OPINION

Smoky battlefield

Owners of coffee shops, bars and restaurants have justified their intended violation of the government’s ban on smoking by invoking the financial impact of the regulation, particularly during a time of recession. Perhaps this is so. That said, people’s refusal to comply with the smoking ban would not be as widespread were it not for their general frustration. Noncompliance reflects a widespread, albeit silent, wave of discontent. The recession is biting, taking a hefty toll on jobs. Insecurity and fear are on the rise. People realize that the recession is not just a freeze on wages or a cut in pensions. It can mean being left without a job, as well as the lack of any future prospects. As the pressure grows, as the nation runs out of alternatives, as the hope of any economic upswing becomes more and more remote, frustrated citizens are resorting to pockets of resistance. One form this takes is unofficial rebellion against the anti-smoking legislation. It is not any gesture in favor of smoking. Rather, it’s a gesture against yet another prohibition, yet another restriction on freedom. It is a way of challenging the authority and the credibility of the state. Smoking has become a symbolic domain where a hypocritical, authoritarian, faceless state battles the oppressed, mute individual. Other reforms may meet with similar response, regardless of their rational content or the government’s good intentions. Because when it comes to change from above, good intentions are not enough. It also takes persuasion, honesty, flexibility and economy of thought. Most importantly, it takes an understanding of people’s reality, their concerns, needs and their breaking point. No reform can flourish without a minimum level of consensus in a democratic society. Violent prohibitions often backfire. Prohibition in the United States strengthened the Mafia and increased the levels of alcoholism. The burqa ban has fed the wave of neo-Islamism. A neutralization of the smoking ban will not benefit public health but it will be seen as a form of resistance. A self-destructive one.