I don’t smoke. Smoking is a disgusting, life sucking, and expensive habit. I don’t own a car either. I must admit to having the same disdain for most drivers as I do for smokers. I feel particularly loathsome towards the drivers of larger gas-guzzling trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
I recently linked my abhorrence between smoking and cars when I stumbled upon an article about mountain bike inventor Gary Fisher. On the direction of America’s bike culture, Fisher says, “Cars are the new smoking.” Glad I wasn’t reading while pedaling, ’cause I would have fallen off my bike.
Fisher didn’t explain what he meant by comparing cars with the act of smoking cigarettes. I don’t think he had too. Society’s views on smoking have changed over the years. Smoking was once the norm. People smoked in open places and did not think twice about the health or environmental ramifications. Today smoking is proven deadly. I wonder if people’s feelings towards driving large ostentatious cars are changing. Do we now or will we later see SUVs in the same way as we see smoking today? Will we look back and see large cars being deadly to the environment and to our health? Are cars the new smoking? The statement alone boggles my brain and conjures words and images as to why, in some social circles, the two seemingly dissimilar acts are intrinsically linked.
Perhaps Fisher’s car and cigarette connection resonates so strongly due to my athletic background. As a two-time Ironman finisher, I’m no stranger to riding thousands of miles with other bike-minded non-smoking friends. Perhaps I’m still fuming over growing-up with a parent who smoked two packs a day around my younger sister and me. Either way, the general social consciousness seems to be treating owners of SUVs, Hummers, and other large vehicles with the same disdain once reserved for smokers. Since Fisher didn’t elaborate on his reasons for comparing cars to smoking,
Here are 10 reasons why cars are the new smoking:
Both smoking and car ownership are expensive. Smoking cigs and driving fuel-hungry cars can burn horrendous holes in your wallet. Smokers can pay thousands a year for the cancer sticks alone, but the cost to their health is priceless. Drivers burn through thousands a year on fuel. Add the cost of the vehicle, maintenance and insurance, and your whacked with the stench of some serious cash gone up in smoke.
It took years for cigarette maker Philip Morris to admit nicotine is addictive. What about cars? One could argue that cars have a dependence on fuel consumption to function while people have a repetitive habitual reliance on cars. The increase in gas thefts certainly makes one consider how siphoning fuel from your neighbor’s gas tank could be considered addict behavior. Perhaps these fuel thieves are the new dope dealers. Drivers of gas guzzling cars are the addicts. Rather than adjust their driving lifestyle, they opt for the black market and buy the fuel stolen from their neighbors’ tanks.
Smoking cigarettes will kill you. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports there are 5.4 million tobacco-related deaths every year. The situation is so deathly dire in developing nations that kagillionaires Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg have pledged $500 million to combat tobacco consumption in Asia, Africa, China, and India.
Cars are no life savers either. The WHO reports that worldwide, an estimated 1.2 million people are killed in road crashes each year and as many as 50 million are injured. Automobile related deaths are so common they fail to attract media attention in favor of less frequent types of tragedy. Sorry to be all doom and gloom.
Both smoking and automobile related deaths are preventable. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes tobacco use as “the single most important preventable risk to human health in developed countries and an important cause of premature death worldwide.”
Car crashes are also preventable. Both the World Bank and the WHO jointly launched the World Report citing that unsafe road traffic systems are seriously harming global public health and development. The report contends that the level of road traffic injury is unacceptable and that it is largely avoidable.
Where smokers are now treated as outcasts by being legislated and banned from practicing their nicotine addiction anywhere they please, I now see SUV drivers being sent a similar social message. Drivers of environment eating Hummers are feeling the brunt of public condemnation. Some drivers find their Humvee tires slashed, windows broken, and messages scratched into the bodies of their vehicles. The public has gone so far as to label SUV and Hummer owners as “Earth Fuc$ers” with minuscule member peens. Indeed, the bigger a man’s car, the smaller his dick?
6. Second Hand Fumes.
Both cigarettes and cars cause pollution in the forms of second hand smoke and exhaust emissions. Both forms of fumes contain a range of toxic substances which can seriously impact our health, including: cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma. Both cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes are involuntarily inhaled by nonsmokers and nondrivers.
7. Peer Pressure.
One of the biggest reasons teens start to smoke is peer influence. The Lung Association says, “Over 70 per cent of teens say that having friends who smoke and/or peer pressure is the number one reason for starting to smoke.” (source).
Peer pressure can also influence car buying decisions. The notion of “keeping up with the the Joneses” is alive and well in America. Look to your neighbor’s driveway and tell me how your car measures up. Blogger Frugal Dad writes on the financial peer pressure of owning a ride rad enough to “impress strangers at a red light.” He says, “Somewhere along the line we Americans decided a car was a reflection of our wealth, a sort of mobile status symbol.” Frugal Dad fully admits that peer pressure can cause one to justify spending hundreds more a month for a “new” ride when “many times a used alternative would do just fine.”
8. Deceptive Advertising.
The tobacco industry has used deceptive advertising techniques to lure kids and teens into smoking for years. Despite being prohibited from targeting youth in the advertising of tobacco products, the tobacco companies have “increased their cigarette marketing expenditures by 125 percent” marketing to kids (source). One of the most common tactics is the introduction of candy-flavored cigarettes and smokeless tobacco (see ads), and other tobacco-like candy.
Car companies use deceptive practices as well to sell cars, trucks, and SUVs. The use of financing programs, sweepstakes contests, money off MSRP, pre-approved credit, zero down, liquidation sales, and selling below dealer’s cost have all been tested in court as deceptive practices (source). The SUV automakers have also been slapped on the chassis by their deceptive advertising in “bluring the lines between SUVs and cars.” Attorney General Charlie Crist says, “Consumers were being deceived into believing SUVs have car-like handling and performance capabilities when in fact they are more like a truck.” Too bad no one mentioned fuel consumption. Yikes.
The movies don’t show you emphysema, but they sure glamorize smoking. Tobacco companies pay movie producers big bucks to get their deathly product on the big screen in the form of product placement. Website Smoke Free Movies shows how “Big Tobacco” companies and Hollywood have influenced and glamorized smoking by placing smoking ads in films over the years. The more people who view their favorite actor lighting up, the more likely they themselves will strike a match. To combat tobacco placement in film, the Motion Picture Association of America will now rate films that “appear to glamorize smoking” with restrictive ratings and increasingly detailed advisories (source).
Cars have been featured as the stars in many a film over the decades. But it’s the glamorization and idealization of street racing and unsafe driving which bothers me most. Films like The Fast and the Furious have been blamed by media watchdogs for increasing illegal street racing (source). Others argue that films American Graffiti and Two-Lane Blacktop set these precedents decades earlier.
10. Land use.
How much land is required and how many forests are consumed to grow, harvest, and manufacture tobacco? How many miles of pavement are required to build the infrastructure to operate motor vehicles around the world? All of this land and these resources are being consumed for what?
The tobacco farms could be allocated to growing food. The pavement plowing over farm land at an alarming rate should also cause concern for anyone requiring food to survive. In the words of Joni Mitchell, I do believe “they paved paradise, they put up a parking lot.” I have to wonder though, is Joni a smoker?
Thank you to Gary Fisher for making the connection between cars and smoking. Thanks as well to Tim O’Reilly for Twittering Fisher’s words for all us Twits out there in Twitterland.
I’m going for a bike ride now.