I’m delighted to report the launch of a new smokers’ blog today: Smoking Bandits International Blog. I’m always pleased to see new smokers’ blogs appear. The more people that speak up the better. I’ll be adding it to my blogroll, of course.
This one is a co-operative blog, based in Germany, with a distinctly international outlook. Its articles appear in three languages: English, French, and German.
And I have the honour of appearing in the first edition, writing about how I first started smoking, almost entirely thanks to the antismoking doctor I encountered at age 17, well known in these pages as Dr W (but given no name in the Smoking Bandits piece).
The other author who appears in the first edition is Dmitri Kossyrev, writing about the Russian experience of smoking bans. Dmitri is a well-known Russian author and smoking activist who appears regularly on Russian TV. He has also made a brief appearance in the Smoky Drinky Bar.
The Russians have an upcoming election in a couple of days time: 18 March. And Dmitri expects to see changes:
First thing you have to know is that the law enacted in 2013 is firmly associated with the man who was Russia’s President at the time of its passing, namely Dmitry Medvedev. And there were very few politicians in whole our history as unpopular as Medvedev is. Expectations are high about his post-election removal from the current prime-ministerial position, so as to give way to new generation of leaders who will replace Vladimir Putin one day.
Medvedev, Dmitri says, is a reformer. And there are few things Russians like less than “reform” of any kind. Putin, by contrast, tends towards the consensus of opinion on almost any matter, and that’s one reason why he’s very popular in Russia. Putin isn’t a smoker, but it would seem that he’s not the sort of reforming antismoker that Medvedev would seem to be.
Smoking bans are not popular in Russia, and are spearheaded (as everywhere else) by anti-smoking medics:
…they are nervous and in a hurry. That reflects the general state of the global anti-tobacco movement that feels the earth shaking under its collective feet, and pushes on with more bans and other ugly initiatives. The government officials in Russia by now know the general situation quiet well and quietly resist any new anti-tobacco initiatives, not to mention the implementation of the old ones.
In his opening piece (one of three, only two of which have so far been published), Dmitri writes about some important differences between Russia and elsewhere.
You have to have knowledge about both Russia and the outside world to see what’s the basic difference between life of smokers here and there. The difference is in the things that Russia cannot even imagine. Our smokers do not feel isolated. We are not in any way second-class citizens. Nobody (with very few exceptions) really believe that there is such thing as passive smoking that may harm somebody. We don’t have all those ugly hysterical women waving their hands in front of their faces or yelling “I can’t breathe!”. We don’t, simply speaking, have the grassroots idiocy that makes life of smokers intolerable in the US or some parts of Europe.
This should be no surprise. Up until about 1990, the then Soviet Union was a quite separate society from the Western world, and engaged in a Cold War with it. So Russia never had Doll and Hill, or Wynder and Graham, or C Everett Koop or George Godber. Antismoking is very much a Western disease, and it has only been very recently that Russians have encountered antismokers in any numbers (although Tolstoy seems to have been one). Russian smoking prevalence is variously estimated as between 40% and even 60%, by contrast with the 20% now current in the Western world. In fact, it seems that the further east anyone goes, the higher the prevalence of smoking, until you get to the international date line in the Pacific, where smoking prevalence abruptly drops to 20%, rather like the date and time of day.
…the bans in the West came after mass brainwashing, while in Russia the reverse was true. And even the brainwashing, which is very much there by now, is been viewed (with disdain) as the government’s totally doomed attempt to repeat its usual folly. Russia has a long history of governments trying to impose on people something that is supposed to improve general health and lifestyle. Such attempts invariably end with disasters. The most recent case was the “semi-dry” laws and regulations, introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, right after his coming to power.
Yes, we in the West have been brainwashed. We used to think that it was the Russians who did all the brainwashing, but really it was our own governments that were brainwashing us.
The Russian method of resistance is one of a dogged refusal to give in.
…we are never actively resisting unpopular measures. We rather ignore them by communal consensus, sabotage them at the slightest chance, and that kind of resistance has proved, through the centuries, to be invincible.
I think that, actually, this may also be the English way as well. For we also have a history of doggedly refusing to give in, even when the situation seems utterly hopeless, and defeat is staring us in the face. And whenever I see smokers in English pub gardens, openly and unashamedly smoking, I see people who are, in their own small way, doggedly refusing to give in to the barrage of antismoking propaganda to which they have, every single one of them, been subjected to for the entirety of their lives (and not just the past 20-30 years as in Russia).
Perhaps the most interesting thing Dmitri has to say is about how leaders are chosen in Russia:
Russia does not have a civic society like in the West. It belong to a very long list of consensus-seeking societies. The most common case of such approaches is manifested in the way we choose our leaders. Like in China, Kazakhstan and so on, the nation starts from reaching a general agreement on who the leader should be, while elections are only a formal act of endorsement of that decision. Funny, but the agreement comes as if by itself, and the media or other means of mass communications are powerless to impose their will on the public. While a really contested election is usually viewed as a sign of a diseased state of the society.
If I understand him right, this means that Russians already know what the result of Sunday’s election will be. And he is perhaps suggesting that the unpopular (and non-consensual) Medvedev is likely to be one of its casualties. I will be very interested to see whether this is what actually transpires.
By contrast, perhaps the enormously divisive US election 18 months ago actually did indicate a “diseased state of society”, even though these sorts of divisive elections are the norm in the Western world, where elections are always fought between antagonists who are like boxers in a boxing ring.
I look forward to reading Dmitri’s third and final piece in Smoking Bandits. And I’m looking forward to reading my own second piece, which I have promised to write, and have no idea right now what it will be about.
As was today’s piece here on my own blog, as a matter of fact – for I seldom have any idea what I’m going to write about until I pick up a pen and watch the words flow out of the end of it.