Holy Smoke!

Nora Aunor (Jerome Ascano, NPPA Images)After almost eight years of self-imposed exile in the U.S., the icon Nora Aunor returns to our sacred shores.

She is welcomed with open arms by her fans.  Now an exclusive performer for TV5, she comes home as a Kapatid with no less than the equally legendary Mario O' Hara directing her mini-series.  As part of her bienvenida, Ate Guy is feted with interviews and testimonials.

This is the reason why she is on the cover of one of the most popular and bestselling monthly entertainment magazines in the country.  And she poses for the photographer in what could be considered as one of the most interesting pictures ever captured of the Superstar.

Nora Aunor, in black and white, staring straight at the camera with her lioness eyes that speak a thousand words without single utterance, holding a cigarette and announcing to the republic that indeed she is back.  But wait, wait! She is holding a cigarette?

I started smoking when I was only sixteen years old.  Starting with Marlboro Reds, I graduated to Marlboro Menthols, Pall Mall then eventually ended up with Philip Morris.  By the time I hit fifty, I was smoking a pack and a half a day.  It was a convenient excuse to say that the pressures of my job made it impossible for me to surrender the nicotine and caffeine rush.  But then again, you always concoct all kinds of excuses if you have yet to gain the will power to put a stop to an addiction.

Then, on my fifty-first birthday … on the set of a movie I was shooting, I decided it was time to stop.  Our location was a hospital in Alabang … and in order for me to get my nicotine fill, I had to step all the way outside the parking lot of the hospital just to light a fag.  I also realized that I ran out of cigarettes. Yon na yon. It was the Universe telling me: Awat na, Jose.

What made me finally kick the habit is not hard to fathom.  Let me count the ways: 1) It has become inconvenient to become a smoker because local city ordinances have discriminated against the puffers of the world. It is not funny to step out of a mall, restaurant or office building just to have my smoke. 2) I developed colds and coughs that went on and off almost every month --- and I was alarmed.  3) The father of a friend of mine croaked because of emphysema.  4) Whether I realized it or not, I smelled of cigarettes 24/7.  Come to think of it, everywhere I went, I reeked of cigarettes.  5) It was getting to be a costly habit.  I figured out that I was no longer buying packs but rather reams of cigarettes by the week.

And so I stopped.  I told my Script Supervisor that I will stop smoking. And I did.  I have not smoked a cigarette for almost four years and I do not think I will light another one.  Yes, it is true: you gain weight when you stop smoking because your tastebuds start being active again when the nicotine coating is slowly removed from your tongue.

I realized that it was harder thinking of the pains of ending the addiction rather than stopping the consumption of cigarettes all together. We tend to overrate our fears. And sometimes the fear is more deadly than the habit.

Teka, teka … but that is not the point why I am writing this. Why ba? It goes something like this.

Yes, after I gave up the habit I realize that I cannot stand the smell of cigarettes. Maybe that is a defense reaction. I get really pissed when I sense that somebody smoked inside my office which has become a non-nicotine zone.   Although I am not bothered by people smoking in front of me, I will certainly not lock lips with a smoker.  Even if I have ended my addiction and encourage others to do so, I do not impose my beliefs and decisions on others. I still believe in free will, respect the ability of others to choose what they want to do with their lungs and deal with the ordinances that forbid the practice of the habit in various venues around the cities.

To condemn Nora Aunor for posing with a cigarette on a magazine cover and saying that this is a betrayal of her duty as a role model is either gross overreaction or … at its worse, the first symptoms of rabid fanaticism.  The photograph, as far as I see it, was well executed.  It was meant to be the cover of a magazine and not a textbook on good conduct and moral uprightness.  To demand an apology from Nora Aunor is public blackmail.  Yes, Sir, we are free to pursue all our causes and crusades … but others also have the right to decide whether they believe in you or not.  Demanding an apology from someone who you think went against your line of thinking is foisting the fact that you are right and everybody else is wrong. That, I believe, is un-Christian.

First, the mayors were disgusted by the billboards showing the Volcanoes Rugby Team sporting nothing but their underwear across Guadalupe.  Before you know it, all billboards with people in underwear were banned from public highways. Now we are into celebrities caught on camera smoking.

Yes, I am the first to reiterate the negative effects of smoking to one's health which is why I have nothing against the banning of ads for cigarettes in media.  But to go as far as wiping out all photos of people smoking so as to assure the end of the habit is not only ridiculous but on the verge of the dictatorial and tyrannical.

Besides, if we are to speak of role models, many would agree that perhaps priests and politicians should be the first to exhibit exemplary behavior that the faithful and the voting constituents emulate … not just the media personalities.


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