Robert Haupt on smoking and drinking
1. “The New Puritans lie in wait for the New Lepers,” The Sydney Morning Herald, May 5, 1984, p. 40.
2. “Stop the boos about booze,” Good Weekend: The Sydney Morning Herald Magazine, November 17, 1984, p. 14.
3. “The warning may be the hazard,” National Times on Sunday, September 14, 1986, p. 12.
4. “A creed of wellness up with which I will not put,” The Sydney Morning Herald, April 22, 1988, p. 15.

Robert Haupt, “The New Puritans lie in wait for the New Lepers,” The Sydney Morning Herald, May 5, 1984, p. 40.

I feel sorry for cigarette smokers: they are the New Lepers. When you think about it, bores are far more of a social burden, yet we don’t have “No Boring” areas in our planes and public spaces.

Nor is it form to say to someone, “Do you mind not blowing boredom in my face?” whereas the appearance of a cigarette packet at a dinner party can be licence for appalling impoliteness.

A smoke-filled room can be irritating, but political bosses gave them away years ago, finding it easier to plot by telephone. The problem rarely arises for the rest of us, now that most buildings have gale-force air-conditioning.

So what is the case against cigarette smoking?

Not that it is harmful to one’s health, though it is undoubtedly so. This argument is not enough for our New Puritans, for it leaves social duty merely at the level of persuasion: “Please don’t smoke, I should hate to see you die.”

Those who want to regulate us need a further justification, and of course they have one: that smokers are clogging up the public hospitals as well as their own lungs.

Don’t believe that a smoothly-functioning hospital system is the real goal. For the most part, the new sanitationists are motivated by the joy of regulation. That is, indulging the age-old urge to tell other people how to behave.

The trouble with the “you’re a drain on health resources” argument is that there is always enough in it to justify the next incursion into our right to behave foolishly.

The argument that motorcycle riders ought to be free to dash their heads hatlessly against the public pavements sounds idiotic and provocatively callous on its own. I support it only to draw the line against the sanitationists, for they will have to be fought somewhere.

I might make a film about the New Puritans, and call it A Year of Living Safely.

It would show the heavy burden placed on society by the obsessively healthy people, the joggers and carrot-juice freaks who hang around into their 90s, drawing the pension.

How are the incursions of the New Puritans to be resisted? The logical answer is by revolt, the way all undesirable progress is halted.

But who will go to the barricades to protect the right of man to blow smoke in the air? And which revolution since the French altered the freedom index for the better, anyway? Iran is almost too painful to contemplate: there, you get stoned if you get stoned.

You might feel insulated from the attempt of the Islamic revolutionaries to recreate the 14th century in our time. After all, their appeal is to divinity. Our New Puritans are backed by science.

And there is a clear reason to prefer science: no ayatollah will say that Muhammed was a fraud, but science is free to dispute its own axioms.

Yet you can’t be confident that science has anything to offer us against the New Puritans. Too many scientists have joined them, usually out of the idea — one of the fall-outs from the atom bomb — that science must atone.

Interesting word, atone: its specific meaning relates God to sinner. If science must atone, what was its sin? Surely, it is the charge that sent Galileo up the river: discovery, or consorting with truth.

For so long as science keeps taking that rap, it can’t be relied on to tell the truth about anything a politician can understand.

So it will fall to non-scientists to remind us that medicine is only one division of the keeping-people-alive industry.

That it is no court of justice that people die in its care every day in a countenanced form called unavailable facilities.

That one of the biggest breakthroughs in healthy lives saved could be wrought not by scalpels or scans but by pneumatic drills, if only the money could be found: the removal of kerbside light poles.

Let me take a gamble. I will put my bet on the philosophers, the thinkers whose training is in thought.

Twenty years ago, philosophy was a place of exquisite and generally trivial difficulty. Today, it is extraordinarily relevant. Philosophers come into their own, after all, in an age of cant.

Do give your daughter to a sage, Mrs Worthington.

Robert Haupt, “Stop the boos about booze,” Good Weekend: The Sydney Morning Herald Magazine, November 17, 1984, p. 14.

An alcoholic, according to Brendan Behan’s definition, is a person you dislike who drinks as much as you do. Well, drink’s on the back foot these days.

Against the indictment that it fills the wards and fuels the morgues, few come to its defence.

Since fitness is the new orthodoxy — despite the death of James Fixx — alcohol is under fire. Not proof, reproof.

These days, it’s all tonic and no gin.

There doesn’t seem to be any less drinking going on — in the memorable remark about prohibition, we vote dry and drink wet — but the rhetoric has altered. Only a few people would laugh now at the reply the English writer Jeffrey Bernard gave to the doctor who asked him, upon his awakening from a coma:

“Why do you drink?”

