[Viewpoint] Smoking danger revolves around us

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[Viewpoint] Smoking danger revolves around us

I have recently begun to worry about the state of education in our society. I fear that people are unable or unwilling to learn from what they read or study. Students and adults alike simply read and memorize but do not adjust their behavior or lifestyle according to the new information they are encountering.

People should discard old destructive habits and adjust their behavior given the new information that science has given us.

Did you know that a short time ago, we marked the 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope?

On August 25, 1609 Galileo Galilei presented his simple invention to the Senate in Venice, and in so doing helped change the way we see the world.

Now, of course, there were other people who developed telescopes at about the same time, but it was Galileo that made it famous. Furthermore, it was based on his observations that modern astronomy was born.

Up until that time people had believed that the Earth was the center of the universe.

The accepted theory was the geocentric model, or what is called the Ptolemaic worldview, that all the stars and planets rotated around the Earth.

This theory had been around for more than 1,400 years.

The powerful Catholic Church of the time subscribed to this theory, and anyone who suggested otherwise was considered a heretic, and in for a great deal of trouble.

Again, this view of the universe was not a new idea. Copernicus had theorized about this before Galileo.

The difference was that with Galileo’s observations there was proof. With his telescope, Galileo was able to observe the moons of Jupiter, and in so doing saw that Jupiter’s moons rotated around that planet, and not around the Earth.

With that proof the idea spread quickly and intellectuals and astronomers began to look at the universe in a new way.

Even though people had believed one thing for over a thousand years, they began to change the way they thought given this new information. The Catholic Church resisted and punished Galileo for his ideas, but it did not matter; the information was out and the world changed.

There is an important lesson to be learned from this: it is not enough to just read or memorize something. We have to learn from what we study and change our thinking and behavior accordingly.

I find myself learning new things frequently in my daily life. I watch TV programs about cooking and learn new methods or discover that something I have been doing was incorrect all the time.

I read articles and books about teaching and adjust my classes accordingly. Simply by talking to other people, most often my students, I learn something new about the world around me and I have to adjust my behavior.

When I was a child, most people were unaware of the dangers of smoking. Indeed, my parents both smoked. They smoked quite a bit, actually.

This was a long time ago, though, about 40 years, and people did not really know about the dangers of smoking. All of my aunts and uncles smoked. No one thought anything of it.

But as the years went by, more and more research showed that smoking was extremely harmful to one’s health. Not only that, experts discovered that smoking was extremely addictive.

Once you were hooked, it was very difficult to stop.

Oddly enough, even with this information, people still smoke. Every day more people start the habit and start that gamble with cancer and death. And that’s their choice.

If an adult freely chooses to begin smoking, that is his or her prerogative. We live in a free society, and should allow people to do as they please, no matter how stupid it may seem, so long as it does not interfere with or harm other people.

That is an important point. People who smoke can destroy themselves as they like.

But they really should not force other people to inhale secondhand smoke.

As I mentioned, my parents smoked, and beyond the unwitting damage they were causing themselves, they also smoked around my brothers and me.

Unfortunately, they had no idea of the danger that secondhand smoke could pose to us, their young children.

Were they purposefully trying to cause me harm? Of course not.

At that time no one knew the danger that secondhand smoke could cause: disease or even death. Secondhand smoke has been linked to cancer, respiratory infections and even heart attacks in non-smokers.

Now that we know this, my mother has stopped smoking and my father only smokes in places where he can avoid bothering other people.

And that is the beauty of modern society: We know that people get hooked on smoking, and we let them have that choice.

We know that secondhand smoke is dangerous, so to facilitate that problem, society has designated a number of areas for people to smoke.

The idea is that if you don’t want to smoke or breathe secondhand smoke, you simply have to avoid those smoking areas.

The problem is those people who decide that they can smoke anywhere they please. For some reason they feel it is their right to pollute and endanger other people.

They smoke in bathrooms or hallways, taking away non-smokers right to breathe clean air.

We have the information: Smoking and secondhand smoke is very dangerous.

Now all we have to do is get people to learn from this and change the way they behave. That is what intelligent humans do.

Many animals don’t learn; they simply act on impulse, fulfilling their instinctive wants, unaware of the impact of their behavior.

But humans learn, change and evolve.

*The writer teaches at the Department of English, University of Incheon.

by Claude Drolet
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