The other day I was staying at a hotel with approximately four hundred rooms … and a designated outdoor smoking area the size of a moderately sized living room. As I walked briskly through this area every day while taking the dogs out for a walk I couldn’t help but marvel at the enormous social change that has occurred in the last couple decades toward smoking. I still remember the days when you could get seated on the airline (or in the restaurant) one row (or table) away from the smoking section. Back then I found it a filthy habit, worthy of every social stigma we could throw at it.
So why is it that now, when a hotel of 400 rooms with a large surrounding property has only about 200 square feet designated for smoking, do I find myself feeling sympathy for the smoker?
The problem, in short, is hypocrisy. And it is encapsulated in a sad scene I remember on the streets of Vancouver circa 1998. It was downtown, a block off Robson Street as I recall, near a business tower. I was a chauffeur at the time driving my way through graduate school and sitting at a light looking with a half bored stare at two businessmen having a cigarette on the corner outside the building. Suddenly an old lady walked up to them and started screaming: “You assholes! How dare you suck on your cancer sticks when I have breathing problems! You’re trying to kill me, you assholes!” The two poor businessmen blushed as the light changed and I pulled away from the curb.
I never saw the conclusion to that rather colorful social encounter. I don’t know if those two beleagured office workers snuffed out their cancer sticks to placate the old lady or not. However, I felt a great deal of sympathy for them regardless. Stigmatize the smokers if you must. But there I was, sitting at a traffic light and idling a 302 V8 engine, belching carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, a gas which is so deadly that it would kill a healthy adult human being in mere minutes. And here the old lady chose to harangue the smokers for daring to have a few carcinogenic puffs.
Smoking is a dirty and dangerous habit, and the world will be better when smoking exists no longer. But driving cars that consume fossil fuels is also a dirty and dangerous habit and the world will be better when the combustion engine exists no longer.
Let he who is without sin throw the first stone…
or perhaps have the first puff.