SUNDAY TIMES - Smokers are the new lepers - but they need some love too
Sunday Times Opinion & Analysis By Ndumiso Ngcobo, 2017-03-19 00:00:00.0

Smokers are the new lepers - but they need some love too

Some radio jock recently decided that it was a brilliant idea to start a debate about which habit is better, drinking or smoking.

It has always baffled me why smoking is always pitted against drinking in these conversations. It makes just as much sense as asking what's better: paying tithes to a prosperity preacher or stuffing R20 bills down a stripper's G-string at The Summit Club just because both acts involve giving money to a morally pliable individual.

(Correct answer: "Why can't I go to The Summit after tithing?")

It was only a matter of time before some Einstein called in to the programme to make the point that while drinking is bad for you, at least it doesn't directly affect those around you the same way that secondary smoke does.

That bus is never late. I'm guessing that caller has never had go on all fours and scrub sour-smelling, regurgitated hors d'oeuvres off the bedroom carpet after one's better half has emptied her stomach contents after a cocktail party. Hypothetically speaking.

Some years ago I authored a piece titled 'A vacuum-brained cretin leaves a paper foil trail. Smokers are idiots.' OK, it was more a rant than anything else. In it, I chastised smokers, even going as far as writing, "I do not know what effect nicotine has on the part of the brain that controls consideration for others ... but when smokers congregate on an area ... it looks like someone detonated a grenade what with all the matchsticks, cigarette stubs and foil."

In my defence, I wrote the article hardly two hours after I'd been following some guy who was unwrapping his cigarette pack and dumping it on my windscreen, bit by bit. And after he was done, the showstopper was the burning stompie that also landed on my screen.

Later, when I asked a smoker friend why smokers never use their car ashtrays, he looked at me like I was stupid. "Are you crazy? Do you know what the interior smells like with cigarette butts?"

However, this is not the "let's bash smokers" column. I'm merely pointing out that smokers are people too and that I, for one, am fully behind their choices. Besides, taking pot-shots at smokers and the smoking industry is just shooting fish in a barrel these days. They are the new lepers.

There's a company I walk past at least three times a week. Their smoking zone is outside, underneath a steel staircase, next to an exhaust pipe from the toilets.

I remember walking past in the middle of July last year and watching these children of a clearly lesser god huddled under the stairs in sub-Antarctic temperatures, trying to light their fags using fingers covered in thermal gloves.

I remember... watching these children of a clearly lesser god huddled under the stairs in sub-Antarctic temperatures, trying to light their fags

One fellow lit up, took one-and-a-half drags, stuffed about 93% of his ciggy into a flower pot and scurried back into the building before hypothermia set in. Not once did I ever see Imtiaz Sooliman and the Gift of the Givers there distributing blankets and chicken noodle soup, even when it's clear that there is a humanitarian disaster unfolding in front of our very eyes.

I blame our president-in-waiting, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. That woman is a rabid anti-smoker who heartlessly weaned Thabo Mbeki off his intellectual pipe, wiping about 20 IQ points from his image.

You have to admit that a pipe creates an aura of rugged sophistication. But if you're a woman, don't try this at home because... patriarchy. That's it. We must all stay in our respective lanes.

Besides, smokers have to be the most social human beings in the Milky Way. I have yet to witness a smoker desperately seeking a lighter or a "loose draw" and being turned down by another smoker. Even if a human chimney is enjoying her very last fag, she'll leave at least three drags for the other smoke exhaust pipe.

Can you imagine how advanced land restitution would be if land owners had the same attitude as smokers? Somewhere in Tzaneen Phineas Sefolosha would approach Gerhardus van Tonder: "Eish, Makhulubaas. The children are hungry. I want to farm."

"Here, take 12,000ha of my farm. I still have another 20-million unused hectares."

And then we wouldn't have to watch grown-ups calling each other nincompoops on national television during expropriation-without-compensation debates.

If you're still not sold on the fact that we have made pariahs out of smokers, listen to this. A friend of mine is a smoker and his father, who drinks a bottle of Smirnoff 1818 a day without judgment, is a non-smoker. Even after my friend got his MBA, had a wife and was in his 40s, his father never allowed him to smoke in his presence.

During a family function we're standing outside the garage so my friend can smoke in peace when, out of nowhere, his dad pops up. This just after my friend has taken a huge gulp into his lungs. The dad asks him a question. He just stands there staring at the old man.

Finally, in exasperation, the father yells, "Don't stand there! Answer me!" The look on the old geezer's face when his son opened his mouth and billows of volcanic ash came out. Priceless.

Follow the author of this article, Ndumiso Ngcobo, on Twitter: @NdumisoNgcobo