OPINION: Time to treat smokers like the humans they are
RECENTLY, I've been engaged in an epic battle, of sorts. A battle between life and death, some might say.
But this battle has reached a stalemate and I'm exhausted. You might be, too.
It's no secret I'm a cigarette smoker. I make no apologies for it, clogging up not only my arteries but the air you're breathing, too. But just like the rest of us dirty smokers, I've been delegated to the back alley, thrown out of the clubs and cafes. My poison might not be a needle and it might be completely legal, but I sure as hell can feel the societal sting.
But in Australia, we've gotten to a point where shaming smokers has gone too far. Abusive, even. Recently, I went through an experience that truly shook me. That made me angry. Powerless. And quite frankly, really p*ssed off.
A business has moved nearby to a well known smoking area where I might be known to sneak a couple of cigarettes throughout the day.
This area has been a haven for smokers for years. Here, there is no judgment. Individuality is celebrated. We can bask in our nicotine glory without retribution.
Not long after he moved in, the owner of this specific business - a yoga studio - began nailing home made signs on trees in the area using a newsagent-style marker reading "PLEASE DO NOT SMOKE HERE". Well, at least the signs are polite.
The businessman claimed the cigarette smoke from the area was rising and entering into his windows, disrupting his yoga classes.
The man is so vocal over his grievances the area, once a thriving social hub, is now a barren wasteland. Except for those brave enough to bear the brunt of Mr Yoga.
On numerous occasions, we've had altercations. In one instance, I was smoking across the street from his business when he yelled from above.
"What would you know, you've lost your sense of smell," he hissed at me, before approaching me on the street and calling me a wanker.
Granted, I've fought back. I've stooped to his level and called him a few expletives in return.
But I'm not doing anything wrong. I'm not on his property. This is a public space. I'm not doing anything illegal. And frankly, his insults need to stop.
But the worst moment came when, sucking down a ciggie one day, I suddenly felt something wet spray against me.
Oh yes, this man had bought himself a super soaker, you know those water guns from the '90s that you pump up and it can spray for metres?
He bought one of those and from the window of his first floor business had began to SPRAY ME WITH A SUPERSOAKER. I was in such shock, I erupted.
"HOW DARE YOU SUPERSOAK ME," I screamed from the street, looking like I'd just taken part in a wet T-shirt contest.
I found out later that I wasn't the only one to experience the wrath of the supersoaker - he was spraying up a storm with other colleagues that were just as traumatised as I.
How dare he feel he had the right to do that to me? He told me he had asked me to move before and it was the last straw. I replied, telling him he had never politely asked me to leave, and that if he had tried to have some manners about it maybe I would have moved.
I might make light of smoking but I'm no fool, I understand the risks to my body, just as most smokers do. But that doesn't give anyone the right to violate me like that. I was on public property. I had every right to be there.
In fact I find it ironic that the Australian government's Therapeutic Goods Administration, who no doubt consider themselves pretty clever for their handling of the smoking industry, upheld their ban of the use of nicotine in electronic cigarettes, forcing smokers back onto the black market, or forking out $40 for one pack of cigarettes.
One group of doctors is so outraged by the decision, they have described the decision as "unethical and unscientific".
"It is unethical and unscientific to exempt nicotine in tobacco products and to deny smokers access to a much safer alternative," the group wrote in a submission to the TGA, according to Fairfax Media.
"This is a much safer alternative to tobacco - the most lethal consumer product ever invented. To ban [nicotine in e-cigarettes] is unethical and unscientific."
"We know that millions of people have quit smoking as a result of e-cigarettes."
And here lies the big problem.
I've been writing about the possibility of taking up e-cigarettes for 12 months in the hope of giving up, but in Australia, despite it being legal to buy e-cigarette devices that "vape", a ban exists on the purchase of the actual nicotine that's inserted into the device.
The use of nicotine in e-cigarettes is currently legal in the United Kingdom and the United States. You can't walk down the streets of New York without a vape in your face.
Here, though, different story.
It comes as a study published this week in Nicotine & Tobacco Research shows that smokers who used e-cigarettes were "almost twice as likely to quit for at least 30 days compared to those who quit without using e-cigarettes or any approved therapy".
"In Australia, it's hard to get [e-cigarette] supplies and support. It's totally unregulated and it's not incorporated into existing smoking cessation programs," Dr Colin Mendelsohn, Associate Professor in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales told the Australian Journal of Pharmacy.
"There's not that government support, it's something that's 'forbidden', and so people assume it's more dangerous than it is.
Dr Mendelsohn said evidence is growing to support the case that vaping is "far less harmful" to both smokers and bystanders than smoking cigarettes.
"Everyone here would know that two-thirds of Australians who smoke are helped to an early grave not just by carcinogens, not just by toxins, but also increasingly by a nation that will not contemplate alternatives where the rest of the world does," MP Dr Andrew Laming said in the House of Representatives last week.
I haven't seen the angry Yogi since our explosive supersoaker experience - I've smoked in that same spot, but I'm yet to encounter him face-to-face again.
I hope he's had a good think about his actions - and the next time he asks, politely, for me to move, maybe I'll consider it this time.
That is, until the government gives me an e-cigarette.
Note: An Australian website has developed a way to make liquid nicotine available on prescription for smokers who want to use it with their vaping or e-cigarettes to quit. It allows legal access to liquid nicotine for people to include with their vaping and e-cigarettes. For more information, visit www.nicopharm.com.au.