This week’s readings focus on two clashing issues between personal choice and the health of the population. These two topics bring to light how the public health institution tries to stigmatize smokers for the projected benefit of the public and the environment.
In the Brandt article, we read about the history of the cigarette as it is framed in the ideologies of public health. We learn that early on, smoking was seen as a social luxury that the public enjoyed. While researchers attempted to study negative effects of cigarettes, the social portrayal of cigarette smokers outlasted the possible health risks of smoking. The smoker was seen as a true American ‘cowboy’ and the cigarette was the tool which granted the public the power to be strong and individualistic. The cigarette was praised as a tool for charisma and quickly gained popularity in American ideals.
So then what happened? As years went on, Brandt writes that researchers found a correlation (but not a strong causation) between cigarette smoking and increasing rates of lung cancer. They implemented policies such as the Surgeon General’s Warning to stop the public from smoking. Furthermore, the anti-smoking bandwagon began to grow and they pushed for the end of cigarette sales due to the possibility of second-hand smoke health problems. Thus, the creation of the stigma against cigarette smokers began as they were seen as harming others besides themselves.
The Bayer article shows us that this stigmatization quickly grew. The public health institution began to use the idea of stigmatization in the 1980s to convince people not to smoke. Smokers were seen as undesirables and immoral people of society who were harming themselves and others through their actions. This is interesting when placed against the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and the anti-stigmatization laws passed for those affected with HIV. Those who smoked were publicly and socially made an example of because of their actions and their personal choices. Advertisements stated that smokers would have less sexual and athletic prowess and the media and government institutions saw smoking as a deviant behavior.
We then learn in the Colgrove article that the effects of second-hand smoke are only apparent within 2m of contact, but recent legislature has passed laws restricting smoking to private areas and not even in public parks, beaches, or in front of some institutions (outside). So has the stigmatization been overexaggerated? Well, it is the public health institution’s job to make sure that the health of the population is secure. Even if cigarettes are not affecting those other than the smoker, it is still the job of the public health institution to make sure that their health is also secured. Thus the conflict of personal choice versus self-harm is brought up as the main issue.
While stigmatization may seem like a benefit to stopping people from smoking. Those who smoke come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds. This creates a vicious cycle where the poorer population of America is stigmatized from performing an action which they are used to at a social and emotional health level. Additionally, many of these smokers use the public parks and other public institutions for recreation and to enjoy their livelihood. By stigmatizing smokers, the public health institution is also stigmatizing those of a low socioeconomic status.
Personally, I believe that smoking shouldn’t be glorified, but criticized. I think that the cigarette companies need to take the blame for placing addicting additives into cigarettes and by profiting off of the self-harm of cigarette smokers. I also believe that stigmatizing the smoking population for their actions will not stop them from smoking cigarettes, but rather decrease their acceptance into society. By stigmatizing, the public health field is attacking those who are being influenced by these companies, and making them the problem, NOT the corporations which are profiting off of their dangerous product.