Smoking

I’m just catching up with the news about the wildfires in Southern California. A friend told me that the Los Angeles Times is really covering the story well — and it’s true. I really like the “Voices from the Field” stories — I was happy to see the coverage not focused on the Malibu elite, including a nice feature about a firefighter’s wife. The Governator is getting some good press out of this whole thing, as well.

It’s funny, the synergies you get between places really far away. On Monday, I was in the library working as close to the newspaper stands as I could get while still allowed to drink coffee. (Lucky for me, there’s a cafe near the newspaper and magazine racks.) That morning I chose the Financial Times.

Page 3 of the Asia edition:

071022financialtimes.jpg

The caption begins: “Arnold Schwarzeneggar relaxes with a cigar…” and the article, by Matthew Garrahan, begins:

Politicians used to meet in smoke-filled back rooms. Arnold Schwarzenegger, action movie star turned governor of California, prefers open-air tents.

As a cigar connoisseur, he had to come up with a novel way around California’s ban on smoking in public places when he was first elected four years ago. He had a tent built outside the capitol building in Sacramento where he can ponder policy while smoking his cherished Macanudo cigars or offer advice to fellow conservatives eager to win elections.

But look closely at the image. The cigar has a black strip across it.

I know Singaporeans are tough on smoking. There are very few public places that you can actually smoke here. (Careful with the links if you’re squeamish.) On my first trip to 7-Eleven, I learned that vendors are required to place some pretty brutal images of potential health risks on cigarette cartons, a practice that several other countries have also adopted. In March, the government launched a shocking “Quit Smoking” campaign which drew some angst. American anti-smoking campaigns seem pretty tame in comparison.

So I wondered, is this why the pink paper has censored the Getty image it was running? Is there some rule about publishing images of smoking here? There’s not a lot of documentation on the Internet about newspapers blacking out images of cigars or cigarettes. I found one blogger’s account of the act of smoking being black-dotted on television. But I could not find a statue or law or even mild suggestion that newspapers should not show images cigars or cigarettes.

What I did find — and what a colleague told me was probably FT’s motivation — is a very strict advertising statute. There are serious penalties for newspapers that have endorsements or even remotely appear to be endorsing smoking. While Arnold subverted California’s strict smoking laws, the Financial Times, it appears, could not get around Singapore’s.

If anyone has seen this blackout in other editions of the Financial Times, I’d love to hear about it.

Los Angeles to Singapore

Three weeks ago, I moved from Los Angeles to Singapore. After three years editing an online publication about Asia, I decided it was time to be here, in Asia.

I’m going to spend my time teaching writing to students at Ngee Ann Polytechnic and, hopefully, doing some writing myself. It’s a great gig, to be a writer. You get to meet interesting people, like the excellent folks of Dengue Fever, a Cambodian rock band that showed Asia Pacific Art‘s talented multimedia editor and me a great time in their studio.

The diversity and location of my new home is already affording me some more terrific opportunities. Next weekend, I’ll be in Jakarta for a blogging conference. Its one of the many parts of Southeast Asia that I’m looking to explore — the virtual part, that is. It will be my first time in Indonesia, and I have a feeling I’ll be meeting a lot of interesting people.

And here in Singapore — as a curious onlooker, rather than a curious writer (it’s a slim difference, admittedly) — so far I’ve seen Chinese lanterns, Malay Ramadan festivities and the Zurich ballet.
I’ve been to Little India, Arab Street and Holland Village. Singapore
is an extremely diverse place — an Asian crossroads, as they say. It’s
racial politics are very complicated though, one of most complicated
parts of this young nation’s cultural and national identity. It’s
something I’m very interested in understanding better as the year
progresses.