Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Smoke screen

Springfield’s City Council just killed a proposed ban on smoking in public places. The majority of citizens just hacked raspy sighs of relief.

I’m disappointed. Springfield lags considerably behind Lafayette (and most other comparable cities) in terms of smoke-free areas. I moved here one month after a comprehensive smoke ban took effect in Lafayette, an example of my typically ironic timing.

As far as smoking goes, if I never see or smell it again, that would be great. I grew up in a smoky home and remember when everyone smoked everywhere: in their homes, their cars, in restaurants, in the mall, in stores. It seemed normal then, but is all but unimaginable now. I’ve always been in favor of non-smoky air in public places.

That said, there was a time when I accepted that bars, clubs and casinos could allow unfettered smoking. But after having been to bars and clubs that disallowed it, and very busy ones at that, I can’t really back that anymore. Also, there was a non-smoker in Springfield who changed his bar to smoke-free after he learned he had the lungs of a chain-smoker. So there’s that as well.

Still, I’m torn a little bit. Should there be a smoking ban in a smoke shop? That seems stupid on its face. On the other hand, I’m concerned for someone who works there, even if they themselves smoke. No one should assume secondhand smoke damage just to support themselves. And it’s not a simple matter of, if you don’t like it, get another job. First off, in this economy? And second, no one ever says people should just deal with it if your job involves, say, potential dismemberment. U.S. businesses are rife with workplace regulations designed to ensure safety and keep down liability costs. In that context, a smoking ban seems like the easiest and cheapest way to slash a major, demonstrable risk.

And yes, secondhand smoke is a slam-dunk as far as demonstrable risk goes. Sure, you hear about study after study claiming otherwise; but then, tobacco companies have lots of money for alternate-universe studies.

Indeed, the evidence against secondhand smoke seems more cut-and-dry than most. Even as a child, I instinctually understood that cigarette smoke isn’t harmless just because I’m not actually taking drags. A medical evaluation I had at four years old noted my persistent cough, reinforcing my own memory of being unable to laugh for long stretches without hacking. I also had several bouts of chronic bronchitis, one of which kept me out of school for two weeks in first grade. I’m sure it also hampered my athletic endurance as well. Today, I live a virtually smoke-free existence, but I can only imagine for now what damage has already been done.

What hurts the most is I’ll always have to live with that choice I never made. I can’t even necessarily blame the smokers around me, because the effects of secondhand smoke were either not known or suppressed/rationalized for a long time. And now that we know about the risks, there’s no excuse to keep doing it.

I’ve known many smokers who believed vociferously in the harmlessness of secondhand smoke. Sometimes they’d make their case as they rolled down their car window for fresh air. That always made me laugh. And, in turn, cough.

Ultimately, a smoking ban is not an affront on freedom, private business or anything else that critics make it out to be. It’s simply a case of someone infringing on another’s rights. No one has a right to invade someone else’s personal space with substances that put the other person’s health in direct peril. And smoke is uniquely dangerous in a way that alcohol, intravenous drugs and fats aren’t.

Hopefully, Springfield activists will continue to press for change and tell smokers to suck it up. 


venessalewis said...

It's like an Ian blog Christmas up in here!

Smoking sucks. A guy was smoking behind me at the snowball stand the other day and I was offended. It was outside, but it was still MY AIR. I shot him several dirty looks. Maybe spitting on his snowball would have made more of an impression.

Fat Jack said...

I think a ban on smoking in public places makes sense. No one has the right to force me to smoke their cigs.