Column: Banning smoking a courtesy matter

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 5, 2002

&t;I&gt&uot;A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fumes thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

“A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fumes thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.” ? King James the First on smoking, circa 1604.

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In the recent past, some Minnesota cities have voted to ban smoking inside all of their restaurants. This policy has predictably led to diverse reactions. Whereas some have been strongly opposed to the ban, others have welcomed it. Personally, I would like to see the same thing happen in Albert Lea restaurants.

That may come as a surprise to some people – I haven’t always held that point of view. For almost thirteen years, I smoked about a pack and a half of cigarettes a day. I loved to smoke. To me, sitting in the non-smoking section of a restaurant was unthinkable – let alone supporting any type of non-smoking ordinance. Then, on Feb. 5 of last year, I smoked what would be my final cigarette.

Even after a year of not smoking, being around cigarette smoke does not bother me. I have friends and relatives who still smoke, and I don’t mind if they do it in my presence, as long as they don’t smoke in my home or my car. I don’t even mind sitting in the smoking section of a restaurant now and then when I am out with smokers. My support of a smoking ban stems not from a personal comfort issue, but out of courtesy for the non-smoking customers and employees. They shouldn’t be forced to smoke just because some other people do.

It is common knowledge that cigarette smoke is dangerous, even to the non-smoker. Non-smoking customers may have their own section of the restaurant, but this segregation does little to protect them from secondhand smoke, the effects of which are well publicized. How can they keep the smoke from permeating the air throughout the restaurant? They can’t. Unless the smoking area is completely sealed off in a separate area with a separate ventilation system, there is no such thing as a truly non-smoking section.

Most customers in a restaurant will generally stay for less than an hour. Going an hour without a cigarette is not that much of a hardship, even for the heaviest smokers. At most, it is an inconvenience. I know this from past experience. Even at the height of my smoking, I had the courtesy to refrain from it while other people at the table were eating. It wasn’t a big deal for me to wait until everyone had finished before I would light up. During that time, if I absolutely had to have a cigarette, or if I was in a non-smoking restaurant, I would go outside to smoke. It wasn’t very difficult. A ban could work in the same way. Smokers who were unable to go an hour without a cigarette could always go outside for one. If they aren’t willing to go outside for a cigarette, they can’t need one very badly.

Suggesting that non-smokers dine somewhere else is impractical. To begin with, they outnumber smokers, so they are in the majority. Besides, restaurants are required by law to provide an area for their non-smoking customers – you can’t take that away.

Furthermore, the customers aren’t the only ones affected by the smoke. While customers tolerate it for about an hour, the employees have to put up with it for much longer – they have to breathe smoke-polluted air for their entire shift. The non-smoking customers may have their own “section,” but the non-smoking employees don’t even have that advantage. They can’t refuse to work in the smoking section just because they personally don’t smoke. A smoking ban would eliminate this problem.

I am not suggesting that smokers should be forced to give up their habit. In the appropriate setting, they have every right to smoke – but that right ends where the next person’s lungs begin. We would never tolerate an industry that, as a side effect of their production, dumped carcinogens into our water supply. Similarly, non-smokers should not be forced to accommodate smokers’ addiction. Smoking is a choice, but breathing is a necessity, and breathing clean air is everyone’s right.

Dustin Petersen is an Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays