I’ve had this post written for a while, but I’ve been really nervous to post it because smoking is a sensitive subject and this is one of those posts that may pull us off topic or upset readers, but hear me out. I often see people saying that obesity and smoking are the same thing – that being obese is the same thing as being a smoker. There is a whole debate to be had about smoker’s rights, but that’s not the point of this blog (and if we could avoid a flame war about it in the comments that would be great). The point that I am trying to make is that the two are not comparable. Let’s look at the arguments:
Smoking and Obesity are Both Addictions
This argument assumes that all obese people must be food addicts, which is simply not true. Obesity is just a ratio of weight and height. Smoking is an addictive behavior. Statistically there will be a small percentage of obese people who have food addiction issues but that does not make all obese people addicts. There are also some smokers (I know one personally) who can smoke or not and have no withdrawal issues but that doesn’t change the fact that most smokers are addicted.
They can both be changed through personal responsibility
It is not certainly not easy to quit smoking. The failure rates for smoking and long term weight loss are actually similar – according to a CDC study 6.2% of smokers succeed at quitting. About 5% of dieters are able to maintain weight loss long term (however many of those people did not start out as obese, or did not lose enough weight to change their BMI category). The big difference here is that a smoker is healthier for every day they don’t smoke – even if they start smoking again. Every time someone loses wight and gains it back they become less healthy because of the effects of weight cycling.
Smoking and Obesity Both Cause Health Problems
Again, the main problem with this argument lies in the confusion between a body size and a behavior. Every smoker breathes in cigarette smoke. The carcinogens in that smoke have been shown to have a causal relationship with cancer. That is not to say that all smokers will get cancer, but all smokers, well, smoke. Which they are allowed to do, but it’s not the same as being obese.
The only thing that all obese people have in common is our height/weight ratio. There are vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore obese people. There are obese people who exercise and those who don’t. There are healthy and unhealthy obese people (and let’s be clear that health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or entirely within our control). Also obesity is correlated with many health issues, but causation has not been proven.
If you believe that obese people shouldn’t be policed by society then you have to believe that smokers shouldn’t be restricted or policed
This isn’t comparable. By being near me, people are not forced to take part in my obesity – my obesity has no direct effect on them. Someone could stand beside me and they would not catch fat. If someone is near a smoker, they are forced to take part in their smoking, at least until they can get away. In the interest of full disclosure, this one hits home for me because I’m sensitive to cigarette smoke – it causes me to have breathing difficulties. Both of my parents smoked and I can remember feeling tortured in a car filled with smoke with my shirt over my mouth and so I have strong emotions around this. But let me set aside those emotions and make this argument:
I do not care if people smoke. I do not care what people do to their bodies. You can drink your body weight in whiskey every day, you can smoke ten cartons a day, you can survive on a steady diet of McDonald’s french fries and milk (with a little oatmeal or you’ll die). You are the boss of your underpants – I do not care what you do with your body.
When it comes to personal habits (as opposed to things that help the common good like mass transportation), my right to punch ends at the tip of someone else’s nose. Smoking doesn’t fit this mold. I had to go to traffic court which required me to walk past a row of smokers. I wasn’t able to hold my breath for long enough and so I was forced to participate in their habit which caused me to have difficulty breathing and increased my risk for cancer according to the National Cancer Institute. You can argue about whether or not it is my right to not be exposed to smoke or someone else’s right to smoke, but the indisputable fact is that a row of fat people standing outside the court would have no such negative consequences on passersby and that makes them incomparable to smokers in this way.
You don’t like to breathe smoke and I don’t like to look at fat people, it’s the same thing
This is just asinine. One is an issue of aesthetics, the other is a health issue. You can look the other way any time you want, but you can’t just breathe different air.
As I said, there are arguments on each side of the smoker’s rights debate, but that’s not the point of this blog. The point I’m trying to make is that people should stop comparing obese people to smokers because it’s apples and oranges. Obesity is no more like smoking than tallness is like smoking. If you want to make arguments about obesity or smoking you can do that, but comparing the two makes no sense.
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