This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … smoke-free bars and restaurants.
I don’t smoke. After all, I’m not a complete fucking idiot. I’m just half fucking idiot, as I still drink too much for someone my age. (Body pushing 46. Face pushing 60. Liver deceased three years ago.)
Even though my lungs are not caked with the black tar remnants of a few thousand cigarettes, I am offended by state and local governments telling bar and restaurant owners that their customers can’t smoke in their establishments. It’s a dangerous precedent, it smacks of authoritarianism and it presents a slew of double standards.
My argument is limited to bars and restaurants only. Banning smoking in most other public places makes perfect sense.
I love it that people can no longer smoke where I work. I bet there’s no smoking where you work, unless you’re reading this in China, where I believe they still smoke in fireworks factories. You can’t smoke in planes or on buses. Or in elevators. Or in hospital waiting rooms. I find it particularly reassuring that the practice is banned at gas stations, where my stubborn ass usually spills about a dollar’s worth of unleaded when I try to cram twelve and a half gallons of gas into a twelve gallon gas tank every single time I over-fill up.
But it’s absolutely ridiculous that governments ban smoking – as a matter of health, no less – in restaurants and bars. I love the logic. You can still go to any chain restaurant and feast on plate after plate of the death-inducing sludge that gums up your every artery and major organ and aids you in your quest to land the lead role in The Chris Farley Story. But you can’t smoke there. You can still go to any bar and down beer after beer after whiskey shooter after kamikaze after 10-cent chicken wing, then bang some sloshed AIDS-ridden skank in the bathroom. But you can’t smoke afterward, unless you do it outside in the parking lot, where the only danger is other drunk assholes setting off on their zigzag home. For chrissakes, in this country, you can’t even smoke in a goddamn McDonald’s. That’s like banning aspartame in Chernobyl.
I know, I know. The laws are there to protect the innocent non-smokers. Let’s all pause here and laugh uproariously for five minutes. If you eat in any chain restaurant in America, chances are that you down a meal that can do at least as much damage to your body as a few measly cigarettes. At least with a cigarette, the body only keeps a bare trace of the cancer stick. The rest you exhale. But when you wolf down the Mega Appetizer Combo Plate with the wings, cheesesticks and sliders (the trendy appetizer of the year, replacing last year’s “oh look, I’m eating Asian food” urbanity: pot stickers), then follow it with the cheesesteak and bacon fries, then somehow manage to ramrod the Double Chocolate Cake and Ice Cream and Whipped Cream and Some Fake Syrupy Shit Surprise down your greedy gullet, every bit of that heart-ravaging shitfest goes into your body and stays there for a while. I don’t care how big of a redwood-sized shit you take the next day, your body has absorbed entirely too much crap that will kill you faster than the few puffs of second-hand smoke that wafted over from those unhealthy pariahs in the erstwhile smoking sections.
Don’t tell me it’s all about protecting kids from secondhand smoke. There’s not an item on any kid menu that isn’t fried, covered in cheese or a mélange of icky animal parts compressed into a burger, finger or nugget. I’d rather a kid eat a lean turkey club on wheat while having Marlboro fumes blown in his face than eat the chicken-fingers-and-cheese-fries combo in an oxygen chamber. (Not that the fat, 12-year-old bastard would fit in one.)
Don’t tell me about the bar and restaurant employees being innocent victims of Newport noxiousness. Since the first restaurant started serving whatever it was they served (shank o’ saber-tooth in a peasant blood reduction served on a bed of unsalted boiled grass?), most job applicants accepted the implicit fact that some customers will probably be smoking. Cigarettes go with food and alcohol like gin goes with vermouth, or scotch goes with club soda, or vodka goes with tonic, or tequila goes with … Jesus, why is it that I can only think of alcohol analogies? Man, I love drinking. Speaking of drinking …
It’s nonsensical that you can’t smoke in bars for health reasons, but you can do all of the following: Sit in a bar for three hours sucking down 12 Jack and Cokes, which just happen to be two of the most deleterious beverages you can drink. Haul your drunk ass out to your Hummer, which belches more carcinogens into the air (breathed by children and waitresses!) than twenty Camel smokers. Run two bikers into a ditch as your drunk ass weaves its way home. Stop at the liquor store for a six-pack, a Snickers bar and $200 worth of Lottery tickets, $200 that could have gone to your kid’s braces fund. Then, if you manage to make it home without killing a traffic cop, you can give the wife and kid a few good slaps. But at least you’ll smell Downy fresh and be able to pass out knowing that the bartender didn’t have to inhale any of your secondhand smoke.
The biggest farce of all is that governments pretend to give a shit about your health by banning smoking. If your caring government really did want to enforce better health standards, then they’d have to remove about 98 percent of the food items and 100 percent of the alcohol items from all menus. They’d have to put governors in every vehicle to cap speeds at 60 miles per hour, because speed outkills drunk driving every year. And guns? For fuck’s sake, you can buy an army-caliber assault weapon and the materials to blow up an Oklahoma City building, but you can’t light up a Virginia Slim in a Ruby Tuesday’s after a hard day’s pretending to look busy at work. (This strict Libertarian is not calling for any of this. I’m just sayin’ …)
Secondhand smoke is far down on the list of items that make people sick. Too many lazy Americans eat shit food, drink too much, take a slew of deadly (but legal, thanks to your friendly D.C. lobbyists) prescription drugs and sit on their asses watching unfunny I Love Raymond reruns instead of trudging two laps around the block each night. If enough people are really concerned about secondhand smoke, they’ll stay away from establishments that allow smoking and the joints will all go belly up. And that belly will be a big fat, bulbous American belly, the excess fat of which is seeping into the bloodstream and clogging the arteries of an already overtaxed heart, expediting a premature, painful death.
But thanks to Uncle Sam, at least the autopsy will show a clean set of lungs.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.