Thursday, November 16, 2006

A matter of carbon sense

Yesterday marked the annual Great American Smokeout, so I suppose today's post would have made more sense then. But because I like to be fashionably late with my punditry, here's something to put in your pipe and smoke. Yeah, I know--how original, right?

Somehow, Louisiana has passed a law that will ban smoking in virtually all public places, effective Jan. 1, 2007. The ban extends to correctional facilities as of mid-2009, which gives inmates roughly three years to think up a replacement prison currency. Note to self: do not get arrested after 2009!

But I digress.

I'm a nonsmoker. I chose this path for my health, though it's probably been permanently negated by decades of close exposure to secondhand smoke (which is--knock on wood--permanently out of my life since my parents and brother all quit smoking). Health concerns aside, it's nice to wear a clean cotton shirt that actually smells like clean cotton. And I highly prize my ability to stay in one place for more than 20 minutes, even if I want to leave for other reasons. And it keeps more money in my pocket. Theoretically speaking.

As you might imagine, I could not be more ecstatic about the coming crackdown on indoor public smoking. But lest anyone accuses me of being one of those smoking Nazis who supports bans even in private places, I believe that the limits should extend only to those who pose problems for defenseless parties. If I choose to hang out at Phillip's, for example, I expect the place to resemble a pan of Jiffy Pop that's been on the burner for too long. If I have a problem, I might go outside (or inside if too many smokers are congregated outside); but as long as a smoker is respectful and is somewhere with adequate ventilation, I don't raise a hissy fit. Most smokers I know are polite and understanding about their habits in my presence.

I do, however, get tired of hearing about someone's "right to smoke." The right stands insofar as it affects you; but when it invades my territory, your right becomes an infringement. How hard is that to understand? It's also not illegal for someone to pour beer into another's spaghetti, but it can completely ruin the diner's experience. Furthermore, it can cause severe health problems if George W. Bush or Gary Busey happens to be eating that spaghetti.

Okay, maybe that wasn't the best substance-abuse parallel. But as far as parallels go, smoking doesn't really have one. No one ever talks about secondhand Ecstasy or secondhand drunkenness. And with good reason; smoke is a unique animal in that it affects its environment as well as its direct user. Much like cars and biological weapons. Except that nobody talks about allowing either of those indoors; they might cause cancer or even death!

As much as some smokers and the tobacco industry insist that secondhand smoke is harmless, the fact remains: the same smoke that you inhale also comes out of the other end of the cigarette. The SAME smoke! And while it may not be as concentrated as what smokers are accustomed to, 100 smokers in a bar can cause quite a tobacco cloud over the course of an evening. And a burning blend of toxic carcinogens known to cause lung cancer and birth defects can't be good for anybody. Anyone who believes otherwise is either an addict, delusional or both. Most smokers themselves can't even stand stagnant smoke, so clearly it isn't the non-issue some try to make it out to be.

Because smoking is such a scourge, I applaud Louisiana (for once) for enforcing this ban. While most of our state might find it inconvenient or even incomprehensible, I trust they'll eventually warm up to it--just like citizens in other states where such bans have long existed. Seventeen years ago, when UL (then USL) banned smoking in its hallways, students went ballistic. Nowadays, most smokers don't even light up in their living rooms. Banning it in enclosed public places is a natural extension of changing societal attitudes.

We've come a long way, baby.


Anonymous said...

What about the poor defenseless child who has two abusive smoking parents...what about his rights to grow up in a smoke free environment in his own house...ban all smoking in private homes to now...let's save the kids!!! I can't believe you aren't leading the fight???

Ian McGibboney said...

I would hope parents would be more considerate about smoking around their kids. I wish mine had been my whole life, to be honest. I don't really know what the answer is to that, though I'm sure it doesn't involve the slippery slope you always bring up whenever I suggest that people don't have a right to blow smoke in other peoples' air.

Anonymous said...

How can that not be the next logical step. The way banning smoking in restaurants is justified is that is to protect the workers there. If the government can force a private business to not allow a legal activiy in their business to protect someone who has a choice to not work there if they don't like the smoke, how much more should the government, by that logic, force private citizens to not do a legal activity in their own homes to protect a child who has no choice where to live?

Anonymous said...

Looks like the slope is even slicker than I thought...two states have laws already preventing people, who have children, from smoking in their privately owned cars, LA and AR. And 9 states ban foster home parents from smoking in their homes. Still want to argue that a ban on all smoking in a private home is a far stretch?