No one likes smoking. Politicians hate it. People who don’t smoke hate it. People who smoke, for the most part, wish they didn’t. There are people who love smoking. They enjoy every blessed puff. No one conducts scientific MRI studies on these folks’ brains to see how happy they are but as far as coming-to-grips-with-your-mortality goes, I’d bet they’re pretty solid.
Over the last few decades, we’ve hunted these smokers down – in order to protect them from themselves – and made it illegal for them to smoke indoors, in bars, outdoors, on rooftops, in stadiums, near hospitals, and in cars with small children. Yet there was one space that remained smoke-friendly – the automobile. If you wanted to lock yourself in your car, pop a cigarette in your mouth, light it up and enjoy the toasted tobacco refreshment, you could.
But this may all soon be coming to an end. The world’s first form of distracted driving has been hit with an opening salvo of self-righteousness.
Last month, the British Medical Association called for a complete ban on smoking in cars. Even if a driver is alone, the doctor’s union maintained, he or she should not be allowed to partake of the tobacco. The BMA argued that smoking in an enclosed space, such as an automobile, exposes the occupants to 23 times more toxins (a statistic the Canadian Medical Association Journal disputes).
In a sense, the Brits are catching up to us. In Cana-don’t it’s illegal to smoke with children in the car. I didn’t oppose this move. Second-hand smoke is harmful to kids. Still, there was a sense of greater danger. Sure, we spare them from second-hand smoke but, if we take away pop’s relaxing smoke, we’re exposing them to potential first-hand anger.
When it comes to an all-out ban on smoking in cars with consenting adults, I think the state should keep its nose away from our proverbial dashboards. Cigarette smoking is legal. If it’s going to remain legal we need to leave places for people who smoke to do it.
Back in the early part of this century, when smoking was not verboten in all public spaces, some malls and office buildings set up glass-encased smoking rooms. I called these “smoking zoos.” They were fantastic and offered visitors a unique anthropological experience. I would go down to the food court, buy a coffee and then sit across from a smoking zoo and watch the smokers fume. Happily secure in their hazy, vaporous environment, they went about the process of slowly killing themselves.
The smoking zoos are long gone. Cigarette lovers are cast out into the street. They stand frozen in the winter and sweating in the summer. Their one salvation is the automobile. Provided there are no children or pregnant women about, they can smoke to their lungs’ content in climate-controlled comfort.
Cars and cigarettes were once closely linked. Back in the 1970s, when a guy went on a road trip, the first thing he did was purchase a pack of smokes.
There are times when going for a long, mind-clearing drive while enjoying a cigarette seems like the only course of action, like after you’ve signed your divorce papers or when you’re driving through North Carolina listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd (you can get kicked out of that state for not smoking while doing this).
Elwood Blues didn’t say, “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a carton of Kashi Go Lean and a soy latte, it's morning, we’re fully rested ... and we have our seat belts on.”
He said, “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark... and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
To which his brother Jake replied, “Hit it.”
There’s another reason to forget an automobile smoking ban. As a recreation, in North America at least, it’s fading away. Anyone over 40 can remember a time when everyone smoked. Bars and restaurants were thick with a blue-grey haze. Frankly, it sucked, and if you spent as much time in bars and comedy clubs as I did, you should have been getting danger pay.
That’s why I believe we must keep the government bans out of the automobile, the world’s last smoking section. And while we’re at it, bring back the car lighter. Those things came in really handy.
I think I can speak for all smokers when I say, “You’ll take the cigarette away from my gear-shifting fingers when you pry it from my cold dead hand, which, statistically speaking, shouldn’t be too long.”
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy