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Letting Off a Little Smoke

I am generally a very polite person. Sometimes to a fault. But nonetheless, I think that even I deserve a big pat on the back for not having been exceedingly rude any number of times recently when Iíve been confronted by the continuing collective whine about the smoking ban: people praising the bars that flout the law, asking what ďrightĒ weíre going to lose next, or posting screeds about the Nazi do-gooder anti-smokers on walls of local pizza shops. Clearly the right to be a navel-gazing jackass is in no danger.

My stand is very simple: You canít poison my food, you canít poison my water, so you canít poison my air. Period. End of story. The only time I can remember just losing it and screaming at people in a public place involved people making light of this as a concern. (They were, for the record, all people I know and am very fond of.)

I donít give a good God damn if people smoke in their own space (even if I later have to take down the wallpaper strip by nasty yellow strip). Hereís what pisses me off most about this whole smoking-ban debate: that people actually complain about a ban on smoking in workplaces using the language of shrinking freedom, lost rights, and references to the failure of Prohibition. Including people who havenít said a peep about the Patriot Act. Itís that ban opponents seem to think the motivation for the ban is moral for-your-own-good nattering. Itís that people canít tell the different between smoking, which imposes a poisonous gas on the people around you (including employees, who donít have a choice about whether to leave), and drinking, fucking, or eating fatty foods which, well, donít.

I donít believe in dictating what people can and canít do as long as theyíre not hurting other people. (Itís not that being drunk or having sex canít hurt someone else, but itís not inherent in their definitions.) I believe in drug legalization, keeping the government out of consensual sexual interactions, and the right to die, and am generally well-nigh libertarian when it comes to government trying to tell you what to do with yourself.

But I donít, say, support anyoneís right to fire a gun into a crowded room, or if youíd prefer a somewhat more fair analogy, to mist a solution of arsenic, dioxin, and asbestos across a their neighborís basket of french fries.

These days, practically no one disputes that the stuff is toxicóalmost all smokers I know will head off any conversation about their habit with self-deprecating jokes about how itís going to kill them, just to avoid what they feel sure is a coming lecture. (For the record, my interest is not in lecturing. Just breathing. See above about doing whatever you want to yourself.)

If you need a refresher course, recent research from Britain estimates that passive smoking kills one hospitality worker per week. Kills, mind you. As in dead. Someone who wasnít doing the smoking.

I do feel badly for those bar and restaurant owners without outdoor spaces who may be suffering from a drop in business due to the ban. That sucks. It really does. Iím sure there were farmers who suffered quite a bit when DDT was banned too, having invested heavily in the equipment, the stuff itself, and a farming method that killed off the beneficial ecology that would make going organic easy. It wasnít their faultóthey didnít make DDT, didnít market it as safe and wonderful. But they were screwed by its banning, at the beginning at least. But guess what? Banning DDT, which was an environmental and public health disaster, was still the right thing to do.

Business conditions change. Movie theaters face VCRs. Record labels face music downloading. And periodically we learn that things we thought (whether because of ignorance or deception) were OK for us are really not.

Rather than waivers, maybe we should have established some sort of support fund that would help affected institutions open patios, renovate, refinance, collaborate, expand, or any number of other things that might haved help them through the rough patch of adjustment. Hell, maybe they could all have been enlisted as sites to distribute information on how to quit smoking (note the difference between making it illegal and helping people who want to stop, stop. People whoíve done it know better than I, itís hard). With some effort, those of us who never got in the habit of going to bars precisely because they were so smoky could change our habits. We could be marketed to. We have more money to spend since we donít buy cigarettes.

And as for the vocal minority of individual whiners who are so egotistical as to think this ban was all about worrying about their moral fiber rather than removing a deadly hazard from the workplace, all I have to say is, Suck it up. Just donít blow it in my face.

óMiriam Axel-Lute
maxel-lute@metroland.net

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