No smoke without ire

I hate smoking with a fury that few people who aren’t self-righteous, hypochondriac asthmatics like me could muster. Whenever it’s banned from another category of public place, or an additional tax is imposed, or cigarette companies are required to include even more disturbing health messages on their packs, you will find no cheerleader more willing to perform a high-kick in support than me. And when we factor in just how inflexible my limbs are, that’s a pretty deep commitment.

Smoking is not just a disgusting habit, but a selfish one, because it asserts that a smoker’s own miserable addiction is more important than the comfort and health of those around them. When people smoke in public, it’s the respiratory equivalent of playing the bagpipe solo from ‘You’re The Voice’ in a crowded place, except that Scottish folk instruments never gave innocent bystanders cancer.

Now, I recognise that in a free society, people have the right to make their own decisions, even though if cigarettes were introduced onto the market today there is surely no way they’d be allowed to be sold. They’re a regrettable anachronism that is yet to fade from civilised society, like Bill Heffernan.

Still, if you’re foolish enough to be cavalier about the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, or smelling like a hobo lightly marinated in bin juice, then be my guest. Actually don’t be my guest, because I’ll have to fumigate my apartment when you leave – but I acknowledge that you’re within your rights.

And yes, that goes even if you’re one of my hypocritical left-wing friends who’d rather asphyxiate a seal than support a dastardly multinational like Nike and Nestlé, but has no objection to giving thousands of dollars a year to British American Tobacco in return for the privilege of being slowly killed by their products. Go ahead, I say. Knock yourselves out, literally.

But the problem is that against your right to smoke has to be balanced my right not to breathe in a substance that causes cancer, makes me cough and splutter, forces me to dry-clean my clothes and generally messes with my joie de vivre. In my view, non-smokers should never have to inhale smoke in a public place, much as we have the right not to be stabbed, shot, electrocuted, exposed to radiation, attacked by masked ninjas, trampled by mutant lizards or forced to watch The Circle.

The onus should be on smokers to ensure that, like listening to Neil Diamond, their shameful hobby should be indulged away from people who don’t also enjoy it. At present, smoking is legal in outdoor areas of pubs and cafés. This still isn’t going far enough. Not only should non-smokers be able to enjoy sitting outdoors without breathing smoke, but the ban on smoking indoors means that sitting al fresco all but guarantees a lungful of smoke as your amuse-bouche. Smokers should be obliged to remove themselves from polite society whenever they want to light up, like lepers in the olden days, if lepers had freely purchased their condition at a mini-mart.

Given this stance, you might imagine that I approved when I read that an apartment building in Ashfield has banned smoking not only on the balconies but in the units. But even I, who would happily make packets of cigarettes cost $50 and smokers sign a little piece of paper at the cash register acknowledging that they a) will probably contract cancer and b) are fools, think this is going too far. Because if we are to ban smoking in practically all public places, as we should, there has to be some location where the foolhardy can indulge.

What’s more, when I entertain, I ruthlessly force my smoker guests to light up on the balcony, but I think that making them go downstairs and down the street would be too much to ask. Especially since, if I’m honest, my parties probably aren’t sufficiently awesome to entice them back.

So while I applaud the sentiment of my anti-ciggie comrades in Ashfield, I fear they’ve gone a little too far. Because smokers who can’t light up at home – even if such a limitation could practically be enforced – will inevitably do so in the street, where they and I have to inhale it. The aim of anti-smoking activists should therefore be to restrict it to the private sphere, placing it on the same footing as masturbation, except that smoking does actually make you go blind.

8 Responses to No smoke without ire

  1. Gecko 4 April 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    Cigarette smoke doesn’t bother me, instead I have the misfortune to be allergic to perfumes, apparently though, having people smell of what some deeply disturbed chemist thinks flowers smell like, and having bathrooms smell of ‘mountain breeze’ (since when does a breeze on a mountain have a specific scent?) is far more important then people being able to breath.. when these same people who fill the air with chemicals causing me to cough a lung, start whining because someone is standing 6 feet away from the bus shelter, downwind, in the rain, and still get abused for it, I can’t help but want to ram an ashtray down their throats…
    Unfortunately I can’t get close enough to do so, without my air passages contracting and filling with mucus and my eyes feeling like they’ve caught on fire…

  2. Adeline Teoh 4 April 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    The issue is more that if you are in an apartment block, the smoke easily travels to other apartment blocks. If a non-smoker lived the next balcony over to a smoker, they’re unlikely to be able to enjoy the outdoors.

    It seems as if the Ashfield apartments had problems with smoke drifting through vents etc. The solution, so as not to violate smokers’ rights, should probably be to install a different venting system. Then you can debate about who pays: the smokers or non-smokers or both.

    My sister lived in an apartment block in Canberra where you could smell the cigarette smoke from next door in their laundry room because of where the vents were located. Not great to have just washed your clothes only to then have them smell of smoke!

