Snuffing out the ban complainers

By Othman O'Malley

As of Jan. 1, the state-wide smoking ban is in effect. All restaurants, bars and public spaces are now off-limits to smokers. They will not be able to continue their daring habit of gulping toxic smoke around those who enjoy the equally death-defying practice of eating a triple stack with sausage gravy to nurse a hangover. The last attempt at a smoking ban in the Champaign-Urbana area at least allowed the smoker to patronize the fine drinking establishments of neighboring Clinton and Tolono where there was no ban. Not this time my friends. At least we’ll always have Paris, no?

Long the haunt of Gauloises puffing, haze-enveloped intellectuals, revolutionaries, charlatans and saints, the City of Eternal Love has loomed in my mind as the next destination of the smoking diaspora. But wait. What’s that? The French have had a ban on smoking in public places for a year now with bars and cafes having an exemption. With the new year, that expired at the same time as our ban took effect. Even the French are not smoking in public and haven’t been for a while. At least they beat us at something.

Before going on, I must confess something. I like smoking. I love it. I find that it is appropriate for any occasion. Whether out on the town or deep in thought, the cigarette brings a cache that does not come naturally to so many of us. It is a crutch for boring people and also makes one look a little bit sexier. The same can be said for alcohol which incidentally, is the perfect complement to, yes, you guessed it, a cigarette.

Tobacco goes to the heart of who we are as a nation. Is it not true that a number of our most cherished founding fathers were tobacco farmers? Is it not true that the cultivation of tobacco gave birth to the economic super-power that are these United States? My god, what are we doing to our heritage by banning smoking? If you don’t like it then go to France now that they are smoke-free. The centrality of tobacco to our nation’s early history was not lost on our friends across the pond. 19th century English politician, diplomat, and writer Arthur Helps once said, “What a blessing this smoking is! Perhaps the greatest that we owe to the discovery of America.”` I could not have put it better myself Mr. Helps.

So why do I support the ban you ask? It’s because smoking kills long after it has obliterated your lungs. If you work at a bar or restaurant, you should not have to live with that eventuality while trying to make a living. At least my friends can avoid me when I smoke. This is not the case for restaurant and bar workers who have to stand, or move rather, for eight hours or more inhaling smoke because the owner thinks smoking patrons are good for business.

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Fatuous arguments over civil liberties and the rights of owners to do what they want with their places of business are a waste time and my relatively short breath. Just like regulations on food preparation and rodent infestation, this is a simple public health issue. There is simply no excuse or justification to risk the lives of those who do not have much of a choice in the matter. The ban will indeed save lives and I hope to see it enacted across the country.

So if you are a smoker, be prepared to bundle up and stand outside with the rest of us. If you decide to quit rather than get cold, that can only be a good thing. If you are like me and won’t, think of it as an opportunity to meet new people.

If you can’t think of something to say to the person next to you, then you can always complain about the smoking ban.

Othman is a senior in political science and is in need of a fix.