In my youth smoking was not seen as the social scourge it has become.
You could smoke anywhere. Everyone had ashtrays in the house, because if you didn’t smoke your guests did. Athletes smoked. Doctors smoked. Politicians smoked. Entertainers smoked. Even some pastors smoked, but only in those “liberal” churches. Or perhaps Christian Reformed. The health consequences of smoking were known, but those findings were relatively new and not completely understood by society.
These days smoking is akin to leprosy. Smokers are shunned in polite society. You can no longer smoke in restaurants, arenas or airplanes. Good role models do not smoke. To buy cigarettes, which are kept under lock and key in the stores that still sell them, you have to show proof of age. Gone are the days when children could buy a pack of cigarettes for 50 cents.
Which is why I was quite surprised last month when wandering through the town of Bad Krozingen, Germany, to discover a cigarette machine on a street corner.
I remember cigarette machines from my youth. You frequently found them in restaurants or gas stations. It was a convenient way for the retailer to have the product available without having to do the transactions. Select your brand and package size, put in your coins and light up. I think they may have even disgorged a matchbook for a penny. I’m not sure of that – I never used one of the machines.
Cigarette machines are long gone here of course. There is no way to control who is making the purchase, and since we don’t sell tobacco to minors, the machines vanished long ago. I guess it is for the same reason we don’t have vending machines selling beer. (At the hostel I stayed at in Brussels a few years ago you could get a can of beer from the same machine you got your can of Coke from.)
My first thought on seeing this particular machine on the street corner was that it was an old one that somehow had never been removed. From a distance it looked a little weather beaten.
But as I walked through the town I noticed another cigarette vending machine, then another. They looked newer and quite functional.
Which set me to wondering. What is to stop minors from buying cigarettes from these devices? Obviously nothing. Why does the government allow these machines to exist? Are there no rules about underage smoking?
In Canada we restrict cigarette sales to adults, yet most smokers start (and become addicted) before they are of legal age. I suspect that the restrictions add a “cool” factor to smoking. Why else would you want to inhale a bunch of carcinogens that you create by sticking a burning plant in your mouth?
Maybe Germany has discovered that easing access to tobacco lowers youth smoking rates. If it isn’t taboo, then there is no need for youthful rebellion. If that is true, it’s an interesting approach.
Being lazy, I’m not going to look up how they approach the issue of smoking in Germany. I’ll leave that to you if you want to know more. But it was interesting to see vending machines that I thought had been consigned to the history books long ago. Different cultures do things differently even in the West.