did not consider it heavy smoking but I did, as I only smoked a maximum of five sticks daily at that time. When reminded of the health hazards of tobacco, he would dismiss it saying that all of us will die anyway. He would dismiss the warning as killjoy, and change the topic.
I was, however, surprised to read this in his facebook page recently:
“Last January 2011, I was diagnosed of cancer of the larynx. Summer nag-cobalt ako. Nawala. After one month, bumalik. Sabi ng doctor, surgery na para sigurado. So, I had to make a choice – lose my voice or lose my life? Last November, I had to undergo total laryngectomy due to cancer, meaning I no longer have my voice—the voice which is a main tool in my job gone forever. That was the choice I made because I opted to enjoy smoking then. ‘But it was just one pack a day,’ I used to rationalize! Now, I face the consequences. You, too, will have to face the consequences one day, if you insist on continuing the habit. There are no exceptions! The doctor who gave me the verdict, in fact, congratulated me – because I had it in my voice box. Had it been in the lungs, my son would have been orphaned by now. When I was in the hospital, I had co-cancer patients with me – pancreas, kidneys, gall bladder – they all had their stories to tell. But we had one common denominator – smoking! Your choice – no one is stopping you – but be ready for whatever comes.”
Okay, Lito may sound scaring and preachy, but I know you understand why. We have seen on TV people who have tubes inserted in their throats which allow them to speak like robots, and these images are scary, but not as scary as when the victim is someone you know, like I know dear Lito, my former smoking buddy.
But do I still smoke? I am really struggling against it. I still do when I drink (“A double whammy,” says Riknakem loyalist Tita Lita) or when I am under stressful conditions, which are thankfully not everyday. I have really minimized my tobacco consumption and, in the next weeks, I hope to be able to quit for good, at last, finally. My previous cessation attempts were obviously unsuccessful, but I have a very positive vibe this time. I am not the type of writer who gets thrilled when smoke fills the computer monitor, like we see in movies. And I am not making any excuses for it, not even that I live in a tobacco-producing province. Really, I am very ashamed. And I need people to encourage me to really quit smoking, be it in public or in private.
I have very high respect for those who don’t smoke or have quit smoking for good. I admire their discipline and resolve. They are very cool people, and only misguided teenagers would really think smoking is cool. I figured that even those who rationalize their smoking, deep inside, want to, if only they have enough courage, quit.
But asked by a friend, who knew of my determination to rest my case (my cigarette case), whether I was also bidding goodbye to SanMig Light, I said, “Of course not, that is another story. Don’t be cruel.”