Lourd de Veyra: ’NOY SMOKING
"a president who openly smokes, refuses to get married or live in Malacañang...[may be] a president who won’t lie, cheat, steal, coddle warlords and thieves or have expensive dinners at Le Cirque..."
It can lead to emphysema, heart disease, halitosis, gum problems, disfigured fetuses, and ugly burnt edges of white Mac notebooks as well as ash-covered work tables. Smoking is also like playing with firecrackers and karaoke: it’s only fun if you’re the one doing it. I hate it when other people smoke in my presence-and they do not even have the courtesy to offer me a stick.
Make no mistake about it: smoking is a filthy, filthy habit. And goddamn, it feels good.
It’s good with beer, rum, and vodka. It’s good with coffee. It’s good after a full-course gourmet meal or a night of mindblowingly irresponsible sex. It’s good for moments of leisurely inactivity or periods of intense contemplation. In short, it’s good with everything. It’s the sort of pleasure that non-smokers would never ever understand.
No amount of excise tax will make smokers stop. If cigarettes were to be declared illegal on the penalty of death tomorrow, these people will smoke all the leaves of the papaya trees in the neighbor’s backyard. Government has banned tobacco advertising yet there are almost 18 million smokers in the Philippines.
As I write, the planet is celebrating World No Tobacco Day. Across my computer screen wafts a soft, languid whisper of cigarette smoke. On an open tab on my browser is a YouTube video of that wacky two-old Indonesian baby Aldi who smokes like a mutherfucker. Cute little bastard, who started the habit at 18 months, is now said to be in rehab.
Hotly debated on our side of the world right now is the subject of Noynoy Aquino’s smoking. The people from the Department of Health are telling him: stop. It’s bad for you. Set an example for the youth. No thanks, he says. I’ll quit at the appropriate time. Subtext: fuck off.
For chrissakes, cut the man some slack.
He’s balding. He walks with a slight awkward droop and has a hint of a paunch. He has zero fashion sense. He offered the post of Tourism secretary to Boy Abunda, who said "no thanks." Cigarettes are his only talismans of coolness, if we go by all those nicotine-stained icons: Humphrey Bogart, Jean Paul Belmondo, Albert Camus, Jean Luc Godard, Keith Richards, Rita Gomez, among others.
Cigarettes are the only pleasure of the gentleman from Times Street, Quezon City and Tarlac. And it’s not as if those National Bookstore postcards of "presidents of the Philippines" would portray him with a stick hanging from his lip. And it’s not as if he’ll be lighting up while he’s being proclaimed at the Quirino Grandstand.
During the campaign, he had tried so hard to remain inconspicuous with his habit; but those relentlessly pesky cameras prowled on him at every opportunity.
He’s not even president-proclaimed yet but he’s getting so much shit-from the issue of whether to be sworn in by SC CJ Corona to the LP rift to pesky questions about wedding dates- I can’t blame the man if he continues to puff away. I can’t blame him, too, if he’s already gotten visibly irritated with questions about his smoking habit. You, too, would chain-smoke, if you had K for a sister.
Secretary Esperanza Cabral is the one leading the call. Of course, as DOH secretary, it’s understandable. But maybe Noynoy, too, should shoot back and tell her that she should also set an example by not hoarding typhoon supplies at the DSWD stockroom. Just kidding.
DOH urges Noynoy to quit smoking
Example? Maybe Erap Estrada isn’t a fine example to raise, but we’re not so sure if there was a sharp increase in the incidence of alcoholism, gambling, and unmitigated adultery among young people during Erap’s time. In the past nine years of GMA’s administration, did little girls start speaking in annoying nasal tones and shoplift in groceries?
I think it’s about time we stop interfering with the personal lives of our presidents. Such exercises only indicate that we have way too much time on our hands. We seem to be more interested in Shalani and what Kris has to say rather than in his economic policies. I bet you my brother’s left testicle: we’re going to be more curious about what people will wear to the inauguration and the celebrities in attendance. Screw human interest stories. Screw reporters who ask "Who are you wearing?" Let’s focus on the Serious stuff.
