Yesterday, my colleague and friend, Acree, published a markedly incendiary column regarding the issue of smoking in restaurants and bars. Her column, entitled “Smoky Bars Are NOT That Gross; You’re Just Really Whiny”, made the argument that “getting smoke all over you at a dive bar or a show venue is just part of the experience” and “the main reason you have the attitude of smoking as ‘disgusting’ is because you’re a product of years of anti-smoking marketing campaigns”.
Today, I would like to offer my gracious rebuttal:
NewRaleigh.com doesn’t have the server space for me to list all my reasons for this view, so I’ll simply lay out a few main ones.
Reason one: A commenter on Acree’s column, Michael, hit the nail on the head when he remarked, “I think it’s the deadly chemicals in your lungs part, not the stinky smoke in your hair part, that most reasonable people are concerned about.” Bingo, Michael. The idea that in order to have a drink at a bar, I must subject myself to the inhalation of carcinogens is quite insane. It’s precisely for this reason that for the past year or so I’ve simply stopped going to bars or restaurants where I’m forced to do this. And to all the smoker-friendly bars, for what it’s worth, that’s one customer who isn’t coming through your doors. I doubt I’m the only one.
Yes, yes, I can already hear you, smokers… “Ben, nobody’s FORCING you to go there [wheeze]. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head and saying you HAVE to go to a bar [phlegmy cough],” (Emphysema added). To you I say two things: first, you stink. Second, you’re absolutely right, no one’s forcing me to go to a smoke-filled bar. The problem, however, is twofold. The persons who work at these bars are equally subject to the poisons in the air. Sure, no one is technically forcing them to work there, but for some, especially in this economy, restaurant work is all that’s available. It is simply an unfair argument. The same weak argument could be made about workers in unsafe factories or carcinogen-soaked farms. No one is ever forced to take a job working in an unsafe environment, but I hear much fewer arguments like this when it comes to farmworkers whose babies are born with deformities due to poisonous pesticide exposure. Second, I wholeheartedly disagree that my right to enjoy a beer with on a Friday night should be hindered by the risk of deadly disease. Just as the claim can be made that smokers have the right to smoke, so made can be the claim that everyone else has the right not to smoke. Thing is, when someone inside is smoking, the non-smokers have no choice but to smoke as well.
Reason two: Acree claims that “getting smoke all over you at a dive bar or a show venue is just part of the experience, and smelling it in your hair the day after, while you walk weary-eyed into the workplace, is no worse than not being able to wash that entrance stamp off the back of your hand.” And I agree that it is part of the experience. A disgusting, frustrating, and off-putting part of the experience. But in addition to being vomitous, that stale-nicotine smell clinging to your hair when you get home is actually also quite dangerous. According to a January article in the New York Times, this so called third-hand smoke “includes heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials”. Radioactive materials. That, for those of you who don’t know, is what happens after an atomic bomb explodes. Radioactive materials. This means that even if I spend only a few minutes at a smoky bar, the danger to my health does not end when I walk out the door. It follows me home.
Reason three: Really, it comes down to individual rights, to which I alluded in reason one. My understanding is that in this country, our understanding of “freedom” is this: we are each entitled to the right to do whatever we choose until our actions infringe on other’s rights to do the same. For this reason, we outlaw certain things such as murder or assault. I do not have the right to kill another citizen because it ultimately will prevent them from enjoying their own rights. Now I’m not quite saying that smoking in a bar is equal to murder (though the argument could plausibly be made). I’m simply saying that a person’s right to smoke in public infringes on their neighbor’s right to not smoke. This is where the line should be drawn. Frankly, I would be more comfortable with a person injecting heroin or snorting cocaine while sitting at the bar stool next to me because in this case, I would have the opportunity to exercise my right to not ingest harmful chemicals. I believe that I should have the same entitlement claimed by zealous smokers to enjoy an evening at a bar. As it stands now, I don’t.
So, to the smokers… kindly get out of my face and smoke somewhere else.
And to my good friend Acree, you might want to rethink your argument, for if you continue to be a second-hand smoker, it may turn out that the only whining noises you hear will be coming from your tar-marinated lungs.