Where There's Smoke There's Fire

Non-smoking letter writer sugests compassion for those addicted to tobacco


Dear Editor:

I’m not, nor have I ever been, a smoker. I don’t like being exposed to second-hand smoke … so I accept reality and take precautions when I must. I may not like smoking (and, yes, I am thankful for the regulations we already have against public smoking) but smokers are still part of our world, our towns, and our communities — including Alameda.

The roots of what Americans now consider a social problem go back to 1789 when the first known advertisement for snuff and tobacco products was placed in the New York daily paper.

Since then, campaigns to hook people on tobacco are endemic and seemingly impossible to eradicate. Despite that mightily successful 1968 ad campaign targeting women, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” perhaps women and men have not come so far after all.

Tobacco products and those who use them have generated vast wealth in this country. In 2006 alone, cigarette companies spent $12.5 billion on advertising and promotional expenses, down from $13 billion in 2005 but more than double what was spent in 1997. Companies spend this kind of money because they recoup it and make generous profits selling products they know – and we now know — are addictive and dangerous.

Doesn’t it behoove each of us to consider the big picture, stretch our personal limits, move away from narrow-minded “individualism” and “individual rights,” and develop more complex understandings about our society’s interdependencies?

Interacting with our smoking neighbors instead of calling the cops on them would be a start.

Wouldn’t it cost about the same to enforce this new smoking law as it would to create (free) programs for smokers that want to quit? Wouldn't we reap more social capital too? 

Why not spend that money educating our youth about smoking? Or fighting the companies that manufacture products that harm Americans, pollute agricultural land, and cause community dissension?

Why not treat smokers who cannot quit with dignity instead of turning them into pariahs and outlaws?

Indeed, why not embrace the complex reality of addictions and deepen our community’s capacity for ambiguity rather than impose more ridiculous, feel-good, and self-righteous rules and regulations?

Susan Galleymore



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Nancy January 16, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Just this past week, I was outside Angela's at Central and Oak when the person I was walking with lit up. I told her she couldn't do that by law and she responded with "I don't care". I truned around and the person behind me directly on the corner was also smoking and just beyond him were 2 policeman in a car stopped at the red light. The police said and did nothing so I don't think we are spending a dime on enforcement. The thing that I do like about the law is that if you ask someone not to smoke outside in your presence, there is a better chance they might oblige your request. I have observed some improvement walking around our city and have hopes that this will encourge more Alamedans to stop this harmful and insidious addiction. I smoked for 40 years and tried to quit many times.I went to class after class, 12 step meetings for smokers, was hypnotized, did the gum, patch, drugs, etc I was encouraged to keep trying because one time it would work. Finally, that one time happened - I picked a quit date and stopped. It is one of the best things that I ever did for myself but now I have to hold my breath everytime I smelll smoke.
Jeff Mark January 16, 2012 at 05:52 PM
This is an oddly appealing sentiment. It's been my view for quite some time that what is going on is that we, as a society, are trying to "quit smoking". Tobacco has been an integral part of America since it's very beginnings. Indeed, it can be argued that one of the primary reasons America exists as it does today is because of the 17th Century tobacco market (it started 'way before 1789 — the Virginia Colony was heavily dependent on tobacco exports). Those meetings in Boston and Philadelphia whence the revolution emerged were the original smoke-filled rooms. I just don't think humiliating smokers helps get them to quit. It's nice to see someone "step back" and look at the question from a broader perspective.
Jaan Carter January 16, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Cheers, Susan, for your positive input. I smoked for 30 years, and I, too, am incredibly bothered by the smell (as is Nancy, who "holds her breath"). It's an amazing feeling to have finally conquered something you've fought for years and years! As someone who quit cold turkey, no patch, no nothing, I can say it's not as difficult as some say, IF you have made up your mind that it's time to stop. It's very much a mind-over-matter sort of thing, I believe. The really hard part, from my perspective, is the KEEPING QUIT. One must be willing to essentially change one's life, from being around those who smoke (for a smoker, that's often almost all your friends), to not going to the old hangouts where everyone smokes. I did it, and I no longer hang out with any of those old friends. THIS IS HARD TO DO. It's hard to change your habits. We have a ciggie with so many other activities, it's really rooted way down into our daily life behavior. But if you are determined to quit, you can do it. I will offer here and now, the support and encouragement of this former chimney, should anyone reading this who wants to quit, needs me.
Jaan Carter January 16, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Sorry about the grammatical oddity of that last line. What I mean to say is, I will help you defy the slave master, if you want to make a run! ^_^ And I'd just like to add, I don't feel everyone who is in favor of the smoking ban is necessarily "self-righteous," or that the ban is "ridiculous."
Robert Fried January 19, 2012 at 05:43 AM
Powerful help for smokers motivated to quit: http://www.robertfriedhypnosis.com now features cd.
Li_ January 20, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Well said. Thank you for taking the time to write. No two smokers are alike. The cure for one will not be the cure for another. Don't add guilt trips to an already fought situation by telling an addict that if you could do it then there is something wrong with them if they can't do the same.
Serena Chen January 20, 2012 at 09:09 PM
The main reason for secondhand smoke laws is to protect community members from unwanted exposures to this known toxic air contaminant that has been shown to cause cancer and heart attacks and strokes in non-smokers. Seventy-five percent of Americans who smoke do state that they want to quit but only 5-6 percent every year actually succeed. Getting help for quitting definitely helps and quitting can take as many as 17 attempts. Calfornia's free smokers helpline provides counseling in multiple languages and a special line for teens. To get started, call 1-800- NO-BUTTS.
Jon Spangler October 30, 2012 at 05:13 PM
I agree completely with Serena. This is not like putting up with the obnoxious color of your neighbor's house, which may be aesthetically unpleasant but is not dangerous to your health. The public non-smokling ordinance is one small attempt to remove a known toxin from our environment that IS controllable. (My wife has serious allergies and asthma so walking on Park Street or Webster Street is literally a risky event for her health. It's a lower risk for my own health but no exposure to tobacco smoke is beneficial.) I have every sympathy with smokers who are trying to quit inhaling the most addictive substance known to our species and have no desire to be holier than thou, cruel, or self-righteous. I just want my loved ones and myself to be free from danger.
Jon Spangler October 30, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Susan Galleymore asks, "Indeed, why not embrace the complex reality of addictions and deepen our community’s capacity for ambiguity rather than impose more ridiculous, feel-good, and self-righteous rules and regulations?" Would Ms. Galleymore similarly suggest a "live and let live" approach to other forms of assault? Smoking--like speeding or texting in a car, driving while drunk, burning toxic trash in your back yard, and dumping harmful chemicals down the storm sewer--is a public health hazard that puts people at risk. And the first rule in responding to public health problems is usually to eliminate the source of the harm. Certainly we should assist smokers in every possible way to quit if they so desire and offer education to prevent people from smoking in the first place. (In many cases our society is already doing all of these.) But it is also the entirely appropriate role of government to protect the public health and safety by passing and enforcing laws. Implementing a non-smoking law for public commercial areas (Park and Webster Streets, public events, shopping centers, etc.) helps protect the 90% of our society who are non-smokers from the proven dangers of cigarette smoke, a known and significant health hazard. We already have laws that prohibit someone from punching me in the face on a public sidewalk. Why should her/his assault on my lungs and my health--in the form of second-hand smoke--be any different?
dj October 30, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Totally agree. I have asthma and heart disease and don't want to die waiting for someone to quit or be ethical about their smoking. I've also been cussed out and threatened enough times for politely asking people to not smoke where it's illegal. I believe that job belongs to the police.


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