The sickening stench and reality of being a non-smoker
By Mojdeh Malekan
Two weeks, ago my friend planned a big night out on the
town because we had not seen each other in ages. She invited
a ton of people including a guy who, in what I'm hoping was
a temporary lapse of judgment, she thought I might like. The
night was a complete bust and all I could look forward to
was going home. Upon limping (high heels) into my house at
5 a.m. (after a lot of vodka tonics and a slice of pizza)
I realized that I reeked of cigarette smoke. This was through
no fault of my own. My hair and clothes stank of stale smoke
and I hadn't even touched a cigarette. In my exhaustion, I
forwent a shower and climbed straight into bed. The next afternoon
I woke up to stale, stinky hair, and what had become a stale
and stinky bed. My mother was hovering over my head, sniffing
my clothes, and glaring. Do I have to live with this? No,
I won't if Mayor Michael Bloomberg has anything to say about
Bloomberg has proposed a smoking ban that, if passed, would
outlaw smoking in all bars and restaurants. His reasons are
focused on concerns about the health of the 13,000 or so establishments
in New York City. However, the proposed ban has ignited a
debate that reaches far beyond the issue of worker health.
Arguments against the proposed ban arise from diverse points-of-view.
Smokers claim that it is their "right" to smoke
when they go out and that the proposed bill is undemocratic.
The constitution does not grant rights that could hurt individuals
or, as in this case, have been proven to cause harm or even
Beyond the safety and liberty concerns, many restaurant and
bar owners throughout the city argue that a smoking ban would
cause a decline in business. There has been no properly documented
decrease in bar and restaurant patronage as a result of this
type of law in other cities. In fact, Elena Deutsch, director
of tobacco control for the American Cancer Society, has stated
that revenue in California bars and restaurants has grown
steadily since a similar smoking ban was enacted in 1998.
I don't smoke, but when I am at a bar or a club, it seems
everyone around me does. It is clear that there are not as
many real smokers outside the bar environment. For instance,
Giancarlo, the guy my friend tried to set me up with (the
name should really have been a giveaway), is not a smoker.
But that night, he managed to smoke at least five cigarettes
directly in my face and almost burn my hand. I don't know
exactly what the social or physiological impetus is that makes
people-- habitual smokers as well as non-smokers-- light up,
but I certainly support a law that bans it.
Discussions of the ban often neglect to acknowledge the number
of non-smokers that begin to smoke when they are drinking
or at a club. These are the "social smokers." You
will often hear someone say, "Oh, I don't smoke, but
I smoke when I drink." These are not people that are
not addicted, at least not yet anyway, but rather easily influenced
by their surroundings. For many, smoking has become a part
of going out. For some, it eventually does become an addiction.
The ban would prevent those without a predisposition to smoking
from being confronted with unnecessary temptation.
I have seen social smoking in action almost every time that
I have gone out to a bar with a few friends. So, I decided
to visit a local bar to gain the perspective of those engaged
in the activity. Going in with this purpose made me even more
cognizant of the smell that I would take home with me.
The first person I spoke to asked me for a cigarette. "I
smoke occasionally, but a cigarette or two while I'm drinking
is necessary," said a disappointed David Shokrian. "It
just makes the whole experience more enjoyable and so many
people smoke when they drink even if they aren't addicted."
Shokrian, who is a senior at Stonybrook University, says that
he has tried to stop buying packs in an effort to cut back
on smoking and spending money. He usually just borrows a cigarette
from someone in the bar. "I don't think that I would
go outside in search of a cigarette if they banned them in
bars," he said. "I'm just too lazy."
Leslie Hafer, a student at Pace University, agreed, "If
they enact that ban only the hard-core smokers are going to
be standing outside, especially now in the winter." Hafer
is a non-smoker but admits that she will usually accept a
cigarette offered in a bar.
The bar is not only a place where habits develop, but can
also serve as an obstacle for the addicted trying to quit.
A few tables away was Stephanie Lee, a software developer
joined by a few co-workers. "I actually used to be a
big smoker but I quit a while ago," said Lee. "Now
I only smoke when I drink."
Lee then considered how often she drank and laughed. "I
guess I go out a lot more than I used to." This is not
a unique tale. Lee and others in the bar cited several friends
that often tried to quit but would excuse lighting up if they
were in a bar.
"Everybody wants to quit at some point," said Lee's
boyfriend Jeff Shu. "I would have to quit bars if I was
going to quit smoking," laughed the self-professed chain-smoker.
"I'd have to sit at home every night."
Yana Komsitsky, a woman who became passionate when asked how
she felt about smoking in bars, exclaimed, "It is just
generally unenjoyable. I don't notice it as much while I'm
in the bar but once I leave it's so terrible." Komsitsky
says she has never had a cigarette and never will. "It
is so gross and I feel so bad that so many people decide to
smoke when they go out especially because I have to be subjected
Our society is centered on immediacy and the salience of images
associated with events or objects. Smoking is a vice that
has historically been glamorized by major influences in our
society, especially the entertainment industry. Although the
glorified image of smoking has faded in recent decades, the
"coolness" associated with it has not been eradicated.
When people are surrounded by others smoking, they will often
smoke as well. This is most clearly evidenced in the rear
of any high school or middle school in the country where pre-teens
and teens, those most vulnerable to forming long-term smoking
habits, are revered for smoking. There is much about the smoking
culture that cannot be reversed or changed, but the measure
that Bloomberg and his supporters suggest is a viable way
of reducing the public health risk posed by second-hand smoke
while making a public statement about the habit in general.
Today, in New York City, we have the opportunity to set an
example for the country. We not only have the opportunity
to fight second-hand smoke, the third leading preventable
cause of death in the United States, but we can also prevent
against social smoking, a less researched but still significant
danger. And, perhaps to a lesser degree, we have the opportunity
to decrease hostilities between mothers and daughters, as
in my case, while reducing their dry-cleaning bills.
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