posted 2012-02-01 11:10:09

Blowing Smoke

A Sardonic and Humorous Take on the Smoking Ban 

Julian Cosma


“Puritanism - the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”- H.L. Mencken

The history of those who know not only what is best for themselves, but what is best for you, me, your brother etc., is a story only slightly less sordid than it is boring. Now, let me say that I on occasion smoke, or perhaps it would be a bit truer to say that I smoke by the occasion. Let me also say that, in opposing the notion of banning smoking outside of Hunter’s buildings, I do not wish to crawl back into the 40s and start lighting up in hospital wards. But it really has been quite some time since a non-smoker has been forced to inhale my or anyone’s infrequent or frequent fumes. The new ban on open-air smoking has about as much to do with the effects on a passerby’s health as it does with the deleterious effects of smoke on the structural integrity of black cube in front of Hunter West. A truer description of this ever-widening circle of protection must evoke an old word—Prohibition, or what Gore Vidal called “the noble experiment.” (He also mentioned that it brought about the greatest and most resilient of American crime waves). In Thomas M. Colicino’s rebuttal to “Smoke-Free Freedom at Hunter,” he says that intentions of creating an off-campus smoking zone “are noble.” But it seems that in Mr. Colicino’s refutation the tense is wrong. Intentions were noble, but they are now overreaching the bounds of reason.

The Chorus: “Don’t you know this stuff is really bad for you, and even for those around you?

—I’m well aware.

—Are you aware, my good man, that smoking can shorten your life?

—A bit more acutely than you, I presume.

—Have you not seen the studies, which conclusively show that “passive smoking” can have deleterious effects on perfect strangers?

—Yes, Sir or Madam, I am quite aware, and that is why I am standing out here, shoes wet from the rain, one cigarette in my hand and paying attention to your rather unwelcome interrogation.”

The question is: do I know all of the information (i.e. “the effects”)? Yes, and I act upon this knowledge in a manner that only can be described as fair and continuous. However, it is not only an “I” that acts upon this knowledge (laboring under the assumption that I am a law-abiding fellow), it is a “We” who have acted upon it, through research, committee hearings, sub-committee hearings, review boards, the inception of the ATF and comprehensive legislation.

But the buck must stop somewhere, and I would rather it be at the front door of Hunter, rather than a nebulously defined area of quarantine as recommended by Ms. Perez. Furthermore, and this goes to my point about behavior modification and prohibition, what would students who wished to go out for a smoke between class do about the increased risk of lateness? They would have to make a choice between a cig and their grades. This, quite obviously, is no deadlock, but it exceeds the justification that we are compelling smokers to be considerate neighbors.

Now there are many reasons given by those who, with much vigor, drop down the slippery slope of argument. With the issue of public smoking there has been a rather curious inversion of sorts. The smokers who wished to smoke ad libitum as well as ad hoc justified their right to do so by means of tradition (see Mad Men): “We have always smoked here!” “This is a ancient right” etc., often even as the smoker is seriously impinging on the rights of others. But the attitude of, “We have banned smoking in certain places where we know harm may be caused to non-smokers,” has now (forgive me) metastasized into “We should ban smoking in any public place , operating under the assumption that innocents are always being harmed”.

The latter attitude has airs of condescension and undue, even perverse moralism. How boring must all this be? Let us make the rulebook larger, the intrusiveness louder and the rules much stricter. The problem with this committee and with Ms. Perez is that this affords them no boredom at all. For them, attending or praising a committee meeting that will find ways of closing the last loophole and abolishing the last exemption or anomaly is an experience akin to the sensual. “Soon, soon,” they moan softly to themselves, “the rules will be absolutely the same for everybody. No exceptions. At long last—zero tolerance!”

“Stub out that wicked cheroot, and improve yourself while there is yet time!” Mens sana in corpore sano [A healthy mind in a healthy body]. It rather reminds one of the generations that took Ben Franklin’s famed Autobiography with stone-faced solemnity as a manual for edification, presaging Algerism in all its idiot forms. To this general attitude one can only emit a bark of mirth, take out a lighter and try not to blow it in their faces.