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.