I am a former cigarette smoker…for now. Who knows what the future holds? I’ve relapsed before. I may again. But for right now, the smell of cigarette smoke makes me nauseous, and despite the fact that I was a social smoker, I don’t even crave cigarettes when I’m around smoking smokers, so a former smoker I must be.
Being a former smoker, I have all sorts of opinions about smokers, and the rights of smokers, and the rights of nonsmokers, and just about every cigarette-smoke-related issue you can imagine. And because I was a smoker, and for a while, I was a nonsmoker who didn’t mind being smoked around, I even feel justified in some of them.
My parents were smokers. My dad quit when I was a kid, but my mom still smokes, choosing to roll her own in a market that has jacked the price of pre-rolled smokes up to $15 a pack in some cities.
(For reference, when I left Virginia in 1999, a pack of Marlboro lights cost $1.98. By the time I quit for the first time in 2002, a pack of Newport 100s — I’ve changed my brand a lot — cost $4.25. When I started up again in 2008, pretty much all name brands were up to $7.00. Today, they’re $9-13 in my area, depending on the brand and where you buy them. The last time I looked into it, only a third of that cost was the cigarettes themselves, and only a fraction more of that was the tobacco company’s profit margin. The rest is taxes.)
Something I always admired about my parents (though I didn’t always understand it) was that they were polite smokers…with everyone but us kids. What I mean by that is that even after finding out about the dangers of secondhand smoke, our parents smoked around my sister and me, but they never smoked around anyone else without first asking if it would bother the people they were near. Especially the children of people they didn’t know. Sometimes, depending on who the person was, my mother would even ask if it would bother a nonsmoking visitor if she lit up in our own home. And when she was outside, she always, always stepped away from doorways, walkways, and unknown vehicles so her smoke didn’t bother any nonsmokers that might have to pass by.
My young mind didn’t understand this. When I first noticed her doing this, I was in the midst of being taught in school about protecting the rights of the minority while upholding the rights of the majority (a delicate balance, indeed). And when my mother moved away from a bunch of people before lighting up her cigarette, even though it meant losing a good spot for whatever it was we were doing, I looked up at her indignantly and asked her why.
“Well, because it’s not fair for me to force those people to breathe in my cigarette smoke if they don’t want to.”
“Well, then they should move. You were there first. And besides, that was a good spot!”
“That’s not really how it works, Rayne. It’s fine to do something people don’t like if you’re not bothering anyone. But what if one of those people is allergic? Or has asthma? It makes more sense for me to move until I’m done smoking than for all of them to move because I want to do something they don’t like. We all paid the same entry fee. They have a right to enjoy themselves, too.”
I still didn’t get it. I was a pretty selfish kid. If I wanted to do something, I was going to do it, and I didn’t care what anyone else thought. If they didn’t like it, they could go somewhere else!
I’m happy to say that I grew out of that (somewhat) by the time I picked up smoking. I, too, was a polite smoker. I didn’t smoke in doorways, heavily used walkways, playgrounds (unless there were no kids on them), picnic areas…pretty much anywhere a nonsmoker would have to endure my smoke to utilize. It just made sense to me. And! Just like my mother, I’d always ask a nonsmoking visitor if they minded if I lit up when they came into my home. Melen and our friends made fun of me for it regularly, but it felt like the right thing to do.
A lot of places in the Capital Region of New York (where we live) are drawing up and passing legislation for public smoking bans. And at first, despite the fact that they started this well after I quit smoking this last time, I was furious. How fucking dare they tell us where we can engage in a perfectly legal activity! Never mind the fact that they tell us where we can engage in perfectly legal activities all the time.* This one particular legal activity is off legislative limits, damn it!
I’d debate with nonsmokers and smokers on both sides of the public smoking ban subject, and explain why I feel like we’re attacking smokers with our new legislation. I was absolutely convinced we were discriminating against them.
Today, we went to breakfast at Denny’s. When we got there, there were four people smoking inside the doorway that only fit four people. It wasn’t raining. It wasn’t snowing. They just decided in the middle of their meal to get up and go have a smoke, but were too lazy to walk ten steps downwind so people didn’t have to walk through them to go inside.
It gets worse.
When we got inside, I calmly told the manager, “You’ve got four people filling your doorway up with cigarette smoke. You might want to ask them to move before someone gets mad.”
I didn’t mean me. As much as I hate the smell now, I really don’t care. But I’ve seen other people cause huge scenes over something like that.
The manager turned to me and said, “Us nonsmokers gotta learn to be a little understanding.”
So…Smoker Joe decided on his own to get himself a cigarette habit. Smoker Joe decides he wants to smoke in public. Smoker Joe blocks the doorway to a place of business that I am patronizing (patronize almost every weekend, these days), and I have to be understanding?
I am understanding. I understand that Smoker Joe is a dick who can’t be arsed to think about anyone in the world but himself. I understand that you’re (the manager) so afraid of conflict, you’d rather your polite paying customers go elsewhere so Smoker Joe can be a dick who can’t be arsed to think about anyone in the world but himself. And I understand that you’re so conditioned by your generation’s “It’s cool to smoke, man.” that you’ve come to believe you don’t have the right to say “No. You cannot take years off my life with your secondhand smoke. Life’s short enough as it is.” And that’s a damn shame.
The more I talk about it, the more horror stories I hear. One woman blew smoke in a stranger’s infant’s face when asked to smoke elsewhere. Can you believe that?
Suddenly, the public smoking bans in parks and playgrounds make sense. Now I get why it’s illegal to smoke on hospital and school property. I understand why nonsmokers are violently shoving smokers out of public spaces.
It’s because some studies suggest that secondhand smoke is even more deadly than smoking yourself. It’s because actively engaging in someone’s death is called “murder,” and murder is illegal. It’s because too many smokers are like Smoker Joe, and think it’s their right to force their habit on the general public so the general public’s right to live a long, healthy life doesn’t encroach on their right to happiness.
Life trumps happiness every time. Even one Smoker Joe is too many. Sucks that your habit is inconveniencing you when you’re out and about. If it’s that much of an issue for you, perhaps you should get a different habit. But I’ll be arsed if I’m going to stand by silent so you can be a dick. That just makes you think it’s okay to be a dick. And that produces more dicks. The world’s got enough dicks.
Case in point: Donald Trump made wild accusations that Chrysler is sending their jobs overseas. The Chrysler CEO @ed Donald Trump on Twitter and matter-of-factly informed him he was full of shit. Classic.
* You can’t drive a car anywhere but a road. In some places, you can’t drink alcohol on public property. In most states, you’re not allowed to smoke inside a business. You can’t have sex in public. You can’t be naked in public. A lot of places are even outlawing skateboarding.