Smoking Bad, Smokers Automatically Not

Feb 12 , 2022
By Kidist Yidnekachew

On a commute in public transportation, a driver pointed to a woman smoking in the car. I thought it was only the man who was smoking. It turns out the lady was partaking in the bad habit as well. Judging from his tone, it is evident that he disapproved of smokers. He kept talking about how the smoke catches on one’s clothes, car and house and how it was challenging to get rid of the smell.

How many people have started smoking at a young age either due to peer pressure or because they thought it is was cool, influenced by movies and the music industry? How many have found it impossible to wean off the habit?

The driver was right. Smoking is a bad habit. But untrue was his association of smokers with moral failings. It is understandable that he despises the smell. But there was a time when smoking was considered hip and many in urban areas puffed away. Fast forward to now, it is regarded as a significant health hazard, which is scientifically proven. But those people who lived to see it all act like they never smoked a day in their lives or have never seen anyone who do so until the younger generation.

Back in the day, many campus students used to smoke. It was such a trend it was even described in Hiwot Tefera’s “Tower in the Sky,” an autobiographical work narrating student resistance. At the time, a lot of university students smoked. There was also the double standard that it was acceptable for men to smoke but not for women. In the 70s, it might have been considered okay for women to smoke in some circles. Nowadays, I meet male smokers who argue that it is off-putting for women to smoke. It is nonsensical.

Whenever we discuss substance addiction, we need to dissociate the behaviour from the people. This way, we could put in place more humane and effective policies. Few would deny that smoking harms the respiratory system, not just of those that smoke but also those around them. Still, cigarette uptake in no way changes a person’s character unless they are in withdrawal, in which case they are irritable and moody. Right after their smoke, they are back to their old selves.

This is why it is offensive to associate smokers with being morally corrupt. Somehow, all their positive attributes get cancelled for being a smoker. If they were problematic in some way initially, it is another matter. But smoking does not make them less of a person; it is a weakness, true, but it does not make them a villain.

I hear people often change their minds about someone after learning that they smoke.

What changed? Would they have remained a good person if they kept their smoking a secret?

A person could be loving, understanding and hardworking but could be suspected of offence simply because they smoke. Maybe the person wants to quit too, or their parents were to blame if they were smokers and bad role models for their children. The double standards along gender, age, status and class are even more unfortunate.

If a person is financially well off, they are not seen with much suspicion. If they are not loaded, then they are a junkie. There is also the age factor where elderly smokers are more tolerated than young people. People with higher educational attainment are similarly respected regardless of whether they smoke or not, but a middle-aged man with a regular job and level of educational status is demonised for smoking no matter how responsible to society.

Smoking needs to be discouraged. But the attempt to humiliate and dehumanise smokers, or any other substance abuser, will exasperate the social ill. Smoking could be eradicated faster and more efficiently when the attempts to discourage it are humane.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 12,2022 [ VOL 22 , NO 1137]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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