It was a beautiful day. A rare day. Somehow, the constant rain had forgotten to show up and I was coming back from a terrific day of writing at the beach in front of sun-dappled waters. I was enjoying the day so much I had the windows down and the moon roof open. Nature itself seemed to be celebrating the clear air, with birds singing and crickets chirping. Even sitting at the red lights on the way back was pleasurable. Then it happened.
Wafting into my car, that horrid smell. Wrinkling my nose, I began looking around. There, one lane over and one car up. There was the arm hanging out the window and the cigarette dangling between extended fingers. There went the clean freshness of the new day. Suddenly, everything dimmed. The birds and crickets seemed far away, the sun seemed just plain hot.
No, this isn’t a soapbox about the perils of smoking. We live in a reasonably free country and people can choose to do what they like with their bodies. Sure, doctors and studies galore detail the harm of cigarette smoking, but McDonald’s still sells tons of fries, Budweiser still sells tons of beer and Oscar Mayer still sells tons of bacon despite doctors and studies about those products.
And, for a fact, I can feel some empathy for cigarette smokers. They can’t smoke on planes anymore. They can’t smoke in most restaurants anymore. At work, they have to smoke in the back of the building because their companies don’t want people to see them hanging out in the front of the building and smoking. Heck, you can’t even advertise cigarettes on broadcast media (though nothing stops tons of McDonald’s and Budweiser ads). So, sure, I can see how cigarette smokers might feel a little persecuted.
I don’t smoke, so I can’t speak for it. The people I know who smoke have never really given me a good answer to the question, “Doesn’t that smell?” Perhaps they just get used to the smell. Beer tastes awful, but people get used to it and eventually swear by it (“Tastes great!”). Perhaps the narcotic, relaxing effect of cigarettes dulls the olfactory senses. Whatever, the case, smokers don’t seem particularly sensitive to the senses of others. I’m not talking about secondhand smoke. I’m talking about smoke, period.
I always wondered if the smoke doesn’t bother smokers, why do they have their windows open? Ashes, right? In my last job, I remember importing cars during the time that ashtrays became an “option” on vehicles…if you wanted one, you had to order it special. The reason was that studies showed people were not using the ashtrays (they didn’t like emptying and cleaning them…or the smell). The old “tap the ashes out on the road” method worked for smoking drivers. Of course, the butts usually followed (“Where am I going to put them now?”). According to road signs, there’s a $500 fine for littering, but I daresay it’s doubtful any police officer has ever pulled someone over for flicking a cigarette butt on the highway.
The smell is only an issue at stoplights and other pauses (traffic jams, railroad crossings, etc.), so it’s solvable with a little consideration. I would like to think that most smokers would be polite about it but simply don’t realize how bad cigarettes smell to non-smokers. For us, it’s immediately noticeable and bothersome.
That’s why I’m not asking people to stop smoking, I’m just asking them to roll up their windows.