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Published: Tuesday, 11/14/2000

Smokers gag at prospects of public ban

There was once a time when I believed sincerely that I could not write a single word without a lit cigarette by my side.

I remember very well the necessary ritual: rolling the fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter, setting the metal ashtray just to the left of the humming machine, lighting the familiar cylinder, inhaling that first bracing puff, then getting down to the business of writing that day's story.

So, what is it about that not-to-be-altered, Rainmanlike sequence of events that gives away my age? Is it that I'm old enough to remember writing newspaper stories in pre-computer days? Or is it that I'm old enough to remember when smoking in the workplace was considered acceptable behavior?

To listen to smokers object to the city-county health commissioner's recent proposal banning smoking in Lucas County's public places, you'd think we were about to face off against some shortage of the most fundamental kind.

People are aghast at the prospect of sitting in a restaurant or bar without being able to light up for the duration. They're also howling about their rights, as in, “Is this or is this not America, where I have the right to spew poisonous smoke all over the place and enjoy myself right up until the moment the oncologist gives me the diagnosis?”

Well, come now. Let's not be unduly harsh on smokers. Addiction has that effect on folks, leaving them desperate to rationalize irrational of behaviors.

Yup, health commissioner David Grossman set off a bomb recently suggesting a local ban that would subject us to the toughest anti-smoking measure in the state.

Of course smokers, and restaurant and bar owners, would react as if they'd been goosed by Joe Camel himself.

And, listen, I say all this as a former three-pack-a-day smoker who still thinks the habit itself is an exquisite mark of civilized life.

The practice of smoking is an indisputably delicious way to punctuate the rhythm of the day. There are moments when a cigarette is the like a necessary and perfect exclamation mark. Any smoker, former or current, will tell you how no fine meal really ends until the first drag is inhaled. How no cup of fresh coffee tastes quite right without its dried-leaf companion.

Believe me, I'll be the first to resume the habit - just as soon as the proverbial “they'' come up with a 100 per cent safe, nonaddicting cigarette. When hell freezes over, in other words.

Comforting as the smoking ritual is, one look at the evidence should be all it takes to stub out that coffin nail and proclaim: OK, that's it for me.

Yeah, it should be that easy, that logical. But it's not. When the proverbial “they'' say kicking heroin is easier than tobacco, I believe 'em. As some of the tobacco companies have just gotten around to admitting, cigarettes are one tough addiction.

And so we turn, rightfully, to public policy.

By protecting the rights (and lungs) of nonsmokers, we put the squeeze on smokers by default.

But, you know, they'll get over it.

Once upon a time, it was unthinkable not to smoke at work. For that matter, some high schools had designated student smoking areas, a custom that now, as it certainly should, seems completely outside the realm of possibility.

Slowly but surely, one day there'll come a time when it seems equally unimaginable that anyone would smoke in any public place.

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays,

and Saturdays. Email her at roberta@theblade.com or call 1-419-724-6086.

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