The modern woman and her tool of ‘liberation’has aroused much scoff in certain segments of the Indian society. A women smoking has been a much common sight lately, especially around colleges and work spaces. This alarms most conservative thinkers of the Indian society who hold a stark perspective of how a traditional woman must not smoke. The issue they raise is not with smoking in itself, but is with the idea of an Indian woman smoking.
A source claims,” I was approached by a drunk man outside a ‘Tapri’ at Prithvish, Nerul. He yelled at me about how I am shaming my family by smoking and I am tainting my reputation. He made it clear that nobody would want to marry a woman like me, and I should not get encouraged by other men smoking, because how much ever I try, I will never be a man. He tells this to me whilst he himself is smoking a cigarette, and scares me into dropping mine”.
Here we question this perception about how it is considered acceptable to smoke, but the idea of a woman smoking enrages many. Why must there be a stigma attached to the gender of the smoker? A source talks about a distressing incident where she was smoking at a tapri with her friends, and constantly there were people throwing water and stones at them from their building upstairs. The girls fought and picked up a huge fight with those people, but were still chased away from the tapri because them smoking was considered immoral. This further highlights the opinion of many as to why a woman smoking isn’t culturally acceptable, and yet, a man smoking isn’t contested against.
Apart from the direct assaults at women smoking, some have subtle opinions about women smokers. They consider these women to be morally loose and easy to get. They question their family background and upbringing, are certain that they must be thoroughly invested in drinking and drugs as well, and aren’t an appropriate candidate to get married to. Why must a woman be considered unworthy if she decided to smoke? It is a personal choice for many women to take up smoking, and it has become a common phenomena in India for women to smoke.
A known statistic, reported by the Journal of American Medical Association in their study “Smoking Prevalance and Cigarette Consumption”, claims that over 12.1 million women smoke in India. This highlights the majority of women smokers we now have, yet the thought process against women and a cigarette hasn’t changed.
Most women admit to smoking to conform to pressures. They might have started it at a young age to feel cool or accepted and fit in with a crowd. Some do it to feel at par with men, especially at workplaces where they feel the need to smoke in order to be taken seriously by her male counterparts. Some consider it to be a tool of liberation, but is it really? Women often feel liberated when they smoke, but most women do it by choice. They smoke because they WANT to smoke. We mustn’t question a women for doing the same.
India is now ranked to be the number two country to host the maximum women smokers globally. The notion about smoking being a ‘western culture’ is incorrect because women in Asian countries smoke more than those in European countries or the United States.An average woman smokes more sticks a day than a man does. An average women smoker puffs more cigarettes a day (7) as against men (6.1) They get addicted faster, for they smoke brands like lights, menthol which is easy on the throat. In an intense discussion with a tapriwala and few passerby’s, I asked them how they feel when they see a woman smoking. Their response was,” We feel very bad when a woman smokes. She is ruining her health because cigarettes aren’t made for women. We smoke, drink and even chew tobacco. But it won’t affect me until I am 52 years old. But for a woman, it would affect them right from the time they conceive their first child. They won’t be able to handle the gruesome child bearing pain. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t sell a cigarette to women, but this is my business.”
They do bring up one valid point about how women smokers would struggle with their child bearing process because cigarettes damage their body a lot more than men. It could also damage their fetus. But there are numerous health effects associated with smoking in general, and with increased media awareness, most smokers are aware of the downfalls. Women take up smoking at 17.5 years as compared to 18.8 years for boys. The quit rate is less than 20%. They make an informed choice to keep up the habit.
Although, smoking campaigns are encouraged, the anti-women smoking rally must stop. Women must have the choice to smoke wherever they wish to, and not be criticized, judged or discouraged for the same, solely because of their gender. Legally, nobody has the right to stop a woman above the age of 18 to smoke, and yet many do for moral reasons. This perspective must be shifted so women don’t see smoking as a tool of feminism or liberation, but solely as a ‘stick’ of choice.