I was reading in the times today that the city of Belmont has banned smoking within all housing units that share a wall or ceiling with another, including condominiums (and, I suppose, town homes).

I guess the common response to something like this to sneer “fascism” and talk about the nanny state infringing on your personal freedom. I have alot of sympathy for this argument. It’s hard to make a case against freedom.

But that’s because freedom to do what makes you happy generally serves a public policy purpose and is of benefit to society. Since it’d be pretty difficult for the government to figure out what makes you happy and make you do it, and since happy citizens are of fairly paramount importance (at least theoretically) to a well-running, productive, society, it makes sense to allow people to choose what activities will make them happy and allow them to pursue them as best they are able, assuming they’re not bothering anyone else.

Of course, everything you do bothers someone else somewhere. A man who likes to wear diapers and get spanked by midgets might offend some people’s sensibilities (arguably interfering with their happiness), which is where we, as a society, generally sit down and have a talk where we weigh the general pros and cons involved in banning said activity and decide that those fundamentalists need to get laid more.

And, at first glance, these complaints seem to be of a similar nature. I don’t care whether you have emphysema. You’re inside your own apartment. If smoke from the apartment below you is bothering you…you should close the window. You cannot possibly be telling me that it is beyond the reach of modern science to prevent smoke from drifting from one open window into another room. So my instinct is to say that the harm being done here is relatively minor, and the guy upstairs should take a chill pill.

But, on the other hand, when we look at the relative benefits of smoking, those seem pretty minor too. I mean, someone wants to engage in an activity that is extremely harmful to her health, and it’s not even that fun. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but the pleasurable portion of smoking mostly just comes from the temporary cessation of that addictive craving.

If proponents of nicotine could clearly articulate any sort of benefit of smoking, then they’d have far more ground to stand on. As it is, anti-smoking people seem to win on every argument. Not only are they helping the other guy, they’re also helping you.

And it’s not that hard, you know. I don’t know why smokers don’t put forward more positive arguments for smoking. Have we, as a society, just given up and decided that it’s bad in every situation, always?

That’s why comparing cigarettes to coffee and booze always fails (well, first, because cigarettes are more harmful), but also because those things have clear benefits that all people can relate to. Coffee wakes people up and makes them more productive cogs in the corporate machine. And most everyone has taken a few drinks and felt a whole lot better for it.

So why don’t people ever defend cigarettes in terms that other people can understand. Say that cigarettes give you time out of the day, time for reflection, time to be alone with yourself. It’s a time when it’s okay to be doing nothing. That, far from addiction being a downside, it is actually a benefit of smoking. It forces you, fifteen times a day, to stop, slow down, and re-evaluate what’s going on around you. It allows you to converse with strangers in an easy, unforced way. You’re not focused on each other so intently; instead you can simulate, at least for ciggie minutes, the easy camraderie of people who’ve known each other for years. And you also get to play with smoke and fire.

I mean, that’s hardly Mark Twain. But until people understand smoking in psychological, rather than physiological, terms…smokers have no hope of fighting these bans.

P.S. I also think most smokers don’t want to fight these bans, becuase they want to stop smoking. So they welcome every cigarette tax increase or smoking ban, hoping that it’ll prove the final impetus to quit. This might be a reasonable outlook, but it’s kind of pathetic. It’s like a fat man* who puts a lock on his refrigerator.

*There’s no shame in being fat…but there has to be at least a little shame in putting a lock on your own refrigerator.

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