A dying breed, smokers claim their right to puff

MIKE LITTWIN

January 13, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

Here's a question for you: Don't smokers (cough, cough) have rights, too?

In case you haven't noticed, smokers have increasingly come under, uh, fire. Now, we learn, smokers are not simply committing suicide, one little death stick at a time. The EPA boys say Joe Camel and the gang are killing the rest of us, too: Estimates on the death toll from second-hand smoke range from 3,000 to 40,000 a year.

You could see how this would get some people steamed.

On the heels of this report, the Orioles made their own pointed statement to smokers. Which is this: You can't smoke in your seat at the ballpark anymore, so there.

Imagine that. Used to be, back when I was a kid, heck, it wasn't a baseball game unless the guy next to you was puffing on a cigar that made smoke so thick you could hang several articles of clothing from it.

Yep, that's when ballparks had character. At the new stadium, if you spill some beer on one of the seats, you feel guilty, like you've messed the place up. Aren't ballparks supposed to have a certain aroma about them?

Now, I hear there's talk the Orioles, instead of selling cigarettes, will be offering the nicotine patch at concession stands. This is an idea whose time has come. You could buy a patch with your favorite home-team logo.

Where's it going to end? Is the FCC going to ban "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" from radio play?

You could see we've got a problem here. But, believe me, we're not the only ones.

I saw a guy on TV the other day who said he was head of a smokers' rights organization. What are we saying here -- this is his job? I'm supposed to think the guy woke up one day, looked himself in the mirror and said, "Gosh, I could dedicate my life either to feeding hungry people or to lobbying for bigger smoking areas in restaurants."

Smokers, huh?

Those guys kill me. You, too.

Let's get serious about smokers' rights. Sure, they have rights. Knife throwers have rights, too, but I don't think we're going to allow people to toss knives around in a crowded room.

If they want to get their own personal knife-throwing space and throw all the knives they want at each other, fine. No problem.

Is there a difference?

Well, the people from the Tobacco Institute think so. That's what they say anyway.

Of course, a prerequisite for working for the Tobacco Institute -- the official lobbyist for the tobacco industry -- is the ability to keep a straight face. Here's a typical job interview for someone hoping to become a Tobacco Institute spokesperson.

Interviewer: There's absolutely no scientific evidence linking cigarette smoking to cancer, heart disease or any other health problem, right?

Interviewee: Good one. Wait till I tell the wife. No evidence? Right. There's no evidence driving a car 150 mph into a brick wall is going to damage your bumper, either.

This person, as you may have guessed, does not get the job.

The proper response is to say: "Absolutely no evidence." And then, not to smile. That's the hard part. You can't smile. You can't even wink.

You've got to pretend you believe what you're saying.

I saw this Tobacco Institute person on the same news-talk show the smokers' rights person was on, and she was saying something like, "The data from the EPA was manipulated. It's just not good science. For some unknown reason, they have something against the hard-working men and women of the tobacco industry, including the late, great Marlboro Man."

So, she was asked, smoking's actually good for you?

This is where she could have gone on the offensive. You know what she wanted to say.

"Have you ever seen people who quit smoking?" she asks. "Have you noticed something about them?

"That's right. They gain weight. I don't want to say they're fat, but your typical ex-smoker looks like Oprah after she's finished her second ice cream sundae. Overeating kills you. Is anybody saying we should ban desserts? I don't think so."

Can you argue with that logic?

If you can't, then maybe you've got a future with the Institute.

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