Now, no one has proven that anyone has ever been injured by exposure to third-hand smoke. Even second hand smoke, while commonly accepted as a menace on a par with mustard gas or anthrax spores, has not been unequivocally proven to be a danger to anyone. Smokers have nonetheless become the lepers of our age, hounded outdoors or otherwise banished. I particularly enjoy the "smoker tanks" at some airports, where tobacco addicts are herded into a glass room with a separate ventilation system, there to puff away in their own atmosphere. I often take a seat outside and watch them. It's like going to the zoo. Sometimes they even have their own bar. It looks like fun. Don't press your face up against the glass like a kid at an aquarium, though. They don't like that.
I was a smoker when smokers ruled the world. We smoked freely anywhere. Even non-smokers produced ashtrays when we invaded their homes. We smoked in stadiums, in restaurants, in lecture halls. We smoked in hospitals, unless the person we were visiting actually was strapped to an oxygen tank. At most, we were segregated to "smoking sections," which meant we were all seated together and could concentrate a stream of lethal gas at the hapless non-smokers. This was especially effective on airplanes.
Somehow, we lost our way. Like the Romans, we stumbled from the pinnacle of world dominance without being aware of our downfall even being a possibility. The hordes of pink-lunged people engulfed us. We were surrounded, shouted down, sprayed with air freshener. Too wheezy to defend ourselves, we allowed our own banishment into the wilderness.
I like to think that part of the reason smokers lost their place in civilized society was that I switched sides. I quit my two-pack a day habit abruptly one morning, when I had a cold. I was planning on starting again when I got over the cold. I succeeded in quitting permanently because even though I usually had only one cold a year when I smoked, it lasted from October until May. Quitting wasn't easy, but it was possible. I chewed gum and sucked lozenges. Eventually, I stopped doing that. It was easier than quitting smoking. I gained weight. I went on a diet. Dieting required less fortitude than quitting smoking. I replaced my then-girlfriend's oil pan gasket on her used Chevy, a task of considerable and unanticipated mechanical complexity that I had not performed before and have not attempted since, in order to keep my fingers from remembering they weren't clutching their usual cigarette. Even that was easier than kicking the tobacco habit.
I wouldn't recommend that course of quitting smoking to anyone else, but it worked for me. I haven't smoked since Reagan was President.
So when the smokers were rounded up and sent puffing into their Gulag of freezing patios and dumpster-laden alleys, I was no longer among them. While they rushed outside the airport to light up after a long plane flight, I just collected my luggage. I watched entire sporting events from breezy upper-deck seats while they missed precious innings climbing down to the sidewalk outside to smoke. Their problems weren't my problems.
Smokers have accepted their banishment. Few of them object to their demonization. With a mixture of guilt and grace, they allow themselves to be segregated. Instinctively, they know that after food, clothing and shelter, the next most urgent human need is to control other people's behavior, and they accept the majority's will.
Sometimes, though, there is resistance. My Significant Other indulges in an occasional cigarette. She always obeys the rules of the smoker's Stalag when she does so, leaving me inside to stand outside, no matter what the weather. The weather was fine last night when we went to a harbor side bar, and the breeze was cool and scented with the nearby ocean when she stepped outside to smoke. An obvious out-of-towner, corpulent enough that any observer could see that he had potentially health-threatening compulsive problems of his own, sniffed when he smelled her Virginia Slim afire and said, apparently sarcastically, "Oh, I really like the smell of cigarette smoke."
My S. O., who has worked in the sarcasm field for much of her life, replied "Oh, I really like the smell of sweaty fat tourists. Isn't it nice we're both getting what we like?"
He glared at us throughout the entire meal. Let him. When they discover the dangers of third-hand obesity, he'll have to eat outside.