Saunders: Outdoor smoking bans snuff our right to light

August 19, 2012 

“I was outside the cabin smoking some meat. There wasn’t a cigar store in the neighborhood.”

Ba-dum.

Sure, that’s what Groucho Marx said in the hilarious movie “Animal Crackers,” but meat will soon be the only thing any of us will be able to smoke if the anti-tobacco brigade keeps snuffing out places to light up.

Already, smoking has been banned in many public spaces – outdoor spaces – in Durham which, irony of ironies, is a city which once had a cigarette named after it. A written history of the city accurately proclaims: “Durham grew tobacco, then tobacco grew Durham.”

What’s next? Changing the name of the city to further dissociate it from smoking?

Durham Mayor Bill Bell, quickly noting that it was the county government, not city, that passed the ban, said: “Conceptually, it’s a good idea, but policing it and making sure people follow the law” is going to be difficult.

Sure, I, as you probably did, read in the newspaper months ago that the Durham County Board of Commissioners was considering banning smoking in parks. Just a utopian pipe dream by the latest incarnation of the Upright Citizens Brigade, right?

Wrong. How did I find out that the outdoor ban was more than an anti-smoker’s fantasy? After a rare win on the Rock Quarry Park city tennis courts recently, I lit up a cigar to take a couple of victory puffs while walking to my truck.

“You know you can’t smoke that here,” the voice behind me said. “Don’t you read your own newspaper?”

It was the same woman who’d been on an adjacent court, befouling the air with curse words every time she missed a shot. To my way of thinking, the smoke from my cigar was less harmful in that setting than the putrid blue haze she sent into the atmosphere and which is probably just now assaulting the ears of some impressionable Martian child.

Protest on my part would’ve been futile, especially since she held a cellphone in a manner that conveyed “... and I’m not afraid to use it.” If she’d snapped a picture of me puffing away and shown it to the local gendarmes, it could’ve cost me 50 bucks.

Oy. Let’s see now. Smoking has now been outlawed in parks, poolrooms and bars. So where else is left for them to ensure that no smoker ever again enjoys lighting up or taking that first, deep, relaxing drag?

Try the beach.

Yep. A ban on smoking on the strand at Carolina Beach was approved last week. You know what that means, right?

What, that the only things we’ll now smell burning on the beach are hamburgers and non-SPF’ed skin?

Okay, that, too. What it mainly means, though, is individual rights – the right to life, liberty and to ingest carcinogen-laced smoke into our lungs if we want to – are going up in smoke. Some of you will argue that you have the right not to be assailed by smokers’ secondhand smoke, and that argument is unassailable.

It’s also a smokescreen. Cigarette companies and others have already developed smokeless cigarettes that don’t affect others, and businesses have banished smoking employees to the hinterlands. Yet, that seems hardly to have diminished the fervor of the people who want to banish smoking and smokers from earth.

As far as health concerns, the late Durham scientist James Mold developed a cigarette in the 1970s that was less likely to cause cancer, but his employer, Liggett & Myers, refused to release it, probably because to champion a cancer-free cigarette would’ve meant acknowledging that – psst: come closer – cigarettes cause cancer.

If you believe in hell, you have to believe there is a special place for the heartless brains behind that decision.

If you’re a smoker, you already know what hell is: being on a beach, in a poolroom or perched at a bar — and unable to light up.

Saunders: 919-836-2811

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