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Et tu, São Paulo?


Et tu, São Paulo?

The series "Mad Men" still hasn't debuted in Brasil. What a shame. It's as good as it gets. "Mad Men" is the perfect picture of Madison Avenue publicists in sophisticated 1960s New York. But it's more than this. It's a mosaic on the great American transition: from the conformity of the "fifties" to the counter-culture of the "sixties."

One detail, however, does surprise the philistines: smoking. In "Mad Men," everyone smokes with a kind of natural nonchalance that seems almost heretical. Inside buildings, outside buildings; mothers, fathers; employees, employers; and doctors, of course, starting with a gynecologist holding a cigarette in one hand while performing and exam with the other! What a balancing act.

So much smoking shouldn't be surprising. I personally remember the time my grandfather would took me to the movies, and smoke in the theater, for most of the film.

And, historically, "Mad Men" was at the turning point. In 1950, Richard Doll published the first scientific essay on the relation between smoking and disease. Only in 1970 did the myth of "second hand smoking" come up. I say "myth" deliberately. There has never been any rigorous scientific study demonstrating a relation between "second hand" smoke and cancer.

This does not mean there are no studies on this hypothesis. Christopher Booker, a specialist on modern fad movements, points to two - the biggest and most recent ones. The first one was made by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. The second was conducted by James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat, over the course of 40 years, for the American Cancer Society through the observation of 35 thousand non-smokers that had daily contact with smokers. The results? I repeat: a myth is a myth is a myth.

And an ideology is an ideology is an ideology. Sometimes I argue that certain Nazi traits survived 1945. People insult me; I don't respond. Just look around to realize that some of our basic medical routines would have pleased Uncle Adolf and his pursuit of perfection on earth - for example, certain forms of "respectable" eugenics, practiced by millions of people when they receive a bad ultrasound, or the absolute demonization that the modern smoker is subjected to in the United States and in Europe. And now, alas, in São Paulo.

I read the anti-smoking legislation of São Paulo and recognized its totalitarian nature, once again dominated by this unique idea of physical perfection.

It all starts by raising the lie to the dogma: the dogma that "second hand smoking" is a serious danger to others. The dogma is not only unrealistic; it is also dangerous because it immediately establishes a moral divide between those involved in corruption (smokers) and the innocent victims (non-smokers). Just replace "smoker" with "Jew" and "non-smoker" for "Aryan" to go back to 1933.

And going back to 1933 is returning to a world that despises individual freedom with unusual ferocity. The "smoke free" law is such an example. Banning smoking in enclosed spaces such as bars and restaurants is an attack on private property and the freedom of each owner to decide what type of clients want to allow. The same reasoning applies to customers, who are now unable to choose freely where they may patronize.

But the best part of the law is the policing. Imitating the worst tactics of closed societies, the law promotes whistle blowing as a form of social interaction. By phone or by the Internet, each citizen is invited to watch his neighbor, denouncing "deviant" behavior. This is not going back to 1933. This is, at least, going back to Russia in 1917. If we add to the picture a real "health police" which attacks in plain clothes, it is possible to conclude that the KGB spirit immigrated to Brazil.

Finally, let's remember the essential point: political extremism only thrives in societies that are complicit or at least indifferent towards the extremists. Is São Paulo this kind of society?

It appears so. The latest Datafolha poll is grim: the overwhelming majority of São Paulo (88%) approves the smoke free law. Only 10% oppose it. Only 2% are indifferent to it. More ironic is the perspective of smokers: after years and years of propaganda and dehumanization, they look in the mirror, and feel disgusted with themselves and even agree with the law (77%). Karl Kraus was right when he stated that, in Vienna in the beginning of the last century, anti-Semitism was so normal that even the Jewish practiced it. A terrible omen.

Sobre o autor

João Pereira Coutinho

É colunista da Folha de S. Paulo.

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