“The Last Smoker” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History:
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Alma Books, 2006)
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Pantheon Books, 2008)
Original: Japanese, 1987
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2006
Synopsis: A well respected and widely published writer is irked by a reporter’s business card that reads “Thank You For Not Smoking”. As a chain smoker himself, he denies them the literary interviews and becomes the butt of growing scorn over everyone who smokes. Tobacco smokers become persecuted, then ostracized and, finally, they are lynched and burned. The writer remains one of the last smokers still standing in a smoker’s haven.
Analysis: Like election year in America, there tends to be a huge chasm between two distant sides when it comes to smoking: the die-hard smokers who claim freedom to smoke and the non-smokers who claim freedom from smoke. The opposing camps of “freedom” thought are staunch in their views… but like most views and opinions, there are extremists and zealots; in society, there are also extremist swings of view and zealous shifts of policy.
In “The Last Smoker”, what starts as a anthill of anger turns into a hill of fury then a mountain of pure hate. The anti-anything sentiment is often stirred not by the will of the people or their conscious, but by moneyed lobbies and moneyed media corporations (co-conspirators or bedfellows?). Public sentiment is stirred vigorously in “The Last Smoker” where open smokers are harassed, threatened, abused, tortured, demonized, then outright lynched. From open smokers to known smokers, the lynching continues while a band of smokers coalesces; their spirit of fight is subsumed by the whole and their stash of cigarettes becomes communal.
Tsutsui plays the absurdist role in “The Last Smoker” in the closing scenes of the story where an already extreme stance on the matter of smoking becomes something taken straight from the scene of a ridiculously gaudy Hollywood-esque finale but with sarcastic follow-through.