Omnivore - Give me back my DDT

In the smoky haze

Image I’m a former smoker and, although I haven’t picked up a cigarette in about 20 years, I’m usually pretty empathetic toward people who have the habit. I’m not the typical “reformed smoker.” I remember how awful it made me feel and I also remember the coughing, jittery, emotional horror of quitting. If I ever resume smoking, I’ll die smoking. I never want to go through that again.

So, I understand. But now and then I’m incredulous at how indifferent people can be to the pollution they cause. The latest example I’ve encountered was my recent meal at Highland Tap. You enter the restaurant through the bar and the most obnoxious cloud of smoke I’ve encountered in years. I’m not kidding. My eyes instantly burned.

The host took me to a table that was in the part of the “smoke-free dining room” closest to the open bar. I asked to move away from the smoke and she led me to the farthest table in the room, but by halfway through my meal, my eyes were tearing and my nose was running. I don’t really know the science regarding the danger of an occasional (compared to a frequent) encounter with second-hand smoke, but I do know that my head turned into a faucet.

The law in Atlanta remains confusing to me. Any restaurant or bar that prohibits entrance of people under 18 can permit smoking. That means the typical “gastro-pub” can permit smoking. Further, any venue that provides a smoke-free area can permit smoking. Apparently it’s the designation “smoke-free” and not the actual amount of smoke wafting from the bar area that matters under the law.

We’re lucky to have any kind of ban on smoking in Georgia, but Atlanta needs to take the step most other large cities have and ban it without exception in bars and restaurants. (New York recently extended its ban to public parks and beaches.)

Of course, advocacy of stricter no-smoking designation enrages many smokers, who immediately launch libertarian arguments about excesses of government regulation. The reality, as my history teaches me all too well, is that they are addicted to smoking and don’t want to be miserable while hanging out. Smokers represent about 20 percent of the population and believe the protection of minority rights is more important than protecting public health — a dubious stance to say the least. Bring back my DDT.

They also argue that the law already provides consumers an option to party and dine in smoke-free areas or to choose to stay home. So bring on the DDT and tell people who object to move to a Montana mountaintop or wear a gas mask. America smokes. Love it or leave it!

Lets apply the same argument differently. If the law prohibits smoking in public places, the smoker still has the right to indulge his habit at home. Stay home. Buy a smoker and learn some new cooking! Take a class in mixology! Invite the neighbors over and blow smoke in their faces while the kids help themselves to your vodka!

Of course, I will not return to Highland Tap — so I'm taking smokers' advice — but, please, please don't bring up that long disproved claim that smoking bans reduce bar business. It's a total myth. They may in fact increase business.

Party on.

If you want some fact-based information about smoking in our city, log onto Facebook and check out the page, “Ban Smoking in Atlanta Bars/Restaurants.”

(Edit: Link to Facebook page corrected.)