Navigating smoky terrain

“Do you mind if I smoke?” my research participant asked me as we settled in our seats and got ready to begin the interview. I had to laugh. “If I minded anyone smoking,” I said, “I wouldn’t really be able to do fieldwork in Bosnia-Herzegovina!”

Smoking in the pubReally, everyone smokes here. It’s amazing to me how quickly I have become accustomed to being in smoky environments. They seem normal. Every now and then a wisp of smoke enters my mouth or nostrils in an unexpected way and makes me cough, and every now and then I need to brush the smoke away from me, but in general, I’ve stopped noticing it pretty quickly.

I’ve never smoked. As a teenager, I could never really see the point. I’m not sure what that says about me – I think I had my own ways of rebelling and the idea of putting a little bit of foam and paper rolled around brown bits of dried leaves, setting it on fire, putting it into my mouth, and breathing in was simply never appealing. I had friends who smoked; sometimes they looked so relaxed when they lit up and inhaled the first lungful that I felt curious to try, but I never bothered.

Whereas here, I don’t know that it is related to coolness or rebellion. It is just something that everyone does. One of my interview participants told me that most people start around the age of twelve. I suppose parents can hardly advise their children not to start smoking, given that every adult around them lights up whenever they wish. Perhaps it is a kind of rite of passage into adulthood. The other day, when I was visiting some band rehearsals at the Mostar Rock School, I noticed how when the break was called, tutors and young musicians alike went out to the bar or atrium area to smoke together. It looked like a nice, social moment that reinforced the lack of hierarchy or status between the teachers and students, a quality that is very evident at the Rock School.

Of course, everyone knows it’s not good for their health. But that in itself does not seem a strong motivation to quit for many people here. And let’s face it, it would be really difficult to be a non-smoker in an environment where everyone else smokes, especially if you have been a smoker yourself. It’s much easier for someone like me who has never smoked and holds a rather pragmatic bewilderment about the whole ritual!

Smoky restaurantThere do seem to be some non-smoking spaces around – a cevapcici shop I went to was non-smoking inside; and the kindergartens I visited didn’t have adults smoking in the children’s rooms (although lighting up in offices was more likely to be on the cards). Full power to those who do decide to quit! I’d love to think there could be a secret, subversive underground movement of non-smokers here, standing their ground, tolerating the smoke of others but not partaking themselves. I’d love to see some kind of health-food café or even movement here – imagine! a café that doubled as a food co-op, smoke-free, where like-minded people could gather and take strength in their growing numbers. Could it happen? I’d go there!

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