Unconventional wisdom

In fall 2012, the Food and Drug Administration will require all cigarette manufacturers to print more noticeable and colorful warnings on packing. Most of these images will depict the effects of continued and habitual usage in smokers, and are intended to discourage paying customers from reaching out across the aisle and picking up a pack of smokes.

Smoking wouldn’t be half the contentious issue it is if it only caused harm to those who partook in the cancer stick’s pleasures. However, the real sticking point is its effect on those who share that space. The ASU campuses have already seen a raging discussion on this issue.

However, a bigger issue that needs to bed addressed is parents who smoke. Is it acceptable for children to grow up in a smoke-filled environment? At an age where they can scarce decide whether they want a Happy Meal or a big bucket of chicken for dinner, kids cannot and should not be expected to make such decisions for themselves. But what of the effect of 18 years of second-hand smoke?

A recent column in the New York Times recounts the heady days when smoking was considered par for the course, and even something that was strongly encouraged as a stress-reliever. The article recounts various instances of cigarette manufacturers soliciting and advertising endorsements by physicians around the country in support for their product.

So what happened? Did Congress pass a law that one fine day smoking would suddenly be considered taboo and an activity worth banning? Not quite. Like most mass trends, the verdict on smoking turned slowly, yet surely, on the coattails of public perception. But this ‘perception’ is as fickle as a freshman resolve.

It is oft repeated that the wisdom of one generation is the superstition of the next; indeed, as demonstrated by smoking, the ideals we hold dear often undergo a sea of change over the course of generations, and even decades in some cases. What once was established belief is considered in disbelief and even ridiculed by struggling late-night comics in an attempt to boost ratings, and turned into money-spinning mockumentaries by Hollywood.

This isn’t restricted to smoking; universal suffrage was a laughable idea in the 19th century, when prevailing rules restricted the vote to landed, male members of majority communities. It was only as times changed that the vote was opened to women and minorities — looking back now, those times appear as alien to us as the concepts themselves.

However, there is a lesson even in this amusing look back through history. Society still discriminates; we don’t allow proud citizens to serve in the armed forces due to their sexual orientation, which is something many believe to be a deeply personal trait.

We look to impose our beliefs, definitions and, by extension, our world-view on people trying to lead a life together. And we never, ever pause to think about the fact that future generations will judge us as we do archaic posters advising women about their “place in the perfect home.”

Kartik would like everyone to consider the ban on marijuana for the future. Write him at kartikt@asu.edu


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