diamond geezer

 Monday, June 20, 2005

Butt out

I've never been especially tolerant of smokers. When I was very young I crayoned a big 'No Smoking' sign and stuck it in our front window just before the arrival of a chain-smoking neighbour. I don't think our visitor was very pleased, and my Mum had a lot of diplomatic explaining to do afterwards. Smoking was twice as common in the 1960s as it is now and most public places reeked of swirling tobacco smoke. Cinema seating came with additional fog effects, pubs were more choking than drinking, restaurants had a bitter aftertaste and train journeys were to be endured rather than enjoyed. We've come a long way since then with the growing realisation that smoking isn't just bad for your own wellbeing, it's bad for those around you too. And how diverse the health warnings on cigarette packets are these days...

A total ban on smoking in most workplaces and on public transport has made living in the 21st century so much more pleasant than the 20th. At least until you walk out into the street, that is. There's a concentrated cloud of tobacco smoke round the entrance to most shops and offices these days, where addicted employees stagger out into the first available fresh air to suffocate everyone else attempting to enter or walk past. Walking out of tube stations in London is just as bad. Poor unfortunate smokers who've been deprived of their nicotine fix underground insist on lighting up and inhaling very rapidly the instant they exit the station, and continuing to do so as they stride along the pavement. I'm sick of walking out of stations in the trail of these mobile smoke factories, unable to overtake into the fresh air ahead. Banning smoking in certain places has just shifted the problem elsewhere.

I fail to understand why some people smoke, which is probably because I'm one of those angels who staved off peer pressure as a teenager and never took even a single puff. But I respect the right of smokers to kill themselves by inhaling shredded leaves if they so wish. If people want to waste money decreasing their life expectancy and staining their alveoli then that's their right. I'd just prefer it if I was well away from them while they were doing it. A ban on smoking in public places (that's all public places, including streets) would suit me just fine. Go indoors and kill yourselves in your own homes, please. And - a special message to my neighbours - that means not sitting out on your balcony during a heatwave practising your filthy habit when I'd rather have my windows open, OK?

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