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Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader


The Fort Wayne smoking ban went into effect ten years ago, on June 1, 2007, but somehow it feels like it happened much longer ago than that — like in a different century, or maybe even in a different dimension. The sweep and inevitability of social change is sometimes so profound that it seems to strip away memories of when things were ever different. Wow, people really used to smoke in restaurants?? How could that be? I smoked for years in bars and diners in Fort Wayne yet I'm hard-pressed to remember the actual physical sensation of firing up a cigar or a cigarette in a public house.

In hindsight, what's really remarkable about Fort Wayne's smoking ban was how ahead of the curve, relatively, the city really was: only Bloomington, of Indiana's major cities, had a smoking ordinance in place before 2007. Indy, South Bend, Terre Haute followed suit, eventually, and Governor Mitch Daniels signed the statewide ordinance in 2012. (It should be noted that the state grants local jurisdictions plenty of leeway in determining their own laws.) In a city that's not know for being terribly progressive, it's almost startling that Fort Wayne was something of a trend-setter in this particular area of social evolution.

Although there was a bit of grousing at the time from smokers and bar/restaurant owners ( many bars closed shortly after the ban), most citizens have been on board with the law. Even hard-core smokers grudgingly admit that it's kind of nice not to have your clothes suffused with smoke after a night out in the bars. And I think everybody realized that it's simply the lay of the land: smoking in public is on the wrong side of history. (Currently, 81% of the population of the US lives in "smoke free" areas.) Again, a surprising admission from the residents of Indiana, a state that has always had a history of high smoking rates. (Very generally, the states with the lowest smoking rates are "blue" states and health-conscious, retiree-friendly communities — California, New York, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah, which has the lowest rates, due greatly to the Mormon influence. "Red" states like Kentucky, West Virginia, and many states in the Deep South have the highest rates, and Indiana is always firmly in the Top Ten of states with the highest smoking rates.)

Though my personal smoking habit has tailed off greatly in the past decade — in synch with the national trend — I still have great empathy whenever I see the smoking pariahs forced out of their offices and cordoned off on the sidewalks, guiltily puffing away 8 feet from any business. I make a point of smiling at them when I walk by, for I know they probably receive an inordinate amount of scowls and slow head-shakes from the good people that pass them by. And it's saddening to see so many lone smokers out there; I miss seeing the camaraderie of fellow smokers sharing a smoke break together. It's so rare to see anybody sharing anything these days, if some free time avails itself to someone, usually they're on their phone or closing their eyes with their ear buds in or sitting in an idling car, far away from any simple human interaction.

I smoke cigars predominantly but if I'm with a bunch of friends who want to pop outside for a quick smoke, I'll gladly bum a cigarette from one of them and enjoy the time together. It’s funny, even when I'm surrounded by friends it's still fun to peel away from the larger group and share a cigarette with just one person; it feels intimate and almost indulgent to share the time and watch the city while having an effortless conversation as the cigarette burns down. And cigarette smoke has never really bothered me as much as it affects most people; maybe it's because as a cigar smoker, I never really inhale, never really pull the smoke into my lungs. It feels, I don't know, social and glamorous to smoke with a friend.

Now of course this is the point in the article where I have to be the Responsible Journalist and remind everyone that smoking is bad and awful and destructive and that it will kill you and that nobody should take my romantic notions as anything more than the misguided ravings of an irresponsible man. I should also be roundly criticized for trying to make a fairly nuanced point in an era where most people would prefer "nuance" to be something pulverized by sledgehammers and bazookas. So let me just re-affirm, in my best, grunting, monosyllabic, Frankenstein voice: Smoke, Bad! No Smoke: Good! Are we cool here? Am I officially on the record? Great.

And actually, I do remember living with a smoker in college, and it was pretty awful when he would fire up a Marlboro at 9:15 in the morning in that enclosed, clapbox apartment; it always smelled sad to me, like olfactory proof of ennui and depression and hopelessness ( My roommate flunked out soon after.) But I've always had this thing about vices — vices are fun, but habits are terrible, and if I can separate the two. I'll really be on to something. I've maintained that if I'm able to enjoy my indulgences without letting them overwhelm my life, well, then I've attained a degree of pleasure and discipline unknown to most people. Which I'm betting is the same rationalization that most addicts make every day, he says, ruefully.

But you know, that "moderation in all things, including moderation" still sounds like the rule that people should pay more attention to. I can sort of understand the code that the zealots and the refuseniks live by — I guess — but that doesn't mean I'm going to abstain from all the bad, fun things that make life such a kick in the head for me. I think I'll always enjoy a smoke, a drink, transgressive music, profaning, howling at the moon. It's what makes my toes tap and my heart sing, and while I'm aware it doesn't make me a model citizen or Father of the Year, it does keep me from committing multiple felonies on any given day.

So yeah, I've made my peace with the smoking ban, and if I really do feel the urge to burn a Nicaraguan cigar in public, I'll amble down to the local (smoking allowed) swanky Cigar Bar. It's not really my scene, of course — it's too brightly lit and the staff is always too damned deferential, treating everybody that walks in like they're a Captain of Industry or incredibly sophisticated ("Peter, this Gentleman would like a Bourbon.") And of course it's too expensive, and those huge "Smoke Eater" machines may do away with the billowing smoke but they emit an insidious plastic-meets-tar smell in its place that's somehow much worse. But still: it's my smoking home now, the only one I got, far away from that long-ago era when I would puff away grandly at Henry's after a hard day, drinking a strong Manhattan and letting the world slip on by.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.