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Now that air is cleaner, let us brace for our demise

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 10, 2002

The end of the world, a lot of smokers assured me by telephone and e-mail after Tuesday's election, is at hand.

The entire Florida tourism industry is going to collapse because people who can't light up a Lucky between courses at Red Lobster are now going to decide to vacation in Kansas instead and, because of declining tax revenues from those businesses, government will collapse, and soon the streets will be filled with unemployed food servers, restaurant owners and government employees left to their own devices to survive.

Restaurant managers and owners will have to become the Smoking Police in order to enforce the new law, we are assured, and pretty soon fat people will be targeted if they ask for bleu cheese dressing instead of vinegar and oil.

That's an interesting sidelight, by the way. Every time militant smokers feel threatened, they promise us that fat people, who also sometimes have unhealthy lifestyles, will be next. They sort of skip over the obvious reasoning flaw en route to throw themselves over the precipice to their inductive plummet (sorry, I was channeling George Will there for a moment).

Fat people don't make you eat or taste their cheeseburgers and send you home with your hair and clothes reeking of vanilla milkshakes.

Smoking regulation isn't about the individual's right to choose a means of self-destruction. It is about the right to thrust that choice on others.

Every regulation of smoking behavior in the past 30 years has drawn similar hysterical outbursts. And Florida's new law, incidentally, includes all workplaces, not just restaurants.

"Who is going to enforce the new law?" restaurant owners asked when separate nonsmoking areas were mandated in Florida restaurants back in 1985. They conjured up images of nicotine-crazed thugs stomping hapless restaurant managers to death when they were told they would have to wait 10 minutes for a seat in a smoking area. That (of course) never happened, and restaurants now have larger nonsmoking than smoking areas -- and that's not because clean-air freaks were pulling guns every time somebody suggested they list their preference as "next available" rather than "nonsmoking."

By the way, when the city of Zephyrhills, ahead of its time, tried to legislate smoking in restaurants back in the '70s, there was a massive effort to defeat the move, and the leader of that effort later told me that it was heavily funded by -- surprise, surprise -- the tobacco industry.

Lunch on Limoges, Dade City's most famous and well-patronized restaurant, went completely nonsmoking about 20 years ago, with no difficulty and no loss of business. "Actually, we voted against the amendment," said co-owner Skip Mize of he and his partner, Phil Williams. "We believe restaurants should be able to have smoking areas if they want them, but this worked better for us. People have always been very nice. They just step outside and have a cigarette and come back in."

Several other chains and independent restaurants have voluntarily already gone to all nonsmoking without the threatened horrors raised every time regulations have been strengthened over the years.

I had quit smoking before airlines went nonsmoking a few years back, but I remember finding myself on a nonsmoking flight from Tallahassee one day before that and wondering if my sanity could endure an hour without a cigarette. I survived. I may, of course, have to use a stun gun to get my smoker wife on a flight to Ireland later this year.

Polite smokers really don't seem to have many problems with smoking regulations. Many who are married to nonsmokers go outside of their own homes or cars to light up.

The whole question of enforcement is silly. If a restaurant owner, citing the law, tells someone he or she can't smoke and that person chooses to break the law, then the correct thing to do is call a cop, just as you would if an underage person insisted on drinking in your establishment. That's what police officers are for.

Although I don't expect them to admit it, the recent referendum has taken a lot of heat off of restaurants that would just as soon not deal with the current smoking/nonsmoking area problems.

Now they can just blame it on voters and shrug.

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