But serious is boring, right? But the lack of drama-- maybe that’s what we all need once and for all. Government should be boring. It should be like an impossibly efficient machine in which everything is predictable in a positive sense. It should be like urban electricity-never making its presence felt but running our lives silently, unobtrusively. Government should be the source of sobriety, not drama. For the past nine years, it has been the purveyor of everything sordid, disgusting, depraved, absurd, ridiculous, tacky, infuriating, and everything that is the opposite of temperate. For once, we must have an administration whose every move seems to set fire to our ugliest emotions. For once, we should be able to watch the evening news without wanting to commit homicide. Instead, the news should impart to us a feeling of narcoleptic ennui, like staring at business statistics and graphs (preferably delivered soberly by someone like Tina Monzon-Palma or Harry Gasser). In a perfect world, government should not be a telenovela where the personal lives of every character is a subject of public delectation. But wait. There’s hope for all of us looking for some excitement in our lives. With the victories of Manny Pacquiao, Lucy Torres-Gomez, and Imelda Marcos, there’s one place everyone should be keeping their eyes on: Congress.
But I digress. Maybe it’s about time our country is plunged in a bloody, protracted war, so that we’d stop obsessing over smoking cigarettes and worrying over who the next Wowowee host will be. And speaking of war: the leaders of the Allied Powers in WWII were all smokers: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill (who drank single-malt Scotch for breakfast). Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping smoked. JFK was addicted to cigars and, of course, women. Lyndon B. Johnson, under whose presidency the Civil Rights Act was passed, spent his last few years at his Texas farm puffing away. Barack Obama has yet to prove his greatness, but he still hasn’t kicked the habit.
The anti-smoking advocates are bringing it down to the level of exemplifying discipline and gasp, morality. "The right thing to do, of course, is to kick the habit. It will start his presidency on the correct moral path," commented one newspaper columnist who himself looks like two cigarettes away from the grave.
Immoral paths and Marlboros? Let’s see.
Adolf Hitler hated cigarettes. The Nazis, in fact, waged an intense campaign against tobacco, citing the Aryan quest for racial and bodily purity (Hitler was also a vegetarian). The anti-tobacco campaign was a not-so-well-known component of public health policy in Nazi Germany from 1933-45. According to the book The Nazi War on Cancer by Robert Proctor: "Thanks to the Ministry of Science and Education, and the Reich Health Office, posters were produced depicting smoking as the typically despicable habit of Jews, jazz musicians, Gypsies, Indians, homosexuals, blacks, communists, capitalists, cripples, intellectuals, and harlots."
Ferdinand Marcos, likewise, did not smoke nor drink. Because he liked to exercise and subsisted mostly on a Spartan diet of fish and vegetables, he was trim and fit. But he had colossal appetites for other things-and I don’t simply mean dinengdeng and American starlets.
Since when did we as a society start looking up to presidents as paragons of virtue and health? And why pick on big, bad cigarettes? Because they cause cancer and make people with holes in their necks talk like robots from vintage TV cartoons? Because they can lead to sickness unto despair and death? Addictive? Lethal? Well, yes. But you could also make the same argument with double-patty cheeseburgers cooked in beef tallow, or karaoke joints where drunken armed men sing "My Way." And riding scooters with Taiwan-made helmets aren’t dangerous? Just motoring through Edsa is an extreme sport in itself. Eating crispy pata? Hanging out at certain bars at The Fort? Living in Abra or Lanao del Sur? We try to discourage cigarettes but we let our children watch Wowowee where they learn to dance like meth-addled whores?
But this whole debate about whether or not Noynoy Aquino should quit will never end. For me-and I know there will be violent objections to this statement- let us have a president who openly smokes, who refuses to get married and live in Malacañang. Maybe then we’ll have a president who won’t lie, cheat, steal, who won’t coddle warlords and thieves and have expensive dinners at Le Cirque, who won’t send our institutions straight into the shit pile.
Is Noynoy’s smoking an issue of national security? The wiseasses among us will say, "Hell yeah." True, in a sense, it’s flirting with mortality Maybe it is Serious stuff. If those cancer sticks do kill him, the Republic of the Philippines will share the same fate as the United States of America:
A first black president.
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Artwork by Warren Espejo.