Non-Smoking Section

Non-Smoking Section

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

Being a pack-a-day smoker for 10 years and joining the “non-smoker” posse about three or four years ago gives me a fresh perspective on the new state-wide smoking ban.

I loved to smoke, and my habit-guru was Denis Leary and his classic stand-up performance from 1991, ‘No Cure For Cancer’.

At one time I owned the CD and Videocassette of Leary’s performance and used his insights as ways to handle the world. In the routine, he spends the majority of the time talking about cigarette smoking and how paranoid people were about second-hand smoke.

“I love to smoke… I smoke 7000 packs a day,” Leary said in his routine. “I am never quitting. I don't care how many laws they make. What's the law now? You can only smoke in your apartment, under your blanket, with all the lights out? Is that the rule now? The cops are outside: "We know you have the cigarettes. Come out of the house with the cigarettes above your head." "You'll never get me, copper. I'm not comin' out, see! I've got a cigarette machine right here in my bedroom."

“I love to smoke. In fact I love to smoke so much that I'm gonna get a tracheotomy so I can smoke two cigarettes at the same time. (Rapidly alternates inhaling cigarette through mouth and imaginary hole in neck) I'm gonna get nine tracheotomies all the way around my neck. I'll be Tracheotomy Man. "He can smoke a pack at a time. He'sTracheotomy Man. "

Even though he did this bit back in the early 90s it still holds up in the new century. The new Minnesota law states that you can smoke in your home, car, or select building… but to a smoker it feels like the non-smokers finally won.

A few months ago while researching an article about the possible St. Louis Countysmoking ban I attended a board meeting where the issue was brought forth.

Before the meeting began I spoke with Cindy Eliason, owner of Jim’s Seldom Inn in small Gilbert, MN . She had woken up at 4 a.m. to make the long journey to Duluth to defend the patrons of her bar.

“Who are they trying to protect with this ordinance,” she asked. For Eliason and her husband, the only employees of Jim’s, this new ordinance would have hurt her small bar and possibly even led to closure.

“People come for a couple of drinks, to talk, and then leave. For many this is the only place to have a conversation, so where will they go when we are not around,” she asked.

Like many small business owners, Eliason has invested every penny into her establishment, is in her fifties, and believes she is too old to sell. She said, “95% of my customers smoke, they are middle aged to their late eighties, and I have one with them.” Eliason is a long-time smoker herself.

Eliason’s view was shared by many local bar owners, and many more feel that this ordinance will hurt business or send people to Superior . One positive aspect for everyone is that your clothes won’t stink like smoke when you get home, and certain local bars will not be as hazy.

The one drawback to being a non-smoker for several years now is that I was recently diagnosed with allergies. When I smoked I would catch colds or sinus infections several times during the year, but now I believe those were unchecked allergies. Whether the cigarettes caused the sinus issues or not, it is definitely easier to breathe now without them.

The cigarette smoke in the bar though does bother me now, and the addiction always calls. When my father, who had been a non-smoker for 10 years after kicking the habit would talk to me, he would always end up bringing up smoking. Back then this next piece from ‘No Cure For Cancer’ stood out.

“There's a guy, he's English (I don't think we should hold that against him), but apparently he has this life's dream -- and I say apparently because he's flying over here with his own money in a couple of weeks to have a Senate hearing and this is what he wants to do: he wants to make the warnings on cigarette packs bigger. He wants the whole front of the pack to be the warning. Like the problem is we haven't noticed yet, right? Like he's gonna get his way and smokers around the world are gonna be going, "Yeah, Bill, I've got some cigarettes -- (Noticing warning on pack) Hey! Wait a minute. Jesus Christ. These things are bad for you! S#!#, I thought they were good for you. I thought they had vitamin C in 'em and stuff." (Slams pack loudly onto stool)”

“You dolt! Doesn't matter how big the warnings are. You could have cigarettes that were called "WARNINGS"; you could have cigarettes that come in a black pack with a skull and crossbones on the front called "TUMORS" and smokers would be lined up around the block saying, "I can't wait to get my hands on these things, can you? I bet you get a tumor as soon as you light up." It doesn't matter how big the warnings are or how much they cost. Keep raising the prices. We'll break into your houses to buy the cigarettes, okay? We're addicted. It's a drug.”

Which is the main problem with cigarette smoking, it is an addiction. That addiction is something that to this day I still deal with. Drinking liquor is never as much fun without my cigarette, after a meal I never feel as relaxed without my cigarette, in the car the ride always seems longer without that cigarette, and after a hard day at the job there is never that quiet reflective moment of having a butt.

That last one is what I miss the most, followed by when I am at the bar having a drink… I miss my 15 minute smoke break and just staring off into the unknown. That moment all to yourself.. The smokers know what I am talking about, where it is just you and your smoke… Where life just fades away.

The one nice aspect is that ex-smokers like myself will not be as tempted to light up at the bar. I have many friends who are “casual” smokers and will say that they only have one with a drink. The moment they explain to me that they, “only smoke when they drink,” I get jealous. Later, when I see them outside of the bar a few weeks later puffing on a butt, I feel some redemption. I also feel sad that the cigarette companies have hooked another victim.

Today cigarette smoking is too dangerous with all of the additives that the tobacco conglomerates have injected into their product. Toxic ingredients like formaldehyde make the nicotine hit the brain faster, which makes it amazing that the F.D.A. doesn’t regulate the companies at all. They can poison people and make them addicted to that poison, and then blame the smokers for being addicted. The more you examine the issue, the more that it appears we are going in the right direction with this new ordinance.

So the next time you go out to the bar remember, the non-smokers won, and they may have saved your lives... Or as Denis Leary would say, “Life sucks, get a #uc&in’ helmet.”