“To keep myself from jogging.”

But the prohibitionists are in the wings, ready to pounce. The first target is the booze ads.

Frankly, I think the word would get around about drink without any advertising at all; I mean, the stuff has an intrinsic attraction and no serious drinker believes for a moment that he absorbs 15 middies in order to make himself attractive.

Indeed, you could make a very good case for arguing that the psychological goal of the Australian male drinker is to render himself unattractive (or at least, unhelpful) to females.

After the ads, the next target will be the hootch itself. Our Prime Minister, it will be said, should be an example to us all: a man who turned from temptation and found purity in mineral water. Well, as with so many of our leader’s actions, this turned out to be, among other things, sound politics: first, the carouser’s vote as an all-round good Aussie drinker; then the support of the blue-stockings, for having given it up. It’s a political process that doesn’t work the other way round.

But pleading won’t work. Humans have been imploring each other — and themselves — to keep the cork in the firewater for centuries. No use. So that will leave the prohibitionists back exactly where they love to be: demanding prohibition.

There will be a mountain of statistical evidence — anti-drinkers, being for the most part non-drinkers, have many more hours at their disposal than the rest of us, and infinitely more hatred to channel into their obsessions — all of which will show that the thing that gets you is that old sip, sip, sip.

Well, one thing they won’t point out is that the years you gain by following George Herbert’s advice — “Stay at the third glass” — are years that go on to the end of your life. Get the point? By making your life less cheerful for 50 or 60 years, you get five more years in the old folk’s home.

The statistical case will cite the hazard to health and happiness that dwells in the bottle. But it won’t talk of the stress, misery, divorce and mayhem avoided by the recourse we poor mortals take there. Nor will it discuss inspiration, the evidence for which was established years ago by George Orwell, who invited us to consider how much poetry is inspired by wine and how little by water.

No, the prohibitionists want to see a world — it is their chief wish — that is earnest. The singing sauce does not promote seriousness of purpose. No one drinks and remains earnest. Have you ever seen a vigilant drunk? In vino, veritas — not gravitas.

I do not for a moment question the logic of getting alcohol out of the motorist, though I wonder whether its worth — in lives saved — justifies the para-military operation that random breath-testing has become.

But that, to reiterate the old philosophical distinction, is a question of preventing people from harming others; the anti-booze campaign wishes to protect people from themselves. There’s all the difference in the world between the two.

But there’s no room for distinctions in the world of BUGA-UP. Advertising posters extolling the virtues of ballroom dancing would probably excite their malice and end up daubed with slogans alleging sexism, exploitation and the risk of repetitive-strain injury. When you’re a hater, you hate.

I suppose the booze ads are bound to go: another encroachment by the sanitationists. But when you consider the tax we pay and the commerce we create, the drinker ought to be saluted, not censured. Let him put mud in his eye himself.

Robert Haupt, “The warning may be the hazard,” National Times on Sunday, September 14, 1986, p. 12.

The glittering eye, the shining pate, the voice exhorting us from beyond the grave, “Don’t smoke!” Small wonder that those who have a commercial interest in our continuing to smoke should have been upset by the Yul Brynner commercials. They are certainly arresting.

Should they have been suppressed? Those who defend the right of the tobacco and alcohol industries to advertise rely, ultimately, on the idea that freedom of speech is something to be preserved, almost without regard to the content of what is being spoken. If this argument applies to advertising, it must apply equally to anti-advertising, however distressing those messages may be to certain commercial interests.

Even if they are untrue? Should common ground ever be reached between the pro- and anti-smoking forces on whether smoking is harmful — and tobacco seems to contain an irritant that prevents agreement — truth-in-advertising might become an issue. But the health debate about smoking resembles the disputes of the Scholastics in medieval times: the arguments proceed from belief, not fact, and they are advanced in a cloud of prejudice and special pleading. In such a climate, who is to say that Brynner got it wrong?

A bigger doubt about such advertisements is whether their impact — which cannot be doubted — works in the intended direction. When he says, “Don’t smoke!”, Brynner is really saying, “Don’t take the risk of killing yourself.” It is, in other words, a deliberate attempt to emphasise the dangers of tobacco — in the same way that advertisements warning of the penalties for damaging railway carriages emphasise the dangers of vandalism. There is a step in logic here: by pointing out danger, do you encourage people to avert it? Commonsense says no.

Some people shun danger; others embrace it. In most people, at most times, there are contrary influences at work: a wish for security, and a yearning to escape the humdrum; risk-attraction and risk-aversion. Society warmly approves some kinds of risk-taking — mountain-climbing, solo round-the-world yachting, space travel. Those who die in these pursuits are applauded. It is not said of the dead on Everest that their deaths were pointless: quite the opposite, such failures are revered, as if risk were more noble at higher altitudes.

