Keep your smelly butt outta here

01-31-2006

I’m not sure if you can see it in this photo, but this sign has been modified. Recently, someone changed the distance from 15 feet to 20 feet. “No smoking within 20 feet of entrance to building.” This is usually beyond most building rooflines – how do smokers keep a cigarette lit in the rain? It’s looking like smokers are losing the pushing match.

Years ago – and I mean a long time ago, like before Woodstock, smoking was a given everywhere. Elevators. Movie theaters. Restaurants. TV Talk Shows. Sitting at your desk at work. Hotels. Even sitting outside at a ballgame… everywhere.

But then something happened. People were coughing up their darkened bronchial tubes and dropping dead from lung cancer. Research began to show a link between cigarette smoking and respiratory illness and heart disease. Then one day, somebody leaned over to the guy at the next table in a restaurant and said something like, “Would you please put out that cigarette? It’s ruining my dinner over here.” And the social movement began.

At the time, it was almost preposterous to think that something as culturally ingrained as smoking could even be challenged. Nonetheless, people began wearing buttons and displaying bumper stickers. New words were born, like “Second hand smoke”. People began carrying squirt guns and using them to extinguish nearby cigarettes. Fistfights erupted in the middle of movie theaters. And one day, some congressman’s skinny son got beat up by a smoker in an elevator and a law was soon passed banning cigarettes in government buildings. And that was the beginning of the end of widespread acceptance of cigarette smoking in the United States.

We saw a similar movement around drunk-driving. I think these are all good things – I just wonder which other social norms are up for grabs. And which ones will I decide are worth walking 20 feet out into the rain to enjoy?

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