Cigarettes and Porn

cigredredkiss

 

 

 

Sophie and I both smoke and we both enjoy some forms of pornography. It occurs to me there are some connections between the two things.

Smoking or watching porn are both activities which for many good reasons should be the preserve of adults only. Most people smoke their first cigarette and look at their first porn magazine or film in their mid teens as part of the growing up process and for many that is where it stops. Smoking and looking at porn are both legal for adults in most but not all parts of the world and yet, depending where you live are coming under more stringent controls, restrictions and legislation.

There are of course moral and health issues associated with porn and tobacco products. With porn there is the question of modesty and privacy. How far is it morally okay for men and women to simulate or indulge in fornication of various types for the entertainment of others? How far is it acceptable for you or I to be sexually aroused by film or photographs of other people indulging in all sorts of sexual activity? More importantly there are very real questions about the exploitation of porn performers and the degree to which their consent is meaningful. There are health issues too both for the performers and us, the voyeurs. Are those that participate in porn safe from disease or unwanted pregnancies?Are they perhaps participating only in order to support a drug habit? Are the activities they portray dangerous to themselves in any way? And for those of us that look at porn; are we being manipulated and exploited beyond what we buy into in the first place? Are we addicted to porn? Does what we see give us unrealistic expectations of sex in the real world? Are we numbed and desensitised to the exploitation and violence that may be present in what we are watching? There are many other questions we should think about too. We may come to the conclusion (as I obviously have) that we are comfortable with “some” porn; but as thinking, adult humans we should at least make sure we ask the questions.

With smoking cigarettes, it is almost redundant to speak about the health risks. Unless somebody has been living on Mars, I don’t think it is possible not to know that there are serious health risks associated with smoking. At 15 or 16 (the age I was when I started smoking) we think we are immortal and the nasty health warnings probably don’t mean much. But we do grow up and mature and the health warnings don’t go away. Every cigarette we smoke is a choice and we cannot escape the responsibility for making that choice. The complication of course is that nicotine can be addictive. If we choose to continue smoking (or have difficulty stopping) we have other moral issues to think about. What is the effect of our smoking on our children, our loved ones and others in close proximity to us? On the production side there are moral dilemmas bout how and where cigarettes should be promoted or advertised. Is it morally wrong to increase the potentially addictive nicotine content of cigarettes? Is it morally wrong to be involved in the production and distribution of a potentially harmful product at all?

Again, I have come to my own conclusions about these questions; but they do need to be asked and thought about…Often.

However there are two specific reasons why cigarettes and porn became linked in my mind as the subject for this blog entry. The first is a continual gripe of mine; and that is the degree to which governments are restricting our rights as adults to think about these things for ourselves, come to our own conclusions and make our own choices. More and more often we are treated like unthinking sheep that have to be told what we can and can’t do for our own good.

In the past couple of weeks in the UK there have been two high profile news stories about the government’s desire to place further restrictions on our rights as adult consumers to acquire cigarettes or porn. The first is an ongoing campaign (temporarily on hold) to sell cigarettes in plain packaging only. Meaning all cigarettes will be sold in identical white packets, with the brand name in small writing and the health warnings plus disgusting pictures given even greater prominence. Now I can see why they think this might reduce the uptake of smoking; but it does mean that as smokers we will not have access to the same kind of information about what brands are available that consumers of all other products do. Again we are being treated as if we are too stupid to make responsible choices for ourselves. Then this week the government announced restrictions they want  search engines to enforce to make it more difficult to access porn on the internet. In theory this is particularly targeted at those searching for child pornography, and I would certainly applaud any clamp down on that if it were effective. In reality however it will just make it a little more difficult for adults to find normal porn, or possibly anything else depending on which search term algorithms are banned. Again treating all adults as potential paedophiles in a un-thought through attempt to catch the minority who are.

The final connection in my mind between cigarettes and porn has to do with the idea of obscenity. Pornography is variously defined as erotic or lewd sexual images designed to stimulate a sexual response. However when you look beyond the first line of most definitions you often find the word obscene used to describe how many people feel about pornography and it has often been used as a reason to restrict the availability of porn and even to prosecute people for producing and distributing some imagery.

