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No Smoking...Anywhere in Panama

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Written by Matt   
Tuesday, 02 September 2008 09:13
No Smoking...Anywhere in PanamaMy childhood, treat in the academic town of Princeton, New Jersey, nurse was characterized-as most childhoods are-by a number of bad influences: among them, urgings from the misfit kids to unite on the eve of Halloween and throw raw eggs at the principals garage. Sitting on a bench at the local daycare outfit, I came to find out very early in life that pressures encroach from every angle, when my little Asian friend Misako suggested I taste some of my own poop. As I would understand in years to come, the process of peer pressure was less about the prospect of being cool and more about jealousy. Misako sat there with a terrible grin on his soiled face. "It's delicious," he said.

The influences in my life as a schoolboy were conveniently segmented into cliques. There was, what I liked to call "the Hispanic mafia" which consisted of no more than six or seven Guatemalans who played soccer in the park at lunchtime. They were a harmless bunch who occasionally smoked a cigarette or two, but having become addicted to prison documentaries, I liked to think of them as violent syndicate looking to overthrow the guard tower that was the school cafeteria. They were nine years old at the time.

Into high school, there was the gothic clique who overlapped occasionally with the skateboarder mob. It was hard to break into this bubble if you did not have a coffin-shaped backpack or a pair of long jean shorts, but I respected them nonetheless for their apparent disregard for authority. They would smoke in a small gaggle by the tennis courts, and once they threw an ice cream sandwich at the township parking enforcement vehicle: a small tuk-tuk which appeared to rattle on impact and an act that was the essence of cool.

Last but not least was a group of popular kids who skipped class in favor of smoking cigarettes in the parking lot. I had never really been interested in smoking cigarettes since watching a slideshow about lung, throat and mouth cancer in which a middle-aged man cried of too much tobacco through the speakers of a small voice box. "I used to," the voice box uttered. "I used love sock."

You used to love sock? I thought. Did you say you used to love socks?

"Soccer," the man's wife chimed in on the grainy projector screen. "He used to love soccer, but he can't play anymore. The cancer paralyzed him from the hip down." The message was twisted, but as a clever and brainy child, I figured it out.

Cigarettes, for all the bashing our teachers and parents did back then, were not only omnipresent, but consistently linked with being cool. Billboards and magazine ads offered the chance to turn into a giant sun-tanned camel if you chose their particular brand. Other TV spots suggested one may live out his dream as a cowboy, if he only bought a pack of firesticks and grabbed the nearest reins. But contrary to what mass media and the various cliques at school wanted me to believe, I remained in the minority as not interested...until I got to Panama that is.

Panama City is a cosmopolitan place, full of coffee shops, nice cars, and fashion boutiques where dresses the size of hand towels cost an arm and a leg. So it's not without shock that a handful of people living in Panama have adopted the all-too-cool habit of smoking cigarettes to induce a barrage of harm on their bodies. However, unlike my childhood, there are a number of factors here to dissuade them from their vice.

In April of 2008, it officially became a Panama law: it is illegal to smoke cigarettes in "open and closed areas, both public and private." Now even though I am not a smoker, this decree forced my mind into puzzle-like solution mode, trying to figure out where, if at all possible, might the smokers legally be allowed to puff. What about a semi-enclosed room, like a greenhouse? I thought to myself. Or perhaps a retractable roof stadium? Could you legally smoke in one of those?

The new law is rarely enforced, though I have heard of tickets being issues to those who don't comply. The most radical change I've seen is in clubs, bars, and Panama restaurants where once smoke filled rooms seem remarkably clean, but there's still the occasional place that disregards the law and everyone simply lights up again like its Christmas eve.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 September 2008 09:17