Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Jim Crow, meet Heather Crowe

Call me old Mr. Heartless (or I wonder if this might be considered a kind of hate speech? ... call me old Mr. Hatespeech then), but Heather Crowe's well-publicized death--tragically timely thing that it is, falling just short of May 31st (the day Ontario's most draconian anti-smoking legislation yet comes into effect)--has failed to stir in me so much as a burp. Ms. Crowe, in case you didn't know, is the woman from the Health Canada commercials claiming to have been driven into a life of reckless second-hand smoking, slaving away in bars and restaurants because (wait for it!) she was a single mother trying to raise a child. In her late fifties she was diagnosed with lung cancer, and was told, moreover, that this particular cancer was "a smoker's tumor." (Easy on the medical mumbo-jumbo there, egghead--give it to us straight!) Suffice it to say that the commercial is desperately maudlin stuff and, I don't know but, there is some desperately dubious-sounding science here too. Call me crazy, but a non-smoker with a so-called "smoker's tumor" doesn't actually make sense, does it?

But the pointlessness of questions such as this in a day and age where a given issue's validity is determined as much by its sentimental cachet as by its science must hardly be surprising. Still, the fact remains that nowhere in any mainstream medical study does it suggest any stronger of a connection between second-hand (or environmental) tobacco smoke and cancer than the contention that the one may lead to the other. May! This is intentionally uncertain language used because the proof, quite simply, does not exist that there is a definitive relationship between the two. And this, I hasten to add, because the number of deaths attributable to exposure to second hand smoke are negligibly low. (Bearing in mind too that these aren't people whose lives are being cut short in their prime. Even most smokers don't die of smoking related diseases in their prime. It's still just a dirty old habit, I'm afraid, not WMD.) So, Health Canada's unambiguous assertion--via the treacly sweet vehicle of these commercials--that exposure to tobacco smoke (by a positively antique standard, i.e. the days when a person could smoke virtually anywhere; the days when "the air was blue where I worked") poses a serious threat to non-smokers is, actually, unsubstantiated and so, alas, is false. And, really, with accusations as serious as this, where the hell are all the other non-smoking waitresses with lung cancer?

But this is all beside the point. My big problem with Heather Crowe is the whole Heather Crowe Story that she's been turned into--and, indeed, that she allowed herself to be turned into. It's asinine and it's tacky. The Globe calls her the "'Matriarch' of the anti-smoking movement"; The Star has the unmitigated vapidity and vulgarity to say that she put "a human face on the deadly hazards of second-hand smoke." For the love of-- ... What the hell does that mean?! It's embarrassing, all this courage and horror stuff; all this dignity and tragedy and rising above and oh-the-humanity stuff. It's contrivance, and rather poor contrivance at that--the kind that's defiantly insulting to the intelligence.

And so it's threatening too, in a way. The sort of person who doesn't--unlike the mayor of Winnipeg, who made damn sure that he did--"appear moved" (my emphasis) by her story, must then be unmoved by her story. And there's something a little bit sick and degraded about that, eh? Who would dare challenge the victim in their claim to victimhood?! An animal! Someone undeserving of the rights and privileges of a free citizen in a tolerant society. A smoker!

Roll over Jim Crow--we've got Heather now!