One baby seat in the smoking section, please.
"They can dazzle or delight, or bring a tear when the smoke gets in your eyes."
- Elvis Costello, "Indoor Fireworks"
Patios, sunshine, fresh air, and beer: these are a few of my favorite things. Not in that order!
But it's with greater frequency that I find myself sitting on one of Winnipeg's lovely outdoor patios, sipping a beer in the sunshine, and soaking up the atmosphere - a grimy table with overloaded ashtrays and smoke blowing in my face from six different directions.
If we can see a reason to stop smoking next to soccer fields, public schools, and on the Fresh Cafe patio, isn't it time to ban smoking from - cough cough! - other restaurant patios - hack hack! - and - wheeze! - outdoor public places - phlegm! - where people congregate in close quarters?
Yes, I realize that drinking beer is bad for you too, but the difference with beer is that I don't go up to people with my beer stein, grab them by the hair, and make them guzzle it down. Yet!
And, yes, I realize that a good number of outdoor patios are situated near the street, where you inhale lots of other good stuff, like automobile exhaust - but I'll let my good friend, BP President Tony Haywood, field that concern. Take it away, Tony!
"I'd like my life back too," I thought, as I sat inside Civita, looking down - literally and figuratively - upon all of the smokers huffing and puffing on the narrow, outdoor patio in the hazy, blue air.
Smoking has already been banned on patios in lots of places, including Calgary - a city that is notable for being full of cowboys who love their tobacky as much as they love oil and their freedom to wear leather chaps and Stetsons in broad daylight.
Calgary actually banned smoking on public patios years ago, even before it was banned in bars. Not only can you not smoke on the patio in Calgary, you now can't even smoke near it; you have to haul your leather-chapped arse three or four feet away and smoke with all of the other Alberta outcasts: lovers, dreamers, and women not named "Kitty."
Standing on the lip of a volcano
I come by smoke avoidance honestly: I was once a (hilarious!) host at Rumor's Comedy Club, in the good-0ld days when the audience, comedians, and Indonesian children could light up at will - and did.
So, when you'd get onstage to entertain, the combination of a 4,000-watt spotlight burning into your retinas and constant gulps of billowing smoke made it feel a little like you might be standing on the lip of Eyjafjallajökull.
One night after hosting, I woke up bolt upright (Stephen King's favorite way to have someone wake up) and thought, "Oh, crap - my apartment's on fire!" I jumped out of bed and realized that it was only the skanky pile of my smoky clothes on the floor I'd worn to Rumor's earlier that evening.
If those are my clothes after one night, what must my lungs have been like?! Mmmm...smoked lungs - my favorite flavor!
When the indoor smoking ban became law, I'd open my set at Rumor's by asking, "Who is against the new smoking ban?" and the crowd would invariably cheer. "You guys are so addicted, you're actually cheering for cancer!" I'd say, instantly turning the jittery, cigarette-deprived crowd against me. "Yay - smallpox! Yay - scurvy! Yay - the consumption!"
The Terminator: more cigarette than human
I get it: smoking is an addiction and once you're hooked - oh, Lord, it's hard to quit. If someone told me I had to stop, say, eating chips, it would be really hard to stop. But cigarettes have nicotine in them, which means they're really, really, really, really hard to quit.
Just ask the smoking baby at the top of this blog post or my aunt, who smoked for over 60 years and only stopped recently after she had a stroke - a blood clot formed by plaque built up in an artery and caused by a lifetime of smoking.
But, for some reason, the health arguments don't work on people anymore. I guess if you're going to smoke in light of all the medical evidence against you, no amount of evidence will have an impact.
Part of it is that smoking still has that "feel" of rebellion, like cigarettes are still "The Torches of Freedom" that Edward L. Bernays made people believe they were in 1929.
As we talk about in PR class every year, Bernays was a paid consultant for the American Tobacco Company, and the first "Thank You For Smoking" guy. He was so successful at making us believe that smoking was good for us, we can all be glad that he never got his hands on drinking and driving.
My final appeal
I have a dream that one day we can all join hands - smokers, non-smokers, Indonesian babies, comedy-club patrons, and the Ghost of Yul Brynner - sing kumbaya, and eat smoked salmon on a smoke-free patio.
I'd like to end by saying...pretty please with sugar on top? First round's on me!
Getting light-headed...got to fight it...one...last...chance!