July 2, 2009

Butt out?

I've been trying to decide whether or not to post about this for awhile--in part because I don't want this poor blog to sound like a whiny ol' tirade, and in part because I don't really have an answer. But it's bothered me again today, so I might as well open up the topic and see what people think...

I'm taking about public smoking. As in smoking on the sidewalk.

Here in Quebec, smoking in restaurants, bars and indoor public places has been banned for a good few years. It's nice to sit and eat without smoke billowing across your penne arrabiata, and it looks like many smokers are OK with stretching their legs between courses for a puff. I'd guess many even enjoy a smoke-free meal themselves.

But now smokers pool on the sidewalks. Or they simply light up on the sidewalks, walking around, blowing smoke behind them.

Except for one summer where I snuck puffs of my Aunt's discarded butts while baby-sitting my cousins, I've never been a smoker. Cigarettes send my allergies into haywire--just a step below cats and shaggy dogs. So I've never been one to hang around smoke.

With baby Bump on the way, my tolerance for smoke is at an all-time low. Walking down a busy shopping street today, in 30C heat, my slow self was stuck behind wave after wave of summer smoke--truly awful, nauseating stuff. Every time I hit a wave, I'd cough, then preggie gag, then stop to catch my breath (which I seem to have less and less of these days).

By the end of an hour's stroll, I'd had it. I wanted to knock the cigarette out of every last person's hand, wanted to blow something unpleasant into their faces--a whiff of our 2-week-old garbage bin, perhaps. A little bit of armpit.

Who are these people to invade my lungs? To invade Bump's tiny lungs? To walk around like the smoke goes nowhere? I don't see them blowing smoke into their companion's face, or covering their faces to exhale a second-hand wave of eye-watering exhaust into their own eyes. Even our new upstairs neighbour smokes out on the balcony, drifting whiffs of smoke through our open window and scattering ash all over our patio.

It's gross. It's invasive. And unless I lock myself indoors, it's getting into me--and into baby.

But what's left for smokers? What are these people, seduced by cigarette's allure, supposed to do? They're addicted. They're caught. They're running out of places to hide. Is the sidewalk equally theirs? Can we, as a society, ban smoking from every place but smokers' homes? Like any addict, they would barely be able to cope--to get through a day. Do we have the right to take the last smokable public place away?

I don't know.

All I know is that I'm addicted to chocolate. And I've yet to shove a Mars bar up some stranger's unsuspecting nose.


  1. Ontario is basically the same. I was sitting outside a hospital emerg entrance last month, taking a break from the family stuff around a passing loved one. People in wheelchairs or dragging IV bags on wheel stands, huddling in the rain getting their fix. Tax dollars paying to help their one ailment so they can enjoy a future disease.

    I currently work in Tobacco country literally every second farm is/was tobacco.

    I made this observation a while back. I visit the local grocery store deli maybe 4 times a week for lunch. There is average 30 vehicles in lot. There is usually 3-4 people sitting in the cars smoking with someone inside shopping.

    I could to a mall in my city with 500 cars, and not find a single person sitting in one, except double parked.

    I dont get smokers, smoking, ex-smokers, tobacco industry, tobacco advertising of old and more. And people that smoke in vehicles with children in them should be kicked in the shins. They think blowing the smoke out the window is okay.

    Sorry dont have my own blog to vent...im going outside for a smoke and cool off.

  2. I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy. If a bar owner wants to allow smoking, I'm OK with it; I'll choose not to patronize the place.

    As you point out, the problem is that smokers do their cause a major disservice when they don't take other people into consideration--both in where their smoke goes and where the butts end up. In Arizona, it's a huge problem because you could burn the whole damn place down if you're not careful. Here in mossy Fredericton that's not a risk, but I couldn't believe the number of people smoking at the Canada Day celebration. Ick.

    I have to say the biggest relief was banning smoke on airplanes, way back when. I've got allergies, too, and I would arrive at the destination a complete stuffed-up mess.

  3. jeaves: Oh, what a debate there is around people who choose to smoke/eat badly/do drugs/etc. and the taxpayer money they gobble up in hospitals. What a can of worms that opens, but I feel the same. We pass by a hospital on the way home and I'm looking at the smokers, barely able to walk but shuffling along with a ciggie drooping out the side of their mouthes, thinking: They're spending time and money on you and THIS is how you help yourself?

    Jake: The problem, I think, is that if the law is lifted most restaurants would go back to offering smoking sections--which gives non-smokers few alternatives. I just don't get bad habits that affect other people's health.

  4. Honestly, at this point, I'd imagine a lot of restaurants would stay smoke free if given the choice. (In the States, anyway; might not be true in Canada.) Ultimately it's a moot point--we're not going back to smoking in restaurants or bars, so we're stuck with smokers creating a cloud where they can.

  5. I guess that's why I'm not 100% convinced on what to do about public smoking. I know it bothers me, and is bad for your health, and is terribly invasive--yet where do smokers go next?