The Olympic games. The mere name conjures images of healthy, fit sports people at the peak of their ability. Athletes who were hand picked to be the face of their nation for their outstanding sporting abilities.
Certainly, the Olympics does not bring images of smoking. Nor does the above description sound like the typical smoker. Yet somehow, the lines are blurred and that man outside shivering in the cold, wet night could be the same person in spandex leading their country to glory in the games event.
Despite the Olympic games being billed as a non-smoking event, it is not only the spectators congregating outside for a puff – the athletes are too. Italian weghtlifter Georgio de Luca, himself a smoker, estimated that “70 out 100 athletes in the Olympic village smoke” in an article written by Belinda Goldsmith for Reuters. It serves as a middle finger to the anti-tobacco crusaders, but also has the potential to be far more damaging than the usual smokers protesting for their rights. The question that should be (and possibly is) on everyone’s lips is “how can athletes smoke when smoking lowers lung capacity and hinders performance?”. How indeed.
I explained in Chapter 1: The Black Lung Myth that the notion smokers lungs are black and lined with tar is just that: a myth. Not that everyone will accept that, of course, but some people just prefer a good yarn over fact. That cannot be helped. Smoking athletes, though, has potential to bring the point home to even those, as this is not a mere study or hypothesis that can be brushed aside. No, this is staring us in the face, the best athletes in the world, who take their sport and competitions seriously and do not want to hinder it by lowering their odds of winning – certainly not with something they can change, over, say, genetics. And yet there they are, apparently 70%, but at least over 50%, smoking their cigarettes.
What this means, then, is that those smoking athletes who have been chosen to compete in the Olympics have been chosen over their non-smoking counterparts. Take a second to take that information in: the smokers, breathing in their deadly, unnecessary and toxic smoke, are physically fitter and healthier, and superior in a sporting sense over the athletes from their country who don’t smoke. Now I am not for a moment suggesting that the smoking is responsible for their being chosen, but clearly it has not hindered them in the slightest. It appears, in keeping with science too (real science, not the fabrications of the anti’s labelled as science), that smoke is breathed in, and breathed out. No fuss, no mess, no tar, and no detrimental effect on lung capacity or physical performance.
According to the Guardian  hurdle star Liu Xiang was signed up to promote one of China’s biggest cigarette companies, Baisha, but those global health activists put a stop to it. Funny, though, that the health-conscious athlete sees no harm in the activity, but the political folk are the ones with the problem.
Perhaps the reason we see those decrepid looking smokers is the same reason we see decrepid looking non-smokers: they just do not take the time to take care of themselves,cigarette or no cigarette. These Olympic athletes should serve to show that smoking can be part of a healthy lifestyle, and that the fear mongering and hysteria has gone too far. If an athlete can smoke and run a marathon or compete in a sporting competition, then the average joe can enjoy his smoke and go for a jog.
The bottom line is this: smokers and non-smokers both show the signs of aging, and life hits us all. Smokers can exercise, eat healthily, and look great, and non-smokers can let themselves go and look bad. Non-smokers who do not exercise will lose lung capacity, and exercising will increase it again. Smoking, or not smoking, is in no way the be-all and end-all factor that decides our future health. One look at the Olympic athletes tells us that smoking does not, or does not have to, get in the way of anything.