Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I am a non-smoker. I am not a shrill or intolerant anti-tobacco crusader, but it needs re-stating that the increasingly shrill and intolerant anti-tobacco position that the non-smoking lobby feels itself pushed into is largely fueled by a stubborn apathy to the genuine tobacco issue plus the obtuse double talk that encases it that come from government, industry, media and the public. In Japan the problem is amplified by a cultural aversion to confrontation that allows the debate to get obfuscated in deliberately vague language.
This is beautifully illustrated by Yui Oyamada’s letter “Learning to livewith each other” (January 4th) in which the writer makes the typically Japanese plea that a solution to tobacco issues lies in mutual understanding. We know that pleas for mutual derstanding are often a guise for the protection of further dithering, and Japanese certainly do like to dither.
Non-smokers understand smokers just fine. And, because I suspect that smokers do not understand themselves I want to help them in a spirit of human loving kindness. So here it goes: nicotine is a drug. It is more addictive than marijuana, and has been proven to be more harmful as well. Tobacco smokers are anti-social monsters and drug addicts. As drug addicts they are not ill people so much as they are morally depraved people who deserve as much disdain, ostracism and social inconvenience as can be legally meted out.
But of course, as always, I could be wrong.
Published on Thursday, January 8, 2009 as “Vague language plagues debate.”
I was not happy with the title given this letter because for me the issue is not so much Japanese vague language (called“aimai”) as it is the status of nicotine as a drug and tobacco users as drug addicts. I want those observations firmly established and commonly acknowledge in the public discourse before there is any discussion or debate of tobacco and public health. In addition, I did not like the paper deleting the word “it” and printing “here goes” like it was copying some expression from a Japanese junior high school English textbook. It feels like dumbing down. For all of their claim that smoking is simply their lifestyle choice and nothing more (suggesting that it is beyond criticism of non-smokers), I would be much more open to their so-called lifestyle choice if I heard them admit that they are drug addicts. Still, I was very pleased that it was printed, and so fast, and my first letter of the new year. The issue of further restrictions on public smoking in Japan has recently cropped up anew because of the JR East’s decision to further restrict smoking at all of its train stations starting in the spring of this year.
In her letter, the author Yui Oyamada reported that she is not a smoker, but that her father is a former smoker. The strong tone of my letter is not meant as an attack on Oyamada as a smoker. I am concerned about the Japanese predilection for “mutual understanding” while recognizing that Oyamada’s relationship with her father creates an ameliorating circumstance that might be called reasonable. This Japanese fetish for mutual understanding is a waste of time as far as I can see because I feel devoted to the notions that it is impossible for one human being to know the mind of another, impossible for one human being to understand another, and even impossible for most human beings to properly understand themselves at all. Understanding is like smoke on the wind, and contrary to English poet John Dunne’s assertion that “no man is an island,” I am a disciple of the principle that islands are exactly what we all are, living and then dying in lonely isolation.