I only smoke when I socialize. The problem is I’ve been doing a lot more socializing over the last year. Somehow having my worldview rattled by the events of Sept. 11, 2001 has made sitting home every night and being sensible a tad dull.
I’m always fine without a cigarette until I have that second beer, then the urge kicks in and the sad fact is I’ve never really tried to resist it. I could give up smoking or drinking, or both. But I don’t feel like it, at least not right now. So I’m hoping that Mike Bloomberg will force my hand — at least when I’m reaching for a pack of Merits.
The proposed legislation would expand the City’s 1995 Smoke-Free Air Act by banning smoking in bars, restaurants of all sizes, offices, pool halls, bingo parlors, bowling alleys, and other indoor areas. I’m not much of a bowler or a bingo player. But the truth is I really do enjoy a cigarette when I’m relaxing with a beer after a long day at the office or, better still, after a six-mile run, when I really feel I deserve a treat. And when New York State increased the price of a pack of cigarettes to nearly $8 earlier this year before the proposal to ban smoking even saw the light of day — I noticed it. But it wasn’t enough to make me stop.
But unlike some of my friends, who are heavy smokers, I have not chosen to reinvent myself as a smuggler. Did you know that it’s possible to buy a carton of cigarettes from Europe for $1.32 a pack? God Bless the Internet.
On a recent trip to San Francisco, I thought I would get a chance to test out my ability to be in a bar where I couldn’t smoke. Smoking has been banned in California for a number of years now, but I had yet to experience socializing under duress. And at the very least I figured that given California’s more temperate climate it wouldn’t be too painful to nip outside and have a quick smoke.
I was visiting a friend who is seven months pregnant. She’s a reformed smoker, at least for the duration other pregnancy, so I felt we could at least offer each other solidarity. My trip fell on Halloween, and my friend really wanted to dress up — as a nun — and go out and about. Like myself she’s from Dublin, was educated by nuns, and let’s just say we’ve both got a few issues to work out. And as she said: “When am I going to get an opportunity to do this again?”
We had originally intended to go to San Francisco’s Castro area, where the Halloween parade dwarfs even New York’s Greenwich Village revelry, but my friend Sinead decided that being a pregnant woman in a crowd with thousands of people might not be nicest of experiences. So we ended up tagging along with some friends who were headed to a couple of Irish bars in the Sunset district, an area heavily populated by young Irish immigrants.
Sinead’s garb drew a lot of looks from the mostly young, mostly male and all Irish crowd, many of them amused, though some clearly puzzled. One guy actually said to her, “You look good, almost too good.” I was still trying to figure out exactly what he meant by that comment, when I noticed he was smoking a cigarette.
I had seen other people smoking, but because I was so used to it in New York, I didn’t think it strange. So I asked him how come he was allowed to smoke if the state had a ban on cigarettes in bars and restaurants. The answer? Most Irish bars simply turn a blind eye to it and nobody I spoke to could remember anyone ever enforcing it.
And it wasn’t just Irish bars in that traditionally Irish neighborhood. A couple of other Irish pubs I visited, one in the Mission and one on Haight Street, were also full of satisfied customers pulling on pints and cigarettes.
Whether that will be the case in New York remains to be seen. But I doubt it. In fact, I predict a scenario where striking a match to light a cigarette in a New York bar will be tantamount to sending up a distress flare. But whoever shows up at your side is likely to be more foe than friend.
Quite simply, the world is becoming an increasingly hostile place for those of us who still smoke. The desire to rid restaurants and bars of cigarettes is not just an American phenomenon. Now they’re talking about banning smoking in bars that serve food in Ireland, which most of them do these days. What happens across the Atlantic remains to be seen. A lot more bar patrons still smoke in Ireland. But the bartenders in Ireland, like many of their peers in New York, take issue with having to deal with secondhand smoke in their place of work.
Over here it’s looking very likely that we’ll be dealing with a new regime sooner rather than later. And for those of us social smokers who are sitting on the fence this could be our big chance to kick the habit once and for all. That’s how I’m viewing it. I know I’m not ready to do it alone but I will stop if I stand to get slapped with a fine every time I light up in bar. So come on Mike, I’m ready.
The opinions expressed represent those of the writer, not necessarily those of the Irish Echo.