'Smokers' Rights' Don't Exist

August 24, 1994|By GREGOY P. KANE

I'd like to pass on some advice to smokers on the subject of smokers' rights.

Smokers' rights don't exist. They never have. They never will. The notion is a fantasy spawned by the current American frenzy in which everyone has rights and no one has responsibilities.

I challenge you to find a passage in the U.S. Constitution that explicitly refers to "smokers' rights." You won't find it. I challenge you to find a passage in the document that even obliquely implies the existence of "smokers' rights." You won't find that either.

Rights don't apply to addictions. And smokers are as addicted to nicotine as heroin addicts are to smack and crack addicts are to cocaine. The notion of "smokers' rights" is as absurd as smack users or crackheads insisting they have the "right" to get high. (And that day is not far off, with the "only rights-no responsibilities" mania afflicting America today.)

Giving aid and comfort to smokers in their quixotic quest for nonexistent rights are American tobacco companies. They dispute claims that smoking is harmful and imply that studies showing that second-hand smoke is dangerous to nonsmokers' health are part of some vague scheme aimed at imposing political correctness.

The medical evidence, says the tobacco lobby, is ''inconclusive.'' That claim is not only an insult to our intelligence but an affront to common sense, which inevitably must kick in somewhere.

Unless firefighters are playing a cruel, sick, hideous joke on the public, we have to believe them when they say the cause of death in a fatal fire was smoke inhalation. We can reasonably conclude that large amounts of smoke inhaled over a short period of time have serious adverse health effects. Can't we safely conclude that small amounts of smoke inhaled over a long period of time might have the same effects? Do we really need doctors and researchers to tell us that?

Let me cite an example of what happens when one smoker decided to exercise her "rights" and neglect her responsibilities. She was a local hospital patient hooked up to an oxygen tank. Her respiratory problems no doubt were brought in large measure on by smoking. Tired of being deprived of her rights by a cruel, vindictive, politically correct medical staff, she lit up one night, causing an explosion and fire in her room. She survived, but not without scaring the living daylights out of everyone.

The lesson should not be lost on smokers or tobacco companies. The blame for the current war on smokers and smoking should be put where it belongs -- on smokers themselves.

When I was growing up, theaters and buses were the only places where smoking was forbidden. Smokers, of course, couldn't abide by the rules then, either. In spite of clearly posted signs they lit up anyway and gave theater ushers and bus drivers bad attitudes when they tried to enforce the ban.

That's why the ads taken out by the tobacco companies, in which they urge an "accommodation" between smokers and nonsmokers, are ludicrous. Give smokers a square inch and they'll take an acre. Then they'll light up and have the acre filled with smoke within 15 minutes.

How have such "accommodations" worked in the past? Some restaurants tried an "accommodation" in which the nonsmoking majority was required to squeeze into about 10 seats while the smoking minority got the lion's share.

The accommodation no doubt pleased smokers and the tobacco companies, who had no appreciation of a simple law of physics: Smoke drifts. Smokers may stay where they are, but their smoke won't.

Some smokers weren't satisfied with even this accommodation, which clearly favored them. A friend of mine and I went into a nearly empty restaurant one day and headed for the nonsmoking section after we got our food. A smoker deliberately came over to our section and lit up -- even though there were plenty of seats left in the smoking section.

My wife and I once were at a bus stop. When a woman near us lit up, we moved away. She followed us, of course -- the better to make sure our lungs ended up like hers.

Health problems aside, smokers need to understand the basic objection nonsmokers have to the habit: It stinks. It belongs right down there with flatulence and expectoration as socially unacceptable modes of conduct.

Willing participation in such conduct is a choice, not a right.

Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Sun.

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