I’m not here to criticize the choice to smoke. If people want to inhale a toxic cocktail of deadly chemicals into their body, more power to them. After all, this is America where anything that generates more than fifteen billion dollars a year in tax revenue goes! Full disclosure: I’ve tried smoking, but it just wasn’t for me. It turns out I don’t enjoy paying $10 a pack for the privilege of licking the bottom of an ashtray. When I see someone blow smoke out of their mouth (or worse, nose) I gag. But I also recognize that when someone witnesses me sexualizing a doughnut, they have a similar reaction. We all have our vices. So, please, by all means, smoke away! I just don’t get it…and I say that as someone who enjoys putting things into his mouth.
My issue with smokers is their refusal to recognize boundaries and respect shared spaces. For example, the hospital where my husband works no longer allows its employees to smoke anywhere on the grounds of its campus. This forces employees wanting to enjoy a mid-morning puff out into the surrounding residential streets, as I witnessed this morning when I drove through a menthol haze of no less than twenty hospital employees puffing away uninvited outside of people’s homes. So while it is lovely that an institution dedicated to keeping people alive no longer permits people to actively kill themselves while on its property, the hospital has effectively created a smoker’s ghetto in what had previously been a lovely neighborhood.
Not that this example is unique. The same thing is happening in cities across the country. It’s no longer enough for companies to simply ban smoking inside office buildings, today’s companies have outlawed smoking within one hundred feet of their property. Walk down the street of any major city at any given moment during the work day and you will find hordes of smokers lining the streets, puffing away in front of mailboxes, bus stops, churches, schools and various points of egress.
These companies and smokers, once sworn enemies, have combined forces to create an obstacle course for the city’s non-smokers. Your choice, as a non-smoker, is to repeatedly zig-zag across the street or keep your heard down and hope someone doesn’t set your coat on fire or blow smoke in your face. In my experience, smokers love to blow smoke in the faces of unassuming, non-smoking pedestrians. There are few things more disgusting than having a total stranger blow smoke into your face — that combination of nicotine, chemicals, germs and bad breath.
But even more than this refusal to respect boundaries and recognize shared spaces is the smoker’s belief that tossing out a spent cigarette butt is not littering*. How lovely it must be for those homeowners near the hospital to come out of their houses each morning to find their previously green front yard now a patchwork of off-white and dirty yellow. I would scream bloody murder and turn the hose on every last one of those litterbugging human smokestacks.
If cities want to generate additional revenue why not hire a half dozen enforcement officers whose sole purpose is to walk the streets and fine people who casually toss their cigarettes onto the sidewalk. I suggest that any smoker who tosses a cigarette within ten feet of a trash can be fined triple. It’s a small thing, perhaps even petty, but how much prettier our streets and public spaces would be if they were cigarette-free.
Smoking used to be something different. In the movies it was the calling card of the smooth-talking ladies man, the hallmark of a real dame. But then people realized that smoking did not actually aid in digestion and suddenly movies and television were portraying smoking in a different light. The hero no longer smoked, but the serial killer, pedophile, old lady rapist was always fingering a Pall Mall.
I doubt 1940’s Lauren Bacall ever blew smoke in someone’s face and even the creepy serial killer, pedophile, old lady rapist knew better than to litter. No one is going to convince every smoker to stop smoking, but perhaps we can persuade them to smoke responsibly, even conscientiously.
*I hate littering. I routinely confront people who litter and you should too. #littershame