September 28, 2004

What is Louisiana Smoking?

People in Louisiana, for all of their positive qualities, are really fond of passing profoundly stupid laws. This goes back centuries, of course, and continues unabated into today. And while Lafayette fares better than some of its more uptight cousins above the Mason-Alexandria line, Cajun Country still has its moments of legislative idiocy.

I had to cringe, for example, at the recent ruling that no more bars could open downtown. Apparently, the rationale was that the preponderance of nightclubs was bringing out unsavory crowds. Look, I lived downtown for 19 years, when Jefferson Street looked like an H-bomb had struck it. The area was desolate, decaying and dangerous. Now its night life thrives and brings out the crowds with energy to spare and money to spend. But that offended some churches, so downtown growth has been stifled.

And don’t forget Amendment One, in which Louisianians voted nearly 80-20 against civil unions because we “suthinas” not only can’t repress our fear and prejudice, but actively praise it in our state law. Man, if the state was trying to keep people here to live and work, couldn’t they at least have given us something to brag about? “Louisiana: It’s like a whole other planet.” As much as I love my native state, my threshold of apology for it has finally hit bedrock.

So you can probably understand my shock when a Lafayette advocacy group proposed a law that I liked—or, I should say, didn’t want immediately to smack with a baseball bat. The Coalition for a Healthy Acadiana Regional Grassroots Effort (CHARGE) has requested an ordinance to make Lafayette the first smokeless city in Louisiana.

The ban would prevent smoking in public facilities including campuses, auditoriums, government buildings and busses. At last, a smart Louisiana law! The Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government has yet to consider it, though President Joey Durel has promised that it will. And before you smokers get too pissed, note that bars, hotel rooms, casinos, tobacco shops and alcohol-selling restaurants will not be covered by the ban. That’s not so bad, is it? You can exhale with relief now, just as long as you don’t do it downwind.

Maybe I'm biased because I don't smoke. Whether it was the stifling dead-ashtray odor of my house or simply watching my parents and relatives smoke, something ruined it for me very early on. Is there anything less cool than what your parents do? Thanks, mom and dad! You truly are the anti-drug.

The smoking debate is a peculiar one because of its political complexities. On one hand, you have (or should have) the right to ingest whatever you choose. On the other hand, you have the diabolical tobacco industry and its greed, lies and political clout. On the third hand, people have the right to breathe smoke-free air. So where is the line (or triangle) drawn?

It’s a tricky issue, and one that transcends liberal and conservative politics. Hippies and holy rollers alike smoke in huge numbers; I once even saw a priest, fully decked in Vatican-esque apparel, sneaking one in the cemetery after a funeral service. Nicotine addiction knows no labels.

So I admit I’m not huge on the issue of “smokers’ rights.” Last I checked, one person’s rights end with the infringement of another’s, and that’s what smoking in an enclosed space can do. And unlike in a club, where people step in with the understanding that there might be smoking going on (though New York City has successfully banned that also), people deserve to right to a smoke-free school or other public environment. It’s as fundamental as, well, the right to light up. Outside.


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