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Naples scheme won't stamp out smoking

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By ELIJAH GOSIER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 1, 2002

Okay. Let's get this out of the way:

Smoking is bad for you. Real bad. It makes you cough, makes your breath smell bad, can cause cancer, stinks up your car and house, stains the windows and your teeth, causes heart disease and just generally shortens your life -- and the lives of those around you. Blah blah, blah blah, blah blah.

Smoking is bad. If you're a smoker, you already know that. You've heard it hundreds of times before and now, frankly, it irks you every time another Paul Revere comes running up to break the news to you again.

Most of the smokers I know really have long been aware of the dangers of smoking. Most of them really do wish they had never taken their first puff. They want to quit, but they keep lighting up.

Nothing anybody can say is going to change that. If we -- I am a smoker -- know it's killing us and we still continue to smoke, what can you nonsmokers and recovering smokers say that's going to faze us? We've seen the stapled chests of acquaintances who were split apart so smoke damage inside them could be repaired or replaced with pig parts. What could you say to top that?

We even know it's killing our sex lives, for goodness sake, and even that doesn't stop us. How can anyone expect to say something that will have more impact?

The bottom line is smokers are going to smoke until they commit themselves fully to their own decision to quit, not because their doctors or their spouses -- and certainly not some passing arrogant stranger -- tell them they should.

Not even if those arrogant strangers live in Naples and sit on the Community Services Advisory Board. Naples is the first sign of civilization after Alligator Alley on the way back from Miami. But then, if Miami is your destination, Naples is the last sign of civilization before Alligator Alley.

Nonetheless, the board is contemplating a ban that would effectively make smoking in the city a crime unless done within the confines of your home -- and maybe your car, provided it doesn't stray onto a grassy median.

Specifically, it says smoking wouldn't be allowed on the sidewalks, in the parks, on the pier, docks, beaches and -- somebody must have glanced out the window and seen a possible loophole -- grassy medians. Conceivably, the measure could change even more before it goes to the City Council or referendum for passage as sharp-eyed board members ride around town spying loopholes. Would flocks of smokers start hanging out in trees to get above the ol' sidewalk law? Would butts -- the cigarette kind -- be falling through the leaves like pigeon droppings?

Would nicotine-deprived smokers scrape unsightly bald spots on medians to get around the grassy median ban? Smokers would probably turn out to be one of the sneakiest, most desperate bunch of lawbreakers ever.

The Naples board apparently hasn't considered the can of worms they're opening. They could unwittingly be opening the door through which cigarette prohibition, with its attendant problems, could burst.

Jails will overflow immediately with repeat offenders. Recidivism would be the norm. Activists will plead for rehabilitation rather than incarceration. "All you get when you jail a smoker without any treatment is a hardened, streetwise smoker," they will argue. "You're creating smoking monsters."

The waters around Naples will roil with the proliferation of offshore smoking boats, loaded with bleary-eyed, hacking smokers looking to float out of jurisdiction on cruises to nowhere for a few hours of unfettered smoking.

Smokehouses, sinister, forbidding places where emaciated smokers could buy enough to get them through a few days, or throw down their scrounged change to buy a few drags to get them through the moment, will become the new blight on once-decent neighborhoods.

Apparently, one of the board members picked up a bag of cigarette butts that ill-mannered smokers had thrown on the ground in a park. So obviously, smoking had to be banned. Another board member fielded a complaint that a smoker had been smoking in the Little League bleachers, setting a bad example for the youngsters, probably right up there in the same section where nonsmoking parents cuss the officials and coaches and fight among themselves. That pretty much sealed it.

Naples' overreaction deserves to be treated as a joke, and it would be funny were it an aberration. But it isn't. Naples' response was symptomatic of a rampant number of nonsmokers who presume that smokers are second-class citizens who have forfeited their civil and human rights -- and the right to expect to be treated decently and courteously by others.

If the litter of cigarette butts was the problem, citing litterers should have been the solution. If a smoker was smoking in the Little League stands and that was not allowed, he should have been told to leave, or the police should have been called so they could tell him. If it was not against the rules, then someone should have asked the smoker to stop or move.

And therein lies a key to solving many of the smoker/nonsmoker clashes that regularly happen. If nonsmokers would drop their self-righteous, superior attitude, most smokers would gladly comply with their reasonable requests not to smoke. We know it is noxious and unhealthy. Most of us are not as rude and arrogant as the nonsmokers who have no compunctions about approaching us with childish behavior to tell us that.

The bottom line is that smoking is still legal. Outside, in broad, wide-open spaces, smokers have as much right to smoke as others have not to smoke.

Even in Naples. For now.

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