How to Persecute a Smoker

You do not have to try very hard to make the smoker feel miserable. I know, having persecuted smokers for forty five years with all the zeal of the reformed addict. I gave up smoking in 1952 on medical advice. The doctor said I would suffer if I continued to smoke. Although he spoke of chronic lung disease the suffering I feared was a spanking. The doctor in question was my father.

I heeded his advice although it wasn’t easy. Every afternoon on our return from school my older brother and I encountered warm cigarette butts dropped onto the paved area where Dad’s smoking patients smoked until Dad called them in and started to persecute them for smoking. Dennis and I liked to pick up the butts, still gleaming with warm saliva, and take a little puff. Addictive stuff.

Once I was a medical student I could commence practice in my own right. I did so with a will. Never more sincere is the doctor than when battling against smoking: the cigarette and the doctor, precisely opposed, work to antithetical ends: the doctor needs to save, the cigarette needs to sell the next cigarette. In the end death defeats both doctor and cigarette. In the grave no-one sees a doctor and no-one smokes – hell might be different – and both Phillip Morris and Doctors Goldenberg have lost a customer, an addict, a slave.

Over the course of my initial decade as a doctor I grilled every patient capable of holding a cigarette about smoking. It didn’t matter what prompted your visit – the common cold, halitosis from any orifice, bleeding gums or malformed toes – I asked: “Are you a smoker?”

If the answer came, “Yes”, I was off. I informed, I warned, I hectored, I described the coils of cancer and told you smokers stank and as a result they got less sex. I lied. Of course I lied. For the greater good – we do that – we, the militant non-addicted.

I was good at my job. The confessed smoker (Yes Doctor, I did smoke half a cigarette… last month… it was my fourteenth birthday) sits arraigned before me. Relentlessly virtuous, like Senator Joe Mc Carthy, I pursued her.

After a decade I conducted an audit: of 50,000 patients I knew of two who ceased smoking on my advice. Both were ladies well into their eighties. The remainder? They listened to my advice, my graphic predictions, they quivered, shivered, trembled, and – crests fallen – they hurried outside and lit up a comforting fag. Some, too far gone in their degraded state, far beyond fear, felt simple shame. In their misery, they paid, they left, they lit up.

I am sure part of the secret of my success was my sincerity. My purity. I’d ask, not “Do you smoke?” but, “Are you a smoker?” No longer a person but a type, the confessed malefactor sat among the categories, the undesirables: rapists, stabbers, mother rapists…

They’d confess: “Yes, I blow up buses, yes I molest small children, yes” – whispering now – “I smoke.”

We see her, the smoker, in her degraded state. Huddled with others in winter doorways, banished from indoors, she shivers just as she smokes her entrails. Ragged, condemned, outside, outside of the good.

History of course tells us that one day she will rise. Her time will come. Gathering others who are disrespected – the homeless, the mentally ill, global warming deniers, real estate agents, politicians, clergy, boat people, Muslims, Zionists – she and all those we have persecuted will agglomerate and strike. Blowing cigarette smoke in our faces, the smoker will have her day.