Ban stinks to smokers, but they do, too

November 01, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Can we just cut to the chase about the great Baltimore smoking-ban debate of 2006?

City Hall chambers were packed last week -- packed, mind you -- with hundreds of folks dying to weigh in on the topic of whether the City Council should ban smoking in restaurants and bars.

Many opposed the ban, claiming that some owners of bars and restaurants might suffer a loss of business. Proponents of the bill pointed out the hazards of secondhand smoke.

But this issue isn't about secondhand smoke. It's about firsthand stink.

There, I've said it: smoking stinks. I wish there were a kinder way to say it, but there isn't. Somebody's got to break it to smokers -- and break it harshly, if necessary -- about one end result of their habit that's rarely mentioned. If smokers were really concerned about their health, they'd have given up the habit long ago. And they're clearly not buying the secondhand smoke argument.

But Lordy, Lord, haven't they smelled themselves lately?

I'm not even sure why this is a matter for the City Council, or for any other lawmakers. You'd think folks would know when they stink. You'd think that a product that leaves your clothes and breath with the kick tobacco does would be a hard item to sell.

Instead, we have people packing City Council chambers to extol the virtues of taking a drag on a cigarette while knocking down a glass of booze or eating a meal.

When City Council President Sheila Dixon -- who indicated she would support a ban -- co-sponsored hearings with a youth group to discuss the alarming number of juveniles being killed in this town, the chambers were not packed with hundreds of people.

When Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. tried to get a resolution passed seeking to dissolve what has laughingly been called the city/state "partnership" in education, people didn't descend on City Hall in droves then either.

But the thought of not lighting up in your favorite watering hole or restaurant? Well, heaven forfend.

We're not exactly talking about a cherished right enumerated in the Bill of Rights here, people. Now some have made the argument that there is indeed a right to smoke, implied in the Ninth Amendment, which says, "the enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." But that also means nonsmokers have a right not to breathe in that which smokers cherish.

No, we're talking about, basically, the right to stink. Long before the health problems associated with firsthand or secondhand smoke become manifest, the one negative result of smoking was that smelly after-effect. Long before the health hazards of smoking became known, there were fire hazards. Remember them?

Let me take you back quite a few years. When I was a lad in West Baltimore, my mom had the habit of kicking her brood out the door on Saturday afternoons and sending us to the movies on Pennsylvania Avenue. Some days we might be at the Royal, other days at the New Carver or the Regent. My favorite was the New Albert, which showed the horror and sci-fi flicks.

I remember several things about those theaters. One was the obligatory warning to "walk, don't run" to the nearest exit in the event of an emergency. Another was the logo appearing before each film that read "Approved By Maryland State Board of Censors." (Where are they now when they're really needed?)

And, of course, there was a "No Smoking" notice on the screen. Of course, plenty of smokers ignored the sign and lit up anyway, just as they did on buses and streetcars where no-smoking signs were clearly posted. I'm sure more than one nonsmoker noticed the stench in their clothes and hair after being fumigated by those who couldn't do without their cancer sticks.

Smokers have become much better behaved and more considerate over the years. And frankly, I do have some sympathy with them on the proposed smoking ban. Smokers probably figure people should vote with their feet and their bucks, ignoring or patronizing those places that cater to smokers or have smoking bans.

But they need to stay grounded in reality. Smokers are not Bill of Rights martyrs. The purpose of the Constitution was to put limits on the power of the federal government.

For decades, those limits weren't even considered applicable to state governments until the incorporation doctrine was cobbled together by Supreme Court justices. The notion that a local government can't pass a smoking ban in restaurants and bars because it would interfere with the rights of smokers or bar and restaurant owners is absurd on its face.

Those who believe there is indeed a right to smoke should consider that they're in essence defending a right to stink. I suppose we all have that right.

But who really wants to exercise it?

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