Thursday, October 24, 2013
Legislating Common Courtesy
I’m about to celebrate six smoke free years. The November after my Dad’s stroke I quit my pack a day habit cold turkey. I had stopped before, many times. I was introduced to the habit around age 8 by my brother and then kept it up. My grandmother, in an effort that failed miserably, let me smoke with her under the hopes that the rebellion would end. It didn’t, legitimizing it instead, so much so that for years we sat smoking and chatting together. After college I took a 7 or 8 year hiatus, my longest smoke-free stint ever, before being sucked back in.
I was never a reluctant smoker – I enjoyed the taste, the habit and the various accoutrements that went with it. I had a collection of lighters, and cigarette cases – selecting them for a day as carefully as some select ties and shoes. I was a Marlboro Man – at my most addictive two packs of red per day – the soft-pack of course because the hard pack had butts that were a few millimeters shorter. I have prided myself on not being a finger-wagging ex-smoker, who are often the worst most intolerant and unsympathetic people around. Since moving to Boston, though, I am becoming what I detest: a smokin’ mad righteous ex-smoker.
During the many years in Los Angeles that I did smoke, I was the leper. Laws were passed that required people to smoke hundreds of feet away from public spaces. You can’t puff away at outside cafes anymore. Even smoking inside your own apartment was outlawed in the People’s Republic of West Hollywood. The criminalization of a legal habit was a factor in quitting, along with the gargantuan taxes levied against the product that doubled the cost. Seeing the effects of a massive stroke with my Dad had the most impact on a habit that often leads to stroke. When I did stop smoking it was as much for my health and wealth as to be able to partake in society again.
My 9-month stint in the Twin Cities in Minnesota didn’t trigger many issues. The weather there is so heinous in both the summer and winter that one doesn’t need to smoke to try and kill themselves, Mother Nature is ready to do it most of the year for you.
In my year in Boston, it’s a different story. I can’t leave a building in the city without inhaling a waft of smoke. Any time – day or night. As I acclimated to the city I realized that some of it is geographic: in both CA and MN you have to use a car or public transport to get around. Boston, however is a smaller city where walking is often faster and more direct in getting from point a to point b. With smoking laws on the books people can only smoke outside – so the difference is that there are more people on the street and use the transport time to also be the time to smoke.
According to the CDC (www.cdc.gov/tobacco) out of the 3 states, MA has the highest rate of smokers, so there is empirical support that shows there are more smokers in Boston. (In CA and MN it’s in the 11% range, while MA is nearly 19%.)
It’s been as disconcerting as imaginable to find myself become that which I resist most: an anti-smoker. I’m not an ex-smoker, I’ve become anti. Even on a cruise now the ships set aside outside areas, but the handful of folks who smoke off their decks or in other public spaces disrupt the environment for all.
In town there are days where you just can’t escape it, and it’s very unpleasant to inhale other people’s debris. Sure there’s the second-hand smoke argument, but for somebody who has spent the majority of his life smoking, it’s a hollow argument. I like to think I was a considerate smoker, blowing smoke and going out of my way not to disrupt people, but I’m sure I failed as often as I succeeded. Changing the law isn’t the answer – legislating behavior is a bad idea. People (including myself) must be allowed the right to do stupid things. What would be nice, though, is legislating common courtesy.