It’s not open to most of us to court the noble dangers: for one thing, you need a lot of money to end your life on the grand prix track. But that doesn’t mean that our attraction to risk is dead, far from it. It remains there, in most of us — and particularly in the young — urging us to take the short cut, to run the red light, to do the wilful thing. Some call it the death wish, but it might be better named the “to-hell-with-it” instinct. When he speaks from beyond the grave, Yul Brynner suggests that even such a mundane and out-of-style habit as smoking cigarettes can bring with it the thrill of mortal danger. This is that reason why the “don’t smoke” campaign ought to trouble us.

Robert Haupt, “A creed of wellness up with which I will not put,” The Sydney Morning Herald, April 22, 1988, p. 15.

When it comes to health, ROBERT HAUPT remains an obdurate heathen.

It is six months since I turned 40, enough time for me to accept the idea. What I haven’t got used to, however, are the burdens of belonging to a generation that’s turning 40.

In the beginning, it was fun to be a baby-boomer. Was there a sunnier decade for a kid than the 1950s? Why, we had economic growth, peace and the Holden.

Was there a more political decade for a teenager than the 60s? There were endless debates over conscription and whether we would accept an order to fight in Vietnam; we had the moratorium marches. In 1968, when I turned 21, the babies born just after the war were challenging to world of their parents.

But belonging to a remarkable age group is one thing in your 20s; it is another thing entirely once you have turned 40. Frankly, I’m getting fed up with my cohort. Other generations have been allowed to negotiate their way through the middle of life more or less on their own. For us, no such luck.

The generation that spent the 60s saying “If it feels good, do it”, now says “Do it less; if you can’t do it less, give it up”. Unspoken is the warning: “If you can’t give it up, we’ll give you up.”

The few treats this parsimonious generation allows itself are solitary, boring or Swedish, and often all three: aerobics, jogging, mineral water and yoghurt spring to mind. The emphasis is on safety, on restraint, on protection: on, in a word, wellness.

The children of this, the generation of Janis Joplin and James Dean, are allowed on to their trikes only after an exhaustive kitting-out of helmets, knee pads and elbow protectors, and a lecture on safe procedure that might have been taken from the flying manual of the F18. These swaddled mites, wobbling along under the strict footpath limit of six km/h, will, of course, later develop appetites for free-fall skydiving, amphetamines and Harley Davidsons.

The latest campaign by the wellness people has cropped up in this newspaper which has apparently decided that giving its readers information, opinion and entertainment is no longer enough; now, it must improve them as well. It happens that the vice my newspaper wishes to cure us of is smoking, but it could very well (and may yet) by drinking or speeding or eating salted butter — anything, indeed, that the “wellness” people can come up with that makes us feel guilty.

For that’s what this campaign aims to do, don’t make any mistake about that. We aren’t being told that smoking is a health hazard — that message has been hammered so hard for so long that there can hardly be anyone in the country over the age of five who hasn’t heard it. But some people continue to smoke. They must be made well.

The wellness people want everyone to be well in the same way, and with much the same fervour as the true-green environmentalists want the Earth to become paradisiacal. After all, nothing gets a zealot stirred up more than the prospect of making a conversion.

My generation is particularly susceptible to wellness guilt, for the truth is that at 40, every thoughtful person has intimations of mortality, of the number of years that have gone compared with the number that are left, of how little has been accomplished and how much is left to be done. It is a universal voice, murmuring in the sensibility of each of us.

This is the religious aspect of wellness. Like Browning’s lovers, we whisper to ourselves, “Life might last! we can but try!” But how? The evangelical answer is to renounce sinful ways and accept the truth of the gospel. How apt it is that the new edition of the Random House dictionary, seeking to define “born-again”, should give us as an example to use, “a born-again jogger”!

One of the techniques of renunciation is testimony — the “Ah wanna testify” is heard all over the radio dial in the American south. Now, thanks to this newspaper, we have a service in Australia, so that sinners may come forward and declare themselves. So far it is only for smokers, but, as I say, it can readily be extended to cover all categories of sin in the Church of Wellness. Confessions are being taken from backsliders, and inspirational tales told from the lives of those who have opened their hearts to the power of being well. I wonder when we will begin issuing medals? Will there be saints?

I have never smoked cigarettes, and now find that cigars have become too expensive to afford. So when it comes to committing smoking I am, I guess, not much of a sinner. But I am very far from being well, since I have not been through the rites of this church: no renunciation, no confession, no contrition — none of the preparation necessary for admission into the faith of wellness.

Spending my days outside the church, I will die in other than a state of grace. In other words, I will die sick, while others — crying hosannas to The Sydney Morning Herald — will die well.