We all have different tastes when it comes to porn and erotica. There are things I won’t look at and which I find disgusting. I have certainly seen a few things which I personally find obscene and where I suspect laws have been broken and that somebody should be prosecuted. On the other hand, there are things which I find erotic and beautiful which other people might find obscene. It is all very subjective. On the whole though, I have a choice about what I look at and nobody forces me to view things that I consider to be obscene… Except the government…

The government insists that every time I buy a packet of cigarettes I am forced to look at something I find obscene. In fact they want to make me look at it every time I take a cigarette out of the pack. Moreover they are insisting that every sales assistant who works in a shop selling cigarettes has to frequently look and and handle images which many people would find obscene.

I am talking about the close up images of tumours and dead people which are printed on cigarette packs in the UK and many other places as part of the health warning. In case you don’t know what I mean you can find examples here and here. (I will not put these disgusting images directly into my blog).

Of course I know these images are intended to be horrific in order to discourage people from smoking, but I doubt that many smokers have given up because of them. Instead we either become desensitised to the horror of them or we hide them (as myself and Sophie do). In a sense I also find the pictures insulting and degrading to the people they are taken of. I am sure they must have given consent to their use, but I wonder if they really understood how they would be used. Did they know that people like me would routinely hide them or remove them? Did they know that some people would stop even noticing them after a while? Did they know that their diseased body parts would be objectified more completely than a porn star’s breasts and that few if any people would think about the actual person behind the tumours depicted?

I am an adult and I can read the health warnings on cigarette packages. If I want to know what cancerous tumours look like, I can find out easily enough. Why should I be forced to look at these obscene things every day? If products that depend on sex appeal were allowed to use “cum shots” on their packaging how would most people react? What if you couldn’t buy a perfume without seeing an image of penetrative sex on the packet? I am sure people would scream that it was obscene and that people shouldn’t be forced to look at such things.

“Oh but we are doing it for your own good” (Because you are too stupid to think for yourself; otherwise you would already have made the decisions we think you should make).

So how about putting pictures of  the decapitated victims of road traffic accidents on the label of every bottle of wine and beer?  Or perhaps fast food should come wrapped in pictures of the medical complications arising from obesity?

If some people’s choice to avoid what they find obscene should be respected; why shouldn’t mine be? I am an adult who chooses to smoke and look at porn sometimes. My bad. But still my choice. Yet for how much longer? And how many more choices and value judgements should we allow the government to make on our behalf?

5 responses to “Cigarettes and Porn

  1. I used to be one of those feminists who thought all porn was bad, but over the last few years I’ve changed my mind. I’ve come to see sexuality and the body as both beautiful and sacred in their many expressions. I’ve come to enjoy “feminist” porn (porn that doesn’t degrade or harm anyone and that honors the pleasure of all participants). And in the process of this change I’ve discovered that rather than losing respect for people or becoming desensitized to the plight of sexual slavery victims, I’m more sensitive to fighting for their rights and to honoring and respecting others. To a large extent my spirituality changed my feminism. It was through Innana that I learned of the sacred beauty of women owning their own sexuality. It was through my own journey to understand sexuality as a spiritual attribute that I discovered that there was more than just violent and destructive porn. I think my spirituality has made my feminism grow! Thanks for this thoughtful piece!

  2. writingthebody

    Yes, agree with R. This is closely reasoned and thoughtful. I agree with you about those gross images…they have them on the highways here, and they impose them on everyone. As you say, some of us find them sexy… I used to ask people to burn me with them….that is off the agenda these days, though I still have a few scars. Anyway, there is a link of sorts between cigs and porn, or at least between cigs and sex. Just look at those classic old Hollywood images of young men and woman smoking…

  3. Yes the government should stay out of our private lives, as long as we are “harming” no one but ourselves with our cigs and sex life. Here in the USA the government wants to be mommy and daddy, like the mayor of NYC telling people they can’t drink sodas that are too large because they are too fat. And our president (who i like) has to be “comforter in chief” using hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars to fly to the site of every mass killing or disaster. If my town is flooded i don’t need a hug from a politician, i need money. OK, i will stop ranting now…..

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