The Smoking Gun

The last time I wrote, it was the sound of my dad’s snoring that urged my pen on (yes, I’ve been writing in my notebook as a start).  Since then I’ve moved to another room, next to my grandparents, and out of range of my dad’s rumbling.  Of course, this only means that I have a new set of sounds to consider.

When I arrived in Isla Negra, I was made aware that both my abuelo and abuela had recently been ill, my grandma worse than Don Leo, and were still recovering.  The illness had left my abuela feeling weak and with little energy, though each day she’s been gaining strength and colour in her face.  My grandpa has been coughing heavily, bringing up the mucus du jour in a way that only the sound can describe (interested in what my grandpa is talking about? click here).  I had assumed that the cough was due to the remnants of a cold, but it persisted.  At the table, out in his workshop, and of course, in bed at night, the coughing (and the mucus) betrayed something deeper.  So finally, I asked my dad.

my grandpa peeling quince

Don Leo hard at work peeling and cutting quince

My grandpa, I learned, had been a smoker for many years, about 35 according to my dad.  I knew that he used to smoke, but I didn’t realize how long, and if today’s Chilean smokers are any indication, he must have smoked his fair tonnage of tar.  In fact, in his sixties, it led Don Leo to a collapsed lung, hospitalization and unfortunately, to what he suffers from today, chronic emphysema.  In the evening before bed, he inhales a drug that loosens the mucus from his lungs, which wells up overnight in coughs and throat clearings and which he must spit into a container.

My grandma’s cough has long since passed, but in any case, hers was a soft patter to abuelo’s bronchial lurch.  In light of such a story, news of a smoking ban ought to be music to the ears, though, when in Santiago, my cousin’s girlfriend tells me that bars that try to impose one inevitably fail.  According to her, in Chile everyone smokes.  That’s not quite right, but it’s tough to blame her when I find out that 49%, or half of Chileans ages 15-29 are smokers.  The latest numbers show that 37.4 % of Chileans age 15 and up are smokers.  Even more concerning are the statistics for youth.  In 2003, smoking levels in the 13-15 years age group were already the highest in the world at 33.9 % and in 2008 showed an increase to 34.2%.

In a country with a history of smoking and with tobacco companies well entrenched, it seems to be the perfect storm of a rapid rise in economic well-being combined with a lack of education on the subject and public health effort.

I can only speak for my own family, but of my parents’ generation, only 4 of 14 are smokers.  I must note, though, that one of them was my loving Tia Pelusa (Ana Isabel) whose death by cancer is very likely to have been related to her smoking.  So I cringe (and cough) when I see many of my cousins and their friends caught up in it and hope that the country, starting with its shining capital, will have the courage to stand up for Chile, stand up to pressure from tobacco companies or business owners, and put an end to smoking in public places (after all, if all bars have to comply, then no bar should be at a disadvantage) and help remove the smog from within its people, if not from above them.

The Latest: Yesterday, Chile’s newly elected President Sebastian Piñera, a right wing billionaire entrepreneur, announced that among the measures to raise funds for reconstruction, infrastructure, and social support in the aftermath of the massive earthquake, the tax on tobacco products would be raised from 60 to 67%.  The move aims to help Chileans suffering from the damage of the quake by targeting an industry that few will leap to defend, and may also result in a decrease in cigarette purchases, which can only help people move away from the harmful habit.


1 Response to “The Smoking Gun”

  1. 1 Stacey Sauve
    April 17, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Absolutely Amazing! But I wouldn’t expect anything less from you. Great job and I love your writing! Can’t wait to read/hear more!

    Also, your dad’s snoring sounds a lot like my roommate’s from university. 😛

    Lastly, I’m glad I quit smoking!!

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