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July 31, 2006

Smoking ban established in AR

Friday, July 28, a smoking ban went into effect in my home state of Arkansas. In fact, the Monday morning Log Cabin Democrat paper (all 8 pages of it, not including classifieds) remarked that the moratorium, a word I associate, for some reason, with mortuaries and cemeteries, said the ban "went into effect without a hitch." Most people wouldn’t associate that sentiment with anything negative but it is a positive statement considering all the negative stereotypes associated with my Southern home state.

Seeing states fall one-by-one to the smoking ban should come as no surprise. Many states have adopted this non-smoking workplace policy: Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and Washington. Many states also have county laws with further restrictions. There are debates that the nanny effect of banning smoking in public places, although they allegedly protect the health of the patrons, might actually be hurting the businesses by alienating smokers.

As a non-but-used-to-be smoker I can see both sides of the argument with objectivity but ultimately the decision to ban smoking in public places is a good one. The legality of the bans all over the United States are usually based on second hand smoke assessments that have been under fire since their publishing. We’ve all seen the commercials showing a woman diagnosed with lung cancer although she is a non smoker- her workplace environment consisted of second hand smoke. If you were to Google 'second hand smoke' you would then have to wade through a mud hole of information from both sides.

Whether or not second hand smoke causes lung cancer is irrelevant to me. There is hard scientific proof that smoke contains allergens and will also affect asthmatics. Plus, it just smells bad. I don’t appreciate smelling it when I am stuffing my face with an expensive dinner.

There is one part of this smoking ban that Arkansas has adopted that seems a little too Orwellian is the ban of smoking paraphernalia in all workplaces. When I pulled into Australia a few years ago I bought my Dad an ashtray shaped like the country. The ashtray was adorned on all sides by Australian icons and was placed on a shelf, with its own holder, in my Dad’s office. He would now risk a fine if someone complained about it. The ashtray now sits on a shelf in his computer room at home.

I suspect that more and more states will come under the anti smoking bans because there is just no logical reason to prevent it. Americans have always favored a free lifestyle, even to the point of accepting a lifestyle that kills you as long as it does not put other people in jeopardy. It seems the government isn’t trying to ban smoking, just limit the areas where smokers can light up.

It is an evolutionary process. I remember when I first stepped onboard a submarine. I stood watch in a smoke filled sonar shack with walls (or ‘bulkheads’ for my military readers) that were yellow instead of sea foam green. The only exception I had was that, as a non-smoker, I was forced to clean those walls. With the next change of command the smoking areas were now off limits and smoking limited to a small area in the engineroom as far aft as you could get. The U.S. Navy was going to be smokeless by 2000 but we missed that deadline. I have heard of submarines that, by order of the current Captain, have become smokeless.

Although the crews of those boats complain to no end it isn’t unheard of. I remember a cross deck underway with an Australian submarine where one of our Chiefs was selected to go. When he came back he was a wreck- the Aussie boat was a no smoking boat. Although the no smoking policy was offset by the 2 beer per day allowance, an Aussie boat non-smoking? That is almost a contradiction in terms.

I am just waiting for the day when cigarettes are self contained and smokeless like the one Bruce Willis smoked in The Fifth Element. Then may be we will put this public smoking issue to rest.


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