Take the smokeout to the racetracks

William A. Harper

November 20, 1991|By William A. Harper

WHEN I quit smoking in 1983, I thought I was among the last to do so. Little did I realize that we would still be holding great smokeouts 10 years later.

I had been badgered by family and friends, fellow workers and even our cat Angela, who didn't like her environment polluted with smoke any better than the other complainers. It was really tough.

The last puff came, however, when I took an assignment with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek. Almost as soon as I arrived on the scene, my new boss quietly but firmly told me that smoking was prohibited, an unwritten rule. After all, if old W.K., the founder of the company that bears his name, hadn't been a health nut, we probably wouldn't have Kellogg's cornflakes on our breakfast tables today.

I threw my last pack of Pall Malls in the corner and have not lighted up since. And, like most reformed smokers, I begin to hack and sneeze if I get within 50 feet of someone with a cigarette or a cigar in his or her mouth. I choked up when I saw the movie "Avalon" because most of the actors were smoking on screen. Much of the picture, of course, was set in an earlier time in Baltimore when everyone who was anyone smoked.

Now that I am in the forefront of the battle against the habit, I am the first to applaud the American Cancer Society for its campaign to stop young and old alike from indulging. Its annual Great American Smokeout, to be observed tomorrow, is a program that deserves our support. I stopped smoking in one day -- why can't others?

Looking over some of the literature I received from the society, however, I find that most of its efforts are targeted at schools, families and big companies. Three last bastions of smoking, unfettered by authority, are race tracks, neighborhood bars and casinos -- places where many Americans spend a great deal of their time.

One of the reasons I postponed breaking the smoking habit for so long was that I feared I would lose interest in drinking if I did so. To me, smoking went hand in hand with the sipping of a martini or a malt. Turned out that I had been wrong all along -- the cigarettes probably detracted rather than contributed to the enjoyment of spirits.

In fact, the smoking of others began to interfere with my drinking. Recently at McGarvey's in Annapolis, sitting at the lively front bar, I found my Bud bathing in smoke. I didn't say anything, but began coughing to show my disdain and discomfort. No one looked in my direction. I left without finishing my beer.

On a recent visit to Atlantic City, I stopped by the Taj Mahal, where I discovered that the casino had allocated a "no-smoking" gambling area. Nice gesture, but it simply didn't work. How can you stop the drift of smoke from one section of a room to the other -- as in restaurants that try the same ruse? No way.

Horse-racing tracks are the worst, for they are truly the last battlefield for the cigar smoker. If the smell and taste of cigarette smoke are bad, the rancid stuff that comes from cigars is devastating. It permeates your soup, your souffle and your sherbet, not to mention your eyes and your nostrils.

What's worse, the residue from cigars can actually lead to confusion in the betting process. Under the influence of the smoke from a fat guy's stogie, I lost big the other night when I picked Happy Hanover, though I meant to select Larry Lobell.

So if the American Cancer Society wants to make huge inroads into the smoking population, it should tackle the tracks, the bars and the casinos. Certainly the owners of those establishments would cooperate. Cigarette smoking, which involves a time-consuming lighting-up process as well as watch-stopping inhalations, eats into a lot of time that could more profitably be spent on drinking and gambling.

William A. Harper writes from Fenwick Island, Del.

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