The first time I smoked a cigarette, I was sardined with six other middle-school aged girls in a shower of my boarding school dorm. The logic was that if Matron caught us lighting up we would hastily strip down, turn on the faucet, and pretend that we were just casually showering together in the middle of the night. Thus we would escape punishment.
At my very British, very Catholic school, fourteen-year-old lesbians were preferred to smokers.
And so, early on, I encountered the irrational judgments that non-smokers pass on us delinquents. We stand outside in the cold, glaring at passersby, daring them to question the logic of our Parliament Lights or Camel Turkish Blends. They present what all smokers have heard ad nauseum as if it it’s going to change our behavior. “It’s going to kill you” they say, “You smell like cancer sticks” or, my personal favorite from a member of my family, “No one is going to marry you if you keep that up.” Yeah, thanks guys. Maybe the next time you tell me it’ll have an effect.
I understand that these words usually stem from their desire to look out for me and not have me end my life as a laryngectomee. But what they and the other cantankerous non-smokers don’t get is that every smoker you see in entryways made a choice to start smoking and daily makes a choice to continue to smoke. Quitting is difficult, but not impossible. I myself was smoke-free for two and a half whole years before choosing to pick it up again.
Like every other politically contentious ‘lifestyle’ choice – the choice to live as the humiliated submissive in a BDSM relationship, or the choice to go quail hunting with a gun purchased at Wal-Mart – it really should be tolerated in this lovely, free, and progressive country. You can be a part of the Aryan Nation online discussion groups if you so desire, arguing about the precise proportions of the hakenkreuz. Personally, I think that sort of thing should be discouraged through educational programs. Some politicians, like mayor Barry Groveman of Calabasas, California, think that time could be better spent “protecting the public from smoking and tobacco-related litter and pollution…by affirming and promoting the family-friendly atmosphere of the City’s public places” as it states in Ordinance number 2006-217 of the Calabasas City Council Agenda. This town is outlawing smoking altogether. How blissfully authoritarian of them.
Now, I’m all for family-friendly, and I really make an effort not to smoke in front of children. I have informed the underage members of my family about the dangers of smoking, but I do not think that they will be forever scarred if once in their protected lives they happen to catch a whiff of smoke. Not in excess, of course, as secondhand smoke is just as deadly as the kind I like, but Groveman and his council want to enforce that “No person shall Smoke in an area in which Smoking is otherwise permitted by this chapter or other law within a Reasonable Distance from any entrance, opening, crack, or vent into an Enclosed Area in which Smoking is prohibited by this chapter.”
Ridiculous. How many smokers do you know who blow smoke through vents solely to irk the non-smokers within? Frankly, most of us feel guilty enough about possibly endangering the rest of the healthy populace without deliberately smoking into cracks and vents. The ordinance can be upheld by both police officers and peace officers, giving the non-smokers of the town the law on their side. Smell smoke? Don’t just glare at the nicotine whore, arrest him! The city will charge him $250.
This is not progress. This would make George Orwell say, “I totally called that one”.
So I wonder what the future holds for the smoking faction of Princeton, which currently seeks refuge in Terrace and the East Pyne courtyard. Will other towns, including Princeton, follow the Calabasas example? Will Public Safety soon form a Smokers Arrest Brigade? Will they carry around pint-sized fire extinguishers to put out my ciggy the night before a final?
I don’t know. But I do know that Mayor Groveman has not taken into account the allure of the forbidden on Calabasas youth. If smoking had not been so vilified back when my only smoking haven was a shower perhaps I wouldn’t have started. I don’t worry too much about the teenage populace of Calabasas, however. There are other much safer ways for them to rebel. Don’t take my word for it, though. Ask the Aryan Nation. Perhaps Groveman would prefer that sort of lifestyle choice to my own.