    In Japan (o civilised Japan!) I stayed at a hostel where they had a designated smoker’s room. It was a glass box with double doors and a separate venting system to the rest of the building. Something for consideration?

  3. Alice Shaw 4 April 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    I couldn’t agree with everything you’ve said more. I absolutely cannot bear smoking and it is a dating deal breaker for me even though some people have suggested that this is highly judgemental of me. I don’t care. I loathe it. I smoked for a short time in my early 20′s and I am still horribly ashamed to this day. Smoking at home should be allowed I suppose – except if you have children since they shouldn’t have to breathe in toxins all day. I would rather people be allowed to smoke on their balconies at home rather than fill those plastic outdoor tents at restaurants with their foul poison. I don’t let people smoke at my house at all. Call me a big meany but if they want to smoke, they can go out on the front nature strip – I don’t want it anywhere near me. That’s my anti-smoking rant for today. Cheers!

  4. Alexandra 4 April 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    the real damage it does is to little kids.. passive smoke aside, it’s the attitude that is instilled in them that ‘yes, smoking can kill you but it’s still a perfectly acceptable thing to do. mum & dad smoke but they’re fine!’

    society is all too casual about it. it’s like obesity, yeah you’re fine now but in X years you’re going to be a huge burden on the health system.

  5. Margaret 4 April 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    Actually, Alexandra, healthy people who live to a ripe old age, get age-related diseases and then require care are a bigger burden on the health system than smokers (lowest cost) or the obese (lower cost). The most impressive variable for health burden is life expectancy. Those wily rev head youngsters who kill themselves on our roads are even less of a burden (though those who don’t die but permanently incapacitate themselves may cost more). Reducing obesity and smoking will improve public health but will not reduce health expenditure. Curing arthritis and dementia will.

    Here is the reference: Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure. http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050029

    That said, I agree with Dom. People should be able to do whatever (legally) they want in their own homes. (Sounds like the ventilation systems need updating). In public places, we have a right to breathe clean air regardless of the compulsions of others.

  6. Alexandra 5 April 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Yes, Margaret, I wish those pesky oldies would make like the smokers and fatties and die earlier. The point I was making was that this is a habit/lifestyle choice that will kill you and the attitude towards it needs to turn to prevention of smokers: ie teaching kids not to do it, just like we teach kids to lead active lives to prevent obesity.

    Also, that study you linked to takes its data from the Netherlands in 2003. I’m not sure if that information can be used accurately to comment on the Australian health system in 2011.

    At older ages, the highest yearly costs were incurred by the smoking group. However, because of differences in life expectancy (life expectancy at age 20 was 5 years less for the obese group, and 8 years less for the smoking group, compared to the healthy-living group), total lifetime health spending was greatest for the healthy-living people, lowest for the smokers, and intermediate for the obese people.

    So yeah, ‘healthy’ people are more of a burden simply because they’re living longer, smoking will kill you the fastest and being obese gives you an OK chance. Shouldn’t we try to extend people’s life expectancies? Not everyone over the age of 70 gets dementia or arthritis. I’d rather die a natural death than being hooked up to a ventilator struggling to breathe.

  7. Calligula 22 April 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    Dom
    Addiction is one thing.
    Idiots who reckon they are exempt are absurd.
    I particularly hate people who look down their noses at others who just happen to be human.

    A bloke I have known for 40 years – believed I’d known for 40 years – sprung on me the other day that he wants to import an Asian woman for shagging purposes.

    I tried to reason with him – think of the family trust – think of your health – think of your son who wants to inherit a farm.

    Now he is the one who introduced me to smoking tobacco.
    I still enjoy my tobacco.
    You reckon baccy is crap. I reckon his irresponsible attitude is crap.

    I reckon you both are wrong and that you both need a long walk over a short pier.

    I hate people telling me to do with my life.
    If you don’t like the aroma my brand of baccy – then you should be decent enough to leave the room all by yourself.

    My dickhead mate and his new Asian bimbo?
    I suppose that if they turn up here I’ll have to get out the firehose , cool ‘em down and kick ‘em out.
    Why shouldn’t smokers be able to do that with annoying whingeing bastards fouling up things for them when they want to socialize.

    PS – women who smoke and socialize save us all big bucks on mosquito coils.

  8. Erryn 19 July 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    I resent you implying that listening to Neil Diamond is a bad thing :P But I wholeheartedly agree with this otherwise. A lot of people close to me smoke and to each their own – I don’t preach to them, unless you count me burying my parent’s ciggarettes when I was a kid (I don’t :) ) but if they want to smoke, do it away from me and anybody else who has no interest in being around it. Luckily for me, I have tolerable friends who are pretty good with their smoking etiquette. Random strangers who think it’s their right to breathe the fumes wherever it suits them, however, I want to stab with a pin.

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