Most non-smokers don’t care whether or not a given individual is a smoker. What they do care about is being able to breathe air that has not been fouled with cigarette smoke. In my experience (have been married to a smoker, friends/acquaintences with many smokers, family members who smoke), most smokers have an immunity to the scent of cigarette smoke, and are actually unaware of just how noxious and foul it is to most non-smokers. It is not just ‘unpleasant’, it is disgusting.
If you’ve ever traveled the world, you may have noticed that different cultures have different community standards for personal hygiene. And, if you are unused to these standards, you may be disgusted by the ambient aromas, while the natives take no notice whatsoever. Well, this situation is analogous to smokers and non-smokers in America. Smokers live their everyday lives with a constant stream of smoke, and most non-smokers do not. So, when these two “cultures” come together, one is found to be offensive by the other.
There are those who would condemn the smoker (or person from another culture) for this offensiveness, but they are the small-minded few. Most folks hate the offensiveness, but don’t particularly like/dislike the offender for it. They just wish to be able to breathe/eat/live in comfort.
Now, the culture of America used to be smoker-centric. Everyone smoked everywhere…in offices, in hospitals, on airplanes…everywhere. And, if you were a non-smoker, well, you were just out of luck, because you lived in a smoker’s world and just had to learn how to deal with it. You were free to not smoke, but about the only way to escape it was in the confines of your own home/car.
Slowly but surely, though, American culture has changed. In fact, America is now a non-smokers world. Now smokers have the problem, because their options for smoking are limited. In fact, there are only a few places where smoking is condoned in today’s America…the smoker’s personal space (home/car, if you have an understanding family), smoking sections, bars, and outside, primarily. On one level, it’s sad for smokers, to be shunned and forced to sneak off to engage in their habit.
But, the truth of the matter is, this change is long overdue. Cigarette smoke is foul and offensive. Some claim it is a carcinogen, but that is actually beside the point. The crux of this debate is between the smoker’s right to smoke, and the non-smoker’s right to not be disgusted. And, in law and in manners, the correct thing to do is that the person with the offensive behavior refrains from inflicting it on the general public. This does not mean they have to stop entirely, but the social construct requires them to curtail their offending activities in public, or be considered rude.
And that, to me, is the heart of this conflict. Non-smokers would just like for smokers to be polite. I’m not claiming that all non-smokers are polite, and I know that some non-smokers step over the line when confronting smokers. But, that occasion is rare. What happens much more frequently is that a smoker lights up and satisfies their own comfort, sacrificing the comfort and enjoyment of every non-smoker in the general area. And, believe it or not, cigarette smoke is not magically rendered inoffensive when you are outdoors. For a while I actually stopped attending professional sporting events in my town because of the vast clouds of cigarette smoke that settled over the stadium. Now, of course, smoking is prohibited in our outdoor arenas.
I have heard many smokers state that cars and factories produce more pollution than smokers, and that they personally find it disgusting when someone overeats in their presence, so why aren’t we all whining about that stuff, too? Well, cars and factories introduce a benefit to society, and society has weighed that benefit and found the cost to be acceptable. Smoking, on the other hand, provides absolutely no benefit to society as a whole, only to the individual nicotine addict. Tell me one negative thing that would occur if nobody smoked. Regarding overeating, while those behaviors may be irresponsible or unhealthy, the truth is that people have to eat to stay alive. There is no way to not eat. And, eating together is one of the most ancient human customs. So, the determination that one person is ‘overeating’ is purely a matter of degree. How much is too much? Who is the arbiter of gluttony? I’m all in favor of everyone minding their table manners, keeping the noise to a minimum, using the proper utensils, and refraining from expressing their enjoyment with any bodily noises. But there is absolutely no correlation between overeating and smoking, as one is a necessary activity and one is totally unecessary.
So, to you non-smokers, I say to remember to hate the sin, but love the sinner. And to you smokers I say, in the current America, *you* have the problem now. Smoking is considered a rude activity. Mind your manners.