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Exit ArchiveArchive for August 27th, 2006

I just got done watching Super Size Me. The movie was very good, and it has me thinking more deeply about some of the food choices I have already taken steps to fix in my own life.

However, that’s not why I’m here tonight. No, there was a part early on in the film where an interviewee is talking about how it’s socially acceptable to chastise someone in a public place for smoking, and not for being overweight. His point was that someone was being told off in public about how horrible smoking is for you and that the smoker should quit, while no one went up to the overweight person to tell them off about how bad overeating is.

While perhaps I’m taking his point and skewing it, I think perhaps what has become publicly acceptable is what has become publicly unacceptable: smoking. Because smoking in public is now not acceptable (in general), that person the man in the movie was talking about was able to go up to the smoker and say, “You shouldn’t do that. It’s bad for you.” That will never happen with the obesity issue for a couple important reasons.

The first and most obvious reason is that smoking befouls the social space. One cigarette can turn a large, clean room into a smelly one. One cigarette can turn a pleasant outdoor meal into a nasty, polluted one if the breeze is blowing the right way. Ignoring the factors of public health and the costs society has to pay for those who die of smoking-related illnesses, whether a person chooses to smoke is up to them, and it’s not up to strangers to tell them otherwise. EXCEPT when that person chooses to do it in a public place where many people gather. Their smoking is not contained within their body, but wafts out to affect their entire surroundings. It’s downright rude to smoke in such situations. Screw their health, they need a lesson in propriety.

As obesity continues to grow (sorry…) in the U.S., we certainly have cause to worry about medical costs to society, just as we do for smoking-related illnesses. However, unlike smoking, obesity does not have a casual effect on others. Many people may find obesity unsightly, but that’s not the same as filling a room with the smoke from one cigarette. There will never be laws banning overweight people from public places.

There are many touchy topics that come up when talking about obesity, and I’m sure, if anyone wanted to try and take the other side on this one, we’d see some of the arguments. But none of them are specific to obesity. A thin person might smell just as bad as an overweight person, for example, or even worse. An overweight person might, in fact, smell just fine and have perfect hygiene. But a smoker, when they smoke, no matter what their hygiene, religious beliefs, political affiliations, manner of dress, or hair color, sends that smoke out so everyone else has to deal with it.

The second of the couple of important reasons is that smoking is, truly, a choice. Yes, eating right is a choice as well, but in this case, food is involved. People have to eat to survive. Because the landscape is littered with easier, cheaper, unhealthy choices, eating healthy food is quite difficult to do. There is no good reason to smoke; it is a purely extraneous activity. Smokers choose to smoke. Addiction to nicotine may keep a majority of smokers from quitting, but the entire activity is not a requirement for biological survival.

Eating-related obesity can also be an addiction, and it may even be a choice as well. But it is linked to a function we have to do to live. A fat, messy, sloppy eater might be a disgusting sight to someone, but if the room is filled with obese people, not all of them, and probably none of them, will be eating like pigs. If the room is filled with people smoking, all of them will be filling the room with smoke.

So there’s my poorly-worded point for today. I thought it was silly for the guy in the movie to compare public smoking to public obesity in the way he did. As health issues, they are both important and, in the end, do affect society. But as for being called out on them in public by someone who just happens to be passing is silly. Neither the smoker nor the overweight person should be told by someone they don’t know how dangerous their habits are.

Okay, now you should go read what TAM has to say about smoking. It’s much funnier than this post, and that makes it more of value to the modern blog reader.

(Oh, look. It’s the second time I’ve linked to Robb’s post. It must really be a quality post.)