The monster within us

Abstract: Why we should leave smokers alone…

I caught a glimpse of her upper thigh as she teasingly lured the hem of her skirt towards her waist. My breath shortened in expectation waiting for a heavenly full disclosure. What would I see, what would she show me? She shrieked with delight and then collapsed on the table to tremendous applause from her friends. The party nearby had been going at it all afternoon and was clearly in an advanced stage of celebration. They had encouraged one of the girls to take to the table in a high-kicking act of can-can, but she couldn’t. Instead, she had lifted her skirt in a sensual tease before the sudden increase in altitude cleared her head of consciousness.

As I replayed the image in my mind it was accompanied by a subtext that had nothing, and yet everything, to do with her brief display of bravado: Never anger a dragon, for you are crunchy and you go well with Brie.

If there was ever proof that we have evolved from animals further down the food chain, it is not in any comparison of physical features or genetic compatibility, it emerges whenever we cheerily toss back a couple of drinks.

For some strange reason, we enthusiastically embrace social pressure and leap to the lure of advertising when it comes to boozing. We feel positively anal if we don’t have one more for the road and we suffer the slings and arrows of peer ridicule if we should dare choose a glass of water over a glass of wine. All this even though we are well aware that the moment we succumb to the effects of alcohol in our bloodstream, we let loose the sequential beasts within us: the lamb, lion, the monkey and the pig and their respective characters: the meek, the brave, the silly and the loathsome.

This past Monday a wagging finger was pointed in the direction of all smokers and they were reminded of the dangers of their habit and threatened that stricter laws were going to be introduced to punish them with the hope of stomping out once and for all this insidious malpractice.

Fears of the smoking police were resurrected and images emerged of shamed smokers, found hiding and puffing behind outbuildings, being dragged into courthouses with hecklers hot on their heels waving placards calling for a public record of all purveyors of this menacing crime.
And yet, what should we find them guilty of? Purposefully inflicting harm on themselves? Smelling smoky? Tasting like an ashtray when you kiss them? Anyone who lights up nowadays knows the dangers and adverse effects of smoking, and they do it well aware that they are only harming themselves. Perhaps we should rather concentrate on controlling a substance that encourages the raping, maiming and killing of innocent people.

You know – the stuff the Springboks endorse.

Everytime the South African rugby team runs onto the field – except in France – they proudly sanction a product that crosses the ‘hurt line’ – that line that separates consumer and victim. Smokers inflict damage on themselves and hardly ever cross the hurt line unless they insist on smoking near others – such as children.

Do you ever hear about someone causing an accident whilst under the influence of nicotine? Are our family courts packed full of wife-beaters who claim mitigating circumstances at the time of the crime because they had just polished off a pack of 20 Benson and Hedges Extra Mild?

South Africa boasts amongst the highest levels of car accidents, rape, wife-beating and HIV/AIDS infection in the world. In each crime, alcohol invariably plays a part; whether it is in diminishing responsibility, inflating bravado, releasing inhibitions or discharging controlled anger. Cigarettes may constrict our lungs but alcohol releases the beast.

Apparently, according to the Old Testament, when Noah planted a vine to help reforest a drowned world, he was approached by Satan and asked what he was doing. Noah explained that the fermented fruits of the vine made people merry. Satan thought this was a jolly good thing and asked if it was all right for him to sacrifice a couple of animals beneath this vine to wish it well. Noah agreed.

The animals were a lamb, a lion, a monkey and a pig; which, according to the Biblical grapevine, explains why with the first drink we consume we are meek, with the second we get brave, the third foolish and by the fourth drink we are wallowing in our own wee. This story troubles me in that a man who was clever enough to collect a male and female of each one of the more than 50 000 different species of beetle was similarly daft enough to be duped by Satan.

The reality is that we can’t blame Noah, or Satan, for the effects of alcohol. Similarly, the drinking of alcohol can no longer be claimed as a mitigating factor in any crime. Thankfully there has been a dramatic shift in the laws of this land. According to the statutes, the moment you start drinking, you are aware of the dangers of the effects of alcohol. But I am afraid things are too late.

For too long smoking has been designated the sin tax bad guy; yet we are continually encouraged to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ or to ‘drown our sorrows’ in the wonders of Castle Lager. I hope the Springbok rugby team ponders upon that every time someone has one more for the road, drives through a red robot and kills a family; or, fuelled with false courage buries his fist in his wife’s face; or drags a female colleague into an empty office at Christmas time and rapes her.

Perhaps it’s time we did a morality check and asked ourselves where the real danger lies: in the chemical that coats our lungs or the one that unleashes the monster within us to prey upon the innocent. Cheers.

Published in the Sunday Times on Sunday 06 June 2004