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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: What exactly is tobacco?

Rika Kayama (Mainichi)

I recently saw news about a man in his 60s who filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the central government. His suit was triggered by a legal revision banning smoking in restaurants in principle. At a news conference, the man said, "Trying to expel smokers from restaurants and public places even though smoking itself is permitted by law unfairly takes away my individual rights, and my dignity was damaged."

    The damage caused by secondhand smoke is widely known, and when seeing this report some people may have thought, "I want you to give up smoking." I don't smoke myself, so I can't say I understand the feelings of smokers.

    Having said that, I feel a bit sad when I hear people say the kind of things this man did, like, "I've forever been robbed of the joy of being able to eat at a restaurant while smoking." No doubt there are people who would say, "That time is bliss, a stress relief."

    At the psychiatric hospital where I worked when I was young, there were a lot of people who were hospitalized for a long time, and the smoking rate among these patients was quite high. For some of those people smoking was their "only pleasure." What surprised me was that even for people who didn't show much of an interest in other things, when it came to the brand of cigarettes, they seemed obsessed.

    The nurses would take orders for cigarettes all at once, but one time a patient remained sick in bed, saying they felt lethargic. I told them, "Today's the day for your order. You don't mind what brand you get, right? I'll just order something for you." The patient, however, replied, "That's no good, I have to have this particular brand," and slowly got up before walking to the place to submit their order. I laughed and said, "But up till now you were saying, 'I can't get up anymore.'" It was then that I realized, "For this person, the brand of cigarettes is an important form of self-assertion."

    Time progresses, and in society, moves to ban smoking are spreading. The number of smokers is steadily decreasing, and public spaces where people can smoke are extremely limited. But precisely for that reason I can image that there are some people who wish to stand up for themselves by saying cigarettes represent their very selves.

    Nevertheless, the health hazards of smoking are clear. In my consultation rooms, I often tell smokers this, but sometimes they say to me, "I don't care about my body so I'm not quitting." It makes me think again, "Just what is tobacco?" It probably goes beyond a mere luxury. But then again, as a doctor, I also want to say, if you can get by without smoking, then don't smoke. Don't cause trouble for the people around you.

    (Japanese original by Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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