Would one expect to see a cloud of smoke hanging over a gathering of doctors? Not very likely. How about a haze over an assembly of lawyers? Again, doubtful. What about finding pungent billows over a group of teachers? Unlikely. In contrast, how likely is smoking in a collection of cab drivers? That is not surprising. Assembly line workers? Restaurant employees? For smokers in these livelihoods it may even be the norm. Welcome to smoking and social class.
The recent negotiations between a group of state attorneys general and the big tobacco companies have been watched and reported on with great interest. People are wondering what will happen to the smoking habit in America in the health-conscious millennium and beyond. While political and economic giants move between position and negotiation, a more complex issue is being ignored.
Many Americans are reluctant to speak publicly of social class except to say that it does not matter or to observe that anyone can rise through hard work and perseverance.
To address class and its implications is to engage in what Ronald Reagan called "the politics of envy" (West, 13, 1999). Nevertheless, it is a fact that in America these days, as the wealthy and the near-wealthy rush to the salad bar, smoking has become the opiate-tranquilizing drug of the lower classes. This development reflects the fact that smoking and hope are adversarial. Those who smoke do so because they feel that what they want in their lives will not happen (West, 1999). The argument is that smoking is a part of a broader issue, the death of hope in American society. Because of this, the practice of smoking appears predominately in the lower social classes, a mass of hopeless Americans.
Karl Marx viewed the structure of society in relation...