Today I heard something disturbing while listening to talk radio on the way in to work. A man called up and said (I’m paraphrasing, obviously) “I’m a smoker and I get really annoyed when obese people tell me it’s unhealthy. Being overweight is just as bad, but I would never tell someone they need to lose weight.” The radio host agreed, of course, said she completely understands where he’s coming from and she probably wouldn’t be able to hold her tongue. She wanted listeners to call in with some suggestions for “comebacks” this man can use. Let’s talk about why this is so completely back asswards that I would have been laughing if I hadn’t been trying to refrain myself from punching the radio.
First of all, let me just say that I do not condone going up to someone who’s smoking, unsolicited, and telling them it’s unhealthy and that they need to stop. That’s not my business. Of course, there are situations where this may be appropriate, such as if there are children close by, they are smoking indoors or if the person is being very rude about where they blow their smoke. However, these situations are less about concern-trolling and more about calling someone out on their public rudeness.
But I want to compare going up to a stranger and telling them to kick the habit, vs. telling a stranger to lose weight. The biggest difference between these two situations is that smoking is a BEHAVIOR and obesity is a BODY SIZE. There are behaviors that are inappropriate in public. There are no body sizes that are inappropriate in public. Smoking is a choice a person makes. Again, obesity describes the size of their body (sort of ).
Secondly, smoking in public affects other people. Secondhand smoke is a real thing that really does hurt people. If someone wants to up their chances for lung cancer that is entirely their business. However, they have no right to increase my chance of lung cancer and I have every right to not be subjected to secondhand smoke. Additionally, people have conditions anywhere from asthma to cystic fibrosis that can be exacerbated by cigarette smoke and they have every right to go out in public with the expectation of being able to breathe. Even if you believe obesity is a disease (it’s not << TW: headless fatties), even if you think it costs taxpayers money (it doesn’t), that still doesn’t change the fact that a smoker could put out her cigarette RIGHT NOW but an obese person cannot lose weight RIGHT NOW (and possibly not at all).
Someone who is obese, standing in your vicinity, does not affect you in the least, except maybe to offend your delicate sensibilities. They have zero effect on your life. Someone who is blowing smoke into your face however, affects you very much. One of these things is not like the other.
I get that this guy is probably just defensive about getting called out on his habit, but the solution is not a bigoted attack on an entire population of people. That would be like a stranger at a bar telling you that you should slow down on the drinking, and you shouting a racial slur at them. Were they a little out of line? Probably, yeah. Does that give you a right to spew prejudice about anyone who looks like them? Nope, not at all.
I’ll say it again: Smoking is a BEHAVIOR, obesity is a BODY SIZE.