“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” – Abraham Lincoln
I was born in Iran in 1985 when the country was recovering from the effects of the 1979 revolution and the fascist take-over of the Islamic Republic. That, however, is not what I want to write about today. I’m writing about my experiences throughout my life with smoking and anti-smoking, and how closely the anti-smoking lobby, and the social attitudes it has produced, resembles fascism.
My father was a smoker, and my mom was not. In fact, after my parent’s divorce, my mom became a complete anti-smoker. One reason was perhaps because she associated smoking with my father, whom she had begun to dislike. I had a different idea of smoking. Most of my father’s family smoked, and I had nothing but fond memories from smokers – especially my father. The smell of tobacco on his clothes when he held me, the look of pleasure when he lit up a smoke after a nice meal and the hours of conversation that was spent between adults around the hookah.
My first experience with the anti-smoking lobby came one day at school, when my school (which, I should mention, was a complete by-product of the Islamic Republic’s religious belief system) dedicated a whole day to inform children about the harmful effects of smoking and how we should all convince our parents to stop smoking if we wanted them to live. They even gave us stickers to take home with us that said, “Dear parent: do you want to live to see me grow up? Then stop smoking now!”
I remember being quite shocked and scared after that ‘lesson’ about smoking. I cried thinking my dad was surely going to die because he smoked a lot! My parents had divorced at that time, so when I went home I waited for my dad to come pick me up from my mom’s house for our daily visit. When I returned home, I was still quite upset so my mom asked me what was the matter and I told her that I thought my dad was going to die because he smoked. She didn’t say much except that smoking was indeed very bad and to go ahead and give my dad the sticker. When my dad came to pick me up, he was shocked to see my sad face and my puffy eyes from crying all day. I told him what had happened, gave him the sticker and begged him through tears to stop smoking. He became upset too, and in a low voice he said, “I’ll try.” But that wasn’t good enough for me. I told him, “But don’t you want to live to see me grow up?” He said, “Of course I do, but life is more complicated than that.” Then he faced my mom and asked, “What kind of crap have they been teaching her in school?!?” My mom replied, “I happen to agree with what they taught!” And he replied, “Since when do you agree with the fascists of Islamic Republic?” My mom went silent and said nothing else.
Shortly after, my mom and I emigrated to Vancouver, Canada and my dad stayed in Iran. I was 10 when we left and the new world seemed so grand and, by most accounts, better than Iran. It was 1995 then and although people smoked, the smoking population was scarce compared to Iran’s. I remember in the shopping malls and restaurants there were dedicated smoking sections. Of course, we’d always eat in non-smoking areas and my mom would always make a comment or two to me about the stink of tobacco as we walked by the smokers.
But I also notice that in schools and many other places the anti-smoking lobby had been hard at work.
My dad came for a visit, and during his stay he made a couple of comments about how anti-smoking was so bad here, but I didn’t really pay attention.