A prescription for quitting smoking

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A prescription for quitting smoking

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France was once a paradise and haven for smokers. Well, that was long ago. Twenty years ago, when I first visited Paris, everyone smoked. As soon as I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I would light a cigarette. Once, when I couldn’t find an ash tray, I asked an airport staffer, who looked at me as if I were asking an obvious question and pointed at the floor. I realized that the entire marble floor was a giant ash tray.

When I returned to Paris last year, the change was revolutionary. The restrictions on smoking were far stricter than those in Seoul. Smoking is prohibited at all indoor venues, including bars and restaurants. Isn’t a Parisian cafe without cigarette smoke like a Paris without the Eiffel Tower? A cafe in Paris isn’t the same if you’re not sitting in the middle of clouds of smoke. The men and women who were smoking cigarettes at the entrance of the cafe seemed a strange sight. Paris is no longer the city I had known.

Jean-Paul Sartre called smoking a destructive act of possession. By smoking, he inhaled the world, and he not only saw, heard and touched the world but also completely possessed it. The medium that turned the world into a possession was the cigarette. As Sartre chainsmoked at a cafe in Paris, he wrote “Being and Nothingness.” If smoking had been forbidden at the time, he would have had to choose between quitting writing and fighting the policy. I may be criticized as a politically incorrect smoker, but the standardization of the social atmosphere, including the ban on smoking, is not unrelated to the absence of French intellectuals since Sartre.

Smokers in Korea are finding it harder to continue the habit as well. Seocho District is to implement a ban on smoking in the street for the first time in Seoul. The most-crowded streets around Gangnam Daero will be designated as no-smoking zones, and violators will be subject to a fine of 50,000 won ($45). Smokers who have not yet shed the habit are already having to adapt by smoking outdoors in winter, as smoking is prohibited on apartment balconies and even within some apartment complexes. Some extremists claim that cigarettes should be designated as a drug controlled by the government. Nevertheless, I am one of the last smokers standing.

In “La Vie Quotidienne,” French philosopher and writer Jean Grenier proposes a prescription for quitting, saying that what you really need to do is remove the symbolism that joins cigarettes to the world and reduce cigarettes to nothing but “burning grasses.”

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok


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