Eoghan Harris was musing in the Independent article last week about his upbringing and how he was bullied at school.
The sentiments he expressed surprised me, especially when he wrote, “The pain of exclusion can cast a long, dark shadow.” It immediately occurred to me that this is the exactly the plight of the smoker in 2016.
Harris recounts a particularly nasty incident of bullying he endured in the school yard before tearfully telling his Mother all about it when he got home. He explains her reaction as follows, “But the cruelty that caused my mother’s greatest wrath was not so much physical cruelty as any kind of personal, social or class victimisation of a person or minority.”
For the last twelve years we smokers have been under constant attack from all quarters because we choose to enjoy the pleasures that tobacco offers in its many forms. We are bullied, excluded, often openly insulted, and always financially penalized for our pleasurable habit.
The ultimate insult is the ongoing campaign to denormalise smoking. This is all pervasive and is an attack on every individual smoker directly. It seeks to garner support from the general public around us that we are abnormal beings, unfit for society. It is vicious, nasty and degrading and yet it is public policy. As Harris puts it in his narrative regarding his sobbing in the aftermath of the bullying incident, “It was the sound of a boy who was being excluded, ostracised, put outside the tribe, told he was not wanted and did not matter.” That in a nutshell is denormalisation.
Concluding his piece, Harris stated baldly that, “Exclusion inflicts endless emotional pain.” It’s the same feeling you get on a cold rainy night while you stand outside and otherwise welcoming pub smoking. You are the abnormal one, you see. Normal people can go down to the pub with the same money that you have but there’s special treatment for you because you are abnormal. You must stand outside so you can be seen and judged by the normal ones in the cosy indoors. It is simply disgusting in what is supposed to be a modern, socially inclusive, State.
In Ireland, as a sign of the progress we are supposed to have made, you daren’t make any remark that could be construed as homophobic. The travelling community are similarly protected by law as a minority. There are serious legal consequences for any unflattering remark you might make about any religion, except the Catholics. By law an employer may not exclude someone on the grounds of age, sex or colour. But you can exclude a smoker from employment on the grounds that they enjoy tobacco. You can make all the unflattering remarks you care to make about smokers both in private and in public. You can refer to them as sick, smelly addicts and nobody will bat an eyelid. Far from condemning such psychological bullying, the Irish are positively encouraged to do so.
Is it any wonder then that smokers should feel unfairly maligned by such treatment just because they have an extra dimension to their lifestyle that others do not enjoy?