Iowa Debates Anti-Smoking Law
Today the Iowa House of Representatives is set to debate the latest anti-smoking law to come across the table. The new law would ban smoking in restaurants and bars, with the exception of casinos (because, apparently, they donate a lot of money to politicians, and they’re a grand source of tax revenue) and small privately-owned bars (such as veterans clubs).
I have mixed emotions on this… I smoked for 25 years. I started my one and a half pack a day addiction in my teens and couldn’t shake it until just two and a half years ago. (In fact, that’s why I started this blog in the first place — to give me something to do in the middle of the night when the cravings hit. Here’s one of my earlier posts if you’re interested. The photos disappeared for some reason, but I’m not too worried about that.) So smoking and I have a long history…
When I was in high school I had to go to Smokers Anonymous so I could stay on the wrestling and cross-country teams. I was the only one in SA… I eventually quit sports.
I joined the Army National Guard the day I turned 17. I remember taking a carton of cigarettes with me to Basic Training. They took them away from me… For the first week we were there we couldn’t smoke, so we all chewed tobacco. As soon as we earned smoking privileges we all started right back up. In an odd sociological twist, out of the 52 men in my platoon only about 15 or so smoked when we started basic training — but 49 smoked by the time we finished ten weeks later. The Army had a bad habit of giving us the occasional smoke break, only to walk past us as we stood there happily puffing away and point at two or three guys at random to go do some chore or errand. Invariably the Drill Instructors would choose people who weren’t smoking, possibly because they looked like they weren’t doing anything. So many people started smoking simply to avoid the extra duties the DIs were handing out to non-smokers. I don’t think this was a conscious thing on the sergeants’ part, but it was very much apparent. (All my Drill Sergeants smoked, by the way, as did all the officers.)
A few years later, back in Iowa, I was sorely upset when the state banned smoking in government buildings — including the armory. I was very used to having an ashtray on my desk whilst at drills.
When I was a freshman in college, I remember being bitterly disappointed when they banned smoking in the classrooms (yes, at one point a college kid could smoke in a lecture, believe it or not) just the year before. My sophomore or junior year they banned smoking in any campus building except the Student Union and individual dorms, and I used my position on the school newspaper to holler indignantly that “smokers are people too” and should be given at least a “smoking closet” or some area indoors where they could smoke without bothering others. It seemed cruel to me for the administration to make us go stand outside in the snow… And I was used to doing my homework in the library with a cigarette smoldering next to me. I took the “No Smoking” signs personally, and bristled.
Once I graduated and landed the job of my dreams here at the print shop I was happy to see that everyone had an ashtray within arm’s reach. My kinda place! But my joy was short-lived… Within six months the company had merged and moved to a different building, where I had to walk all the way to the back room (six feet from my desk) to smoke. My co-workers often complained about the smell of my cigarettes wafting through the open door into the office, but I found the necessary temerity to ignore their whining. A few years later the bosses told us we could only smoke in the break room or outside. Shortly after that they told us to go outside. I was NOT happy.
But here’s the funny part… Every time someone limited the areas where I could smoke, I complained bitterly about my rights being trampled upon, but within days I was used to the new routine and it no longer bothered me. In fact, I found that I actually enjoyed having to go outside to smoke — it forced me to get away from my desk for a few minutes, and I noticed that I didn’t smoke as much as I had previously. In 2001 or 2002, both Dagmar and I quit smoking in our own house. We voluntarily went outside to smoke… Our house stunk, to be honest, and the walls were changing color, turning from “Misty Alpine Fog” to “Dingy Tan.” I still smoked in the car, but not in the house.
In July 2005 I smoked my last cigarette. I still have urges occasionally, but the horrible physical cravings are gone. When I see photos of myself from years past it surprises me that in nearly every photo I have a cigarette… I didn’t know it was such a pervasive part of my life. I’m glad I’m done with it.
So how do I feel about the proposed ban? Well, as I said earlier, I have mixed feelings… The first thing I thought when I heard about the ban was “FINALLY I can go to a club and watch a band without having to deal with cigarettes and feeling all congested and stinky the next day! Thank God! Maybe now Dagmar and I can go to a restaurant. Boy, it’s gonna be GOOD to be able to get back out into society again!” That’s how ninety-five percent of me feels — relieved and happy at the prospect of smoke-free establishments. The other five percent feels a little guilty, like I’m turning my back on my former life, flip-flopping my morals of 20+ years ago. I took a stand for years that smokers have a right to a smoking room in every public building. Now that I no longer smoke, do I change that stand? Is that wrong? I dunno…
It would probably surprise some of our friends, but Dagmar and I sometimes stay home simply to avoid the smoke. When we make plans, the subject invariably comes up… “What do you want to do? Shall we go downtown for a beer and see a band, or shall we go out to eat?” I’ll ask. “Well,” she’ll respond, “if we go see a band it’ll be all smoky and stinky…” We don’t mind if our friends smoke outside or in another room, but it does bother us to be around cigarette smoke. It makes my lungs hurt, both Dagmar and I will have headaches and sore throats the following day, and, quite frankly, it gives me cravings. So I’d rather avoid it if possible.
I’m struggling with people’s rights and freedoms. Does your freedom to smoke trump my freedom to want clean air? After all, I’m free to stay home if I want, but smokers are also free to go outside to enjoy a cigarette.
Is a ban a good thing? Sure it is. I support it — it would make life better and easier for Dagmar and myself, and would make the state a little healthier. But a little piece of me thinks it would be okay to have a separate room for smokers… A well-ventilated room on the other side of the bar, preferably… I’m really, REALLY looking forward to being able to go out and have a beer in a smoke-free environment, and I’m a little sad that my favorite place (the Legion club in Le Mars) will be exempt from the rule. I would never tell the combat veteran sitting at the bar in a veterans’ club that he couldn’t sit and have a beer and a cigarette in peace, but I am a little sad that I’ll still have to endure cigarette smoke. (Like I said, I still get cravings when I smell a cigarette. It makes me twitchy, rude, and generally anxious and vaguely unhappy.)
I’ll leave you with two statements. The first is that I’m NOT trying to start a debate here — I don’t mean to upset anyone, I’m just sorting through my feelings on the issue. The second is that when I did smoke, I quickly readjusted to whatever laws or rules were in place, and it soon became second-nature for me to follow the rules and be content.