by Constance Daley
American Reporter Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
July 26, 2005
THE 'LESSER CRIME' OF SMOKING
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- A cocaine addict can walk into any public building, park, bar or restaurant - nose crammed full of the illegal powder - and be an acceptable member of society, albeit one who is breaking the law by having and using that substance. Acceptable, that is, until he becomes restless, irritable, and anxious, at which time he may be asked to leave.
But if a smoker even places his Bic lighter on the bar he'll be looked at and perhaps warned that if he lights up, he'll be fined $500 and charged with a misdemeanor. Just to keep us on the same page, let me say that a misdemeanor is punished less severely than a felony but more than an infraction.
Just to get a picture of where "smoking in a public place" sits in the annals of crime, a misdemeanor may include petty theft (such as shoplifting), prostitution, simple assault, trespass, vandalism and so forth, punishable with a maximum sentence of less than a year in prison. Misdemeanor convicts serve their time in county or city jails rather than state prison. Convicts?
On July 1 of this year, Georgia banned smoking in bars and restaurants. Public places and parks were made illegal smoking spots earlier. There is no place to smoke in the state of Georgia, and many other states, except in your car - unless you happen to be a police officer, in which case, don't try it. Every vehicle that passes a black-and-white with a smoker driving can drop a dime.
I haven't smoked for 25 years now, but the 33 years of hard smoking before that keeps me in the mindset of those who still do. I put myself in their place. On the one hand, I wish they were me - totally free of the urge. But there was a time when I wasn't free and if someone gave me a funny look I'd resent it - but I'd also feel it.
In the late '60s, a woman in California took on the state in a suit to stop smoking in elevators.
"Fat chance," my smoking friends and I said. She won. Non-smokers hitched themselves to her wagon and started speaking up. It's taken 30 years for smokers to become the grovelers pleading for the right to breathe smoke into their lungs.
Over the July 4th weekend, we went to our favorite restaurant to have cocktails and eat at the bar. Uh, oh. There was a crowd outside and we thought we'd underestimated the need for reservations. We went in, planning to put our name on a list, but found it empty. The bar crowd was outside smoking - dinner would wait.
It's been that way ever since. Did it hurt the bar business? Not really, they claim, because non-smokers and families with children now come in because it is smoke-free.
Sure, nicotine is addictive; certainly the smoker is at risk of lung cancer (only smokers get it), and by all means it's expensive. Yes, it's rude to blow smoke in someone's face and smoking will probably shorten your life. Yes, it's a danger to the fetus if pregnant moms smoke, but to have the government step in to make it impossible to smoke in places that are accommodating to smokers is a big mistake.
If the government (and since "we" are the government, I wonder if "we" voted this legislation in) erroneously believes that raising the price on tobacco products and limiting the places where smoking is allowed will do anything to force a smoker to quit, it is mistaken.
The smoker must quit or not get insurance coverage for smoking-related illnesses. That is reasonable. That's the way the government can save the $400,000,000 they claim they now have to pay out for smokers' illnesses. This way, a smoker quits rather than put up with family nagging because they'll be stuck with the medical bills. Sure, I'd vote for that. But to step in and enforce lifestyle changes on one's freedom to choose one's poison, is not the American way.
Smokers believe that nicotine is a stress reliever - a coping mechanism. They believe lighting up is a pause in the day's activity - a seventh-inning stretch. You can't convince them otherwise. Oh, how'd they'd love to wake up and discover they had never smoked at all. It's a dream. Unlike alcohol, nicotine keeps you on your feet and thinking clearly. And, yet, there's no denying it, there is the cumulative effect of tobacco eventually taking its toll - one day at a time.
The protestors, from the lady in California to those of today, go about their work quietly, no Carrie Nations among them. No one carries hatchets, But they can transmit distaste for the smoker with one look, one vitriolic sneer, a touch of attitude suggesting "you're in my space." My sympathies lie with the smoker because I've been there. And, boy, it hurts.
After many attempts at quitting, I finally took a high-priced program that lasted eight weeks. It was worth all the time and money and I've never looked back. But now I can see myself in the eyes of the smoker and I know they'd quit if they thought they could. The government is not going to do it for them. I want to say, "Back off." They will quit but Big Brother will have nothing to do with it.
I would vote for a non-smoking world, but that's not the world I was born into. In the 1950's there were only two rules of smoking for a young lady: "A lady never smokes standing up except at cocktail parties, and, never outside walking along the street."
Times and attitudes change, almost as frequently as the weather. But, fanaticism prevails. Consider the uproar afforded James Bond in "To Live and Let Die:" Bond smoked a cigar - in Cuba - and although the movie is full of gratuitous, unprotected sex and violence and dangerous, screeching car rides, the uproar was over the cigar. It was an unhealthy image for children.