Christoph has been after me for some time now to write something for smokingbandits and I, true to form, have been procrastinating. I guess I’d rather expend my ever more limited energies on attacking and subduing antismoking rhetoric than preaching to the converted…
There are bones I could pick with some in the smokers’ rights fold, but let’s save that for another day. A better start would be my own evolution as an advocate for our delightful “filthy” habit.
I started smoking at 13 (unless you count the puffs Dad used to give me off his Marlboros to see the face I would make) and once I got out of my parents’ house, I went up to a pack a day my first year in college. After receiving the first faint but unmistakable glimmers of mortality, I decided it would be a good idea to cut down–not quit entirely because I enjoyed smoking. I managed to become a very light smoker–2 or 3 cigarettes daily–and prided myself on my discipline and self-control.
Politically, I have always been left-leaning. Let’s not forget that once upon a time the Left was a political tendency of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and good times in general. I oppose war, racism and oppression. I believe in economic rights and equality for minorities and the working class. And of course I believe in the right of individuals to do as they please with their bodies and their lives as they see fit, without undue government coercion.
So I had no problem with no smoking sections for the minority who didn’t like smoking. I saw no problem with this, as long as there was also a smoking area. Let everyone be happy. For a while , it seemed a reasonable compromise had been reached.
This was when you could smoke just about anywhere. When the first proposals for “No smoking” areas on planes were made, I thought it was a fine idea. There were people who didn’t like smoke and they deserved some consideration too and there was no reason there couldn’t be a section for them. After all, you could still smoke anywhere else. And, if those who disliked smoking had their own place of refuge, they’d be more inclined to leave the rest of us alone.
I remained complacent as the calls for more “No smoking” areas proliferated. I saw (and still see) nothing wrong with having to adjourn to another room to smoke. The turning point came in the mid-1980s. Our local commuter rail system, the Long Island Rail Road, had designated one car out of every five as smoking cars. The clear majority of the seats were nonsmoking, what could be to complain about?
And perhaps most nonsmokers were happy with this arrangement, but a vocal minority yammered that 80% was not enough. They cited a federal law that public transport had to be exclusively “smoke free” and insisted there not even be a single smoking car. I couldn’t fathom this. They had the lion’s share of the room and the cars were closed off from one another. And this was just before “secondhand smoke” was invented, so they couldn’t claim smokers were “killing” the conductors.
Still, given all the larger issues, I felt smoking was a fairly trivial one. And of course, it is kind of unhealthy and the tobacco companies ARE greedy, lying, capitalists (like all huge companies, no matter what they produce). I have to confess that I only felt a mild twinge of injustice when my employer announced that my co-workers would have to leave the building to smoke “due to insurance concerns”. See, I didn’t smoke at work. Only when I drank and maybe one before bed. I didn’t realize that my co-workers; smoke breaks meant just as much to them as my beer-and-a-smoke did to me. I always thought they’d leave bars, pool halls and other dens of iniquity to us filthy smokers, just because it’s impossible to just declare a whole chunk of the population personae non grata and treat them as pariahs.
Or is it? Once it became OK to exile some smokers to the outdoors, it became a wet dream of the antismoker to kick us all out. It started in California, where some “progressive” municipalities began it and then pushed for the ban to go statewide. Funded by the Master Settlement Agreement and drug companies, the “movement” was soon able to spread to other states, including my own. Just one week after Michael Bloomberg shoved his ban down the throat of New York City, a comprehensive smoking ban sailed right through the New York State Legislature, leaving only a handful of establishments friendly to smokers.
And then I knew that once they banished smokers outside, they’d start complaining about smoking outside. As is pretty obvious to everyone by now, the goal of antismoking is to restrict smoking areas to the point where there is NOWHERE to smoke. They will never leave us be. As unrealistic as it appears, they are aiming to make it so we have to smoke behind closed doors or hiding in the basement.
So I’ve become more vocal for smokers’ rights. I still feel it is (or really should be) a fairly minor issue, but I see no reason why I and my fellow smokers should not be able to enjoy ourselves within reason in public places. This has cost me some “cred” with some of my lefty associates who characterize me as a “libertarian.” Libertarians, on the other hand, characterize me as a leftist because I don’t subscribe to all their beliefs, either.