Thursday, January 13, 2005

Reaping what you sow!

I'm a smoker and I make no bones about it. I started when I was 9 years old and 41 years later I still enjoy a good smoke. Of course, when I was 9 it was a surreptitious smoke here and there - more out of bravado than enjoyment. A way to be 'one of the boys' in much the same way that one engaged in those contests to see who could piss the highest. Only once did I manage to make it over the dunny wall . (for years I thought that was an Australian thing until I saw the final episode of the BBC series 'Pennies from Heaven'. But there it was, in Arthur Parkers death cell 15 hours before he was led to the gallows; a bunch of men talking about exactly the same thing I'd competed in when I was a kid).

I stopped smoking about 1970 but took it up again in 1975. Those were the golden days for smokers. One could smoke as one pushed shopping trolleys around the supermarket. And one did! I wish I could remember what we did with the butts; I don't remember ashtrays but surely we didn't grind the butt into the lino tiles? Or did we?

Effective October 1 1976 the Victorian Government did the unthinkable; they banned smoking on all of Melbournes public transport. No smoking on trains, buses or trams! Yikes! The world as we knew it was crashing down around our ears.

That didn't affect me all that much; long before then I had my car and drove to work. Sometime in the 1980's it became unacceptable to smoke in supermarkets; I no longer remember when - just that at the start of the decade we smoked whilst we shopped and at the end of the decade we didn't.

And in a remarkable coincidence of dates, on October 1 1993 the building where I worked went non smoking; suddenly we had to go outside rain or shine if we wanted to smoke. So I did.

The thing is that I can't find it in myself to feel overly outraged by these restrictions. In some ways I think it's gone too far (more a little later) but I think we smokers brought it on ourselves. In that same office building prior to 1993 I remember attending team meetings where there were 3 smokers and 3 non smokers; the meetings were held in a room the size of the average bedroom. Two of we smokers were willing to hold off for the hour the meeting took; the third insisted loudly upon his right to smoke and thus three non smokers were made uncomfortable. Heck, one of the non smokers had asthma and was prone to disastrous reactions in the presence of cigarette smoke but even that didn't prevent the insistence on rights.

No wonder the anti smoking brigade has fought back!

In June 2000 I was working in Perth Australia. One day I had breakfast at a local eatery, dining at an outside table (Perth even in winter is pretty comfortable). Bacon and eggs for brekky and excellent they were too!. Two smokers sat down at the very next table. They had 15 tables to choose from and they chose the one next to mine. I wasn't smoking at the time so they don't have that excuse. So there I was eating and there they are smoking; the smoke wafted my way and even I, a confirmed smoker of 36 years didn't enjoy it. My thoughts were along the lines of 'go away you inconsiderate bastards - I'm trying to eat!' God knows how a non smoker would have felt.

Nonetheless, it can be taken too far. 3 years ago I was at Disneyland in California. If you've been there you know the layout; classic Disneyland on the right and a newish theme park, California, on the left (my wife, who grew up in Los Angeles in the 50's and 60's, tells me the California park is built on what used to be the car park). Between the two is an open air plaza maybe a hundred metres wide. We came out of classic Disneyland (you can't smoke inside) and lit up. A man about 60 metres away saw us enjoying a smoke and came over to complain loudly; 'your smoke is affecting my health'. Uh huh. He has to walk 60 metres (which might have improved his health) to come into proximity with two people smoking (which might have reduced his health) to complain loudly (which might have increased his blood pressure).

I'm not making a special pleading for smoking in restaurants; I've long since conceded that one. Nor am I arguing for the restoration of smoking on airplanes (that one never made sense even to me). But the next time one of you non-smokers sees someone smoking in the open air do me a favour. Walk on by without that derisive sniff. Walk on by without the snide remark. Walk on by.

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