Off a Little Smoke
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,
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
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
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.