It goes without saying that smoking cigarettes is a dirty habit. Cancer, heart disease, hypertension, you name it and a profound link has been made to smoking. And if you’re a non-smoker who’s ever spent an afternoon watching a ballgame in a pub, you’ve probably been tempted to burn your clothing afterward. So it’s easy to see why smoking creates such animus in some people, and moves many of them to action. For the most committed of the anti-smoking crusaders, nothing short of an outright ban on the practice, anywhere and everywhere, will suffice.
New York City pub owners, who understand the value of a beer and a butt, know the zealot’s mindset only too well. Last year, they survived efforts by some on the City Council to put a halt to smoking in their premises. The move failed mainly because the mayor at the time, Rudy Giuliani, opposed it. But today’s crusaders are feeling flush. In Michael Bloomberg they have an ally. And if they get their way, smoking will soon be a thing of the past in the city’s bars, restaurants, offices, pool halls, bingo parlors and bowling alleys. Filtering equipment and exhaust fans be damned.
It is, of course, difficult to defend the practice of smoking. But it’s easy to defend a person’s right to smoke, especially in places where smoking is something of a tradition and where, unlike the workplace, people have a choice in the kinds of environments they seek out. For their part, the antis make the argument that the bar is indeed the workplace for some and that their efforts, therefore, are on behalf of those workers, to protect them from the dangers of secondhand smoke. But given that these workers have never been particularly inclined to make that case for themselves, this argument rings specious.
Smoking has already been banned in most buildings in the city. Take a coffee break stroll down any Midtown avenue, even on the cruelest winter day, and that fact is borne out by the shivering, huddled masses yearning to breathe tar and nicotine. Fair enough for those on the job. But shouldn’t the pubs remain sacrosanct, the dirty little secrets in our otherwise pristine city?