Friday, January 19, 2007

Where There's Smoke

Bangor, Maine, is now the first city to ban smoking in cars -- at least with children. Drivers who expose kids to cigarette smoke can be fpulled over and fined fifty smackers.

The "Thank You For Smoking" lobbyist quoted in the Times article says the ban is based on "junk science." Because, apparently, he doesn't believe that ciggies are bad for your health. And he makes a big to-do about the government "taking away the right to personal property," a seeming non sequitur which we can only suspect is intended to make a few extremeist think "Ha-ha! Next thing, the ZOG comes for our assault rilfes."

Look, we know it sounds a little totalitarian -- from a smoker's perspective. That is to say, if you have been raised to believe that you have in inalienable right to stink up your neighbor's air, any smoking ban seems like a gratuitous infringement of that right. And once you've been kicked out of the office, the factory and the bar, you may think "Well, at least they can't tell me what to do in my own damn car." And now they are doing exactly that.

But here's the thing. Cigarette smoke is toxic. Everybody knows this, even the companies that make the damned things. Exposing your kids to it, or somebody else's kids to it, is just cruel. And a fair number of accidents, so we're told, are caused by people fumbling to open a cellophane packet or snap a Zippo.

And another thing. Cigarette smoke is nasty. Not just poisonous, but also foul-smelling. Smokers don't notice -- their addicts, after all. B ut the rest of us do, especially those with the unimpaired sensory organs of children. Forcing them to breathe your smoke, especially in an enclosed space, is a vicious assault.

Father A. is a lifelong nonsmoker, who as a child was frequently trapped in the car with smokers. It caused headaches, smelly clothes, and a great deal of discomfort. The smoke stinks, and to this day makes me want to retch. On sunny days, the various adults would open the window, so I only got to smell part of the ferocious reek from up front. Some of the smokers in my early life believed that a slightly-cracked window sucked the smoke out of the car. This just wasn't true. The window had to be basically open, and the car travelling at highway speeds, for the smoke not to wind up in the back seat. And at that point, the back seat was like a wind tunnel, so riding there was still a pretty unhappy experience.

And anyway, on cold days (which were many) or rainy days (which were nerve-wracking) the windows stayed shut, or nearly so. Those rides were just excruciating. To this day, the memory of one particular thunderstorm on the New York State Thruway, with the windows closed and two smokers puffing away up front, summons up a terrible combination of disgust and rage.

I complained -- a lot -- but to no avail. In fact, I think that the various chain-smoking adults just thought of me as a little whiner. And that is eaxctly what the people outraged by the Bangor ban feel about their opponents. But you know what? I have no sympathy. Pull 'em over, hit 'em with a fine -- and do it for the kids.

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