Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tobacco Smoking Culture in Italy

With this post, I start a new chapter in this blog, offering reviews on culture of smoking in different countries. While it is unhealthy habit no matter where, and not matter for whom, just do not undermine the cultural background, reasons why people became smokers in the first place, and reasons, why they are reluctant to give it away in spite of widely available information and deathly outcomes.

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Culture of Smoking in Italy versus the States

Dissimilarities between The United States and Italy are not hard to find; everything from people, to style, to landscape is unlike the norm in America. Whether or not these differences are positive, negative, or just that, differences, is up for constant debate, but one thing can be agreed upon; the smoking cultures vary to great extents. The American who smokes is seen as far more annoying, rude, and trashy than any Italian smoking outside their shop. It is known that when coming to Europe the prevalence of smokers will increase, but it was not expected to be more accepting of this increase.

During the earlier 1990s, in The United States, having a large cloud of second-hand smoke blown in your face at the local family restaurant was very common. Still today, even after heavy bans on public smoking, it is possible to find yourself trapped behind a loud, nasal-voiced women sucking down her cigarette as fast as possible at a beach or other outdoor public venue.

Only since October of 2005 have there been restaurant restrictions on smoking in Italy. Prior to these restrictions it was very common to see Italians enjoying a cigarette over an espresso while reading the soccer periodicals. Italians, and Europeans in general, have been known for decades to enjoy the act of smoking, smoking before the Americas were even discovered. Though this does not permit the using of cigarettes or make it less harmful for any individual, it may explain the differences between Italian smokers and American smokers. Perhaps, Italians are like the mature fifty-five year-old man that likes to enjoy a scotch daily after supper and Americans are the freshly turned twenty-one year-old adolescent that has been counting down the days to spiral into binge drinking. The time each culture has had to cultivate a culture around smoking plays a huge roll in how it is executed.

It is a fact that there is a higher percentage of Italians than Americans that are over the age of fifteen who consume cigarettes daily. These figures cannot be disputed, but the way in which cigarettes are used is very debatable. From personal experience, America has an extremist culture, doing everything big, loud and to full capacity; cigarettes are no exception. Cigarettes are often used in the states to extreme levels, as if it is a competition to see who can smoke the most tobacco sticks.  Italy, however, is a much more laidback culture, appreciating every minute of everyday. The same theory goes for having a cigarette, enjoy every separate inhale in a laidback manner.

The smell between Italian and American cigarettes is very distinct and can tell a lot about the differences in the culture of smoking. The quality of Italian made cigarettes and Italian tobacco allows for a much superior smell for the user and those surrounding. The increase quality also offers less harmful additives and toxins than those found in American cigarettes, enriching the secondhand user’s experience. The elevated properties of Italian smoking goods raise the reputation and stigma surrounding those who partake in smoking because when the smells are enjoyable the secondhand use goes unnoticed.

Strong campaigns in The States have vilified the cigarette industry and its customers. Smokers are often seen as repellent and dirty individuals as characterized by the strong ad campaigns and efforts of non-tobacco organizations. This criticism has cast a huge negative connotation on smoking as a whole, forcing American citizen to instantly think poorly about those who participate in such actions. This first impression leaves a bad taste in our mouths making it hard to see any good when it comes to smoking. This is opposite to the Italian culture. Smoking is widely accepted by most Italians with little or no negative connotation applied to it.

Whether the smoking culture differences stem from deep-routed Italian smoking traditions, American abuse, or reason that cannot be attributed to one encompassing fact, differences are predominant. During your time in Italian notice these differences, and enjoy one of the many participated traditions that fill Italy.

Author: Richard J. Widden

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Smoking in Rome

If you like smoking, Rome’s the place to do it. Or put another way, if you don't smoke, you will certainly be among the minority in Italy. Bring a gasmask.

While there are many bars and restaurants who operate a smoking ban, this is largely on account of their proprietors not wishing to lose the custom of increasing numbers of non-smoking Western tourists. However, these are the exception rather than the rule, so it’s possible in most places to enjoy a smoke with your coffee, thus heightening one’s enjoyment of the perfect Roman moment.

Say what you will, but the relaxed attitude of Italians towards smoking - the freedom to smoke in Rome - creates a wonderful nostalgic atmosphere of a city that has not bowed down to the soulless politically correct health-nuts that have taken so much of people's fun out of streetlife in most other world cities. Rome is not the home of the air-conditioned mall - It's a bustling colorful, sensual open-air city with no limits, with much of its heart still planted firmly in the days of simpler pleasures of the 1930's, 40's, 50s and 60's, when every pick-up line, short con or sales pitch began with the offer of a cigarette, not a cucumber juice.

It's a question of style and keeping up standards of dress - And it's a jazz thing...

Health? Atmosphere? Clean air? Civilised behaviour? When Italians go into a cafe, they'd sooner see a crowd of smartly-dressed men and women in suits and well-cut dresses smoking cigarettes and sipping coffees and shots than a bunch of sweat-dripping and smelling 'athletes' in scruffy running shoes, T-shirts, shorts or cut-offs, swilling fruit juice or water from those ugly plastic bottles as if they'd just crossed the desert and hadn't seen water for nine days. If you want to dress like that, go to the running track, but don't hang around the bars of Rome with that attitude, because you will stick out like a sore thumb with the word 'TOURIST' etched on your forehead. Rome's a smart town, so get with the program.

A few years ago it was difficult for visiting smokers to find Western brands of cigarettes in Italy, but this is no longer the case and popular Western brands like Marlboro, Dunhill or Players are freely available in most ‘Tabacchi’.

A 'tabacchi', as it’s name suggests, is a sort of tobacconist which sells cigarettes (obviously), other smoking materials (such as nice cigarette cases and lighters and those rolling machines for ciggy-papers), sweets, chewing gum, postage stamps, numerous brands of little mints and breath-fresheners, small items of stationary like pens and sometimes filofaxes, plus men’s toiletries and grooming aids. It’s a sort of newsagents without the newspapers, or a chemist which sells cigarettes instead of medicine. (as for newspapers, they’re mostly sold from news-stands in the street, but you can’t browse endlessly through the magazines a la WH Smith as most of the mags are behind the counter.

If you want to merge into the local smoking culture, then smoke the popular Italian brands such as Diana (mild), or MS (strong).

Respect the smoking conventions though - Even in a bar or restaurant where smoking is allowed, if it’s lunchtime, or large numbers of people nearby are eating, keep your distance from them and the food counter, or wait until you're outside again.

Be very careful how you dispose of the cigarette butt - In hot weather these may start a fire amidst waste litter on the street, or if thrown from a car in a rural area, hot, dry grass and shrub foliage can ignite, causing forest fires. Thus, there are heavy spot fines issued by police and carabinere for being seen throwing the cigarette butts carelessly.

However, a delightful feature of Rome’s smoking culture is the inclusion of ashtrays in the side-panels of almost all rubbish bins in the city, so there is really no excuse to just toss the butts away.

Finally, though many do, it’s still a bit non-U to smoke in the street, although this can be excused at stationary moments during the passeggiata.

In spite of the unhealthiness of smoking and the occasional discomfort it can cause to passive imbibers with smoke allergies, its prevalence in Rome and Italy in general adds a cool, carefree and stylish quality which has long gone from many other world cities today.


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