Smoking & Class Essay

2751 words - 11 pages

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 to its major classes, and the struggle between them as the source of change in this structure (Barbeau, 2000). His theory was no equilibrium or consensus theory. Conflict was not a deviation within society's structure, also, it did not have class functional elements maintaining the system. The structure itself was a by-product of and the reason for struggle of classes. Marx's theory was a conflict view of modern nineteenth century society in Western Europe.The key to understanding Marx is his class definition. "A class is defined by the ownership of property. Such ownership vests a person with the power to exclude others from the property and to use it for personal purposes" (Bottomore, 167, 1983). In relation to property there are three great classes of society: the bourgeoisie (who own the means of production and whose source of income is profit), landowners (whose income is rent), and the proletariat (who trade their labor for a wage) (Bottomore, 1983).Class is determined by property, not by income or status. These are determined by distribution and consumption, which itself reflects the production and power relations of classes (Bottomore, 1983). The social conditions of bourgeoisie production are defined...

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