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Smokers banished to the root cellar

May 28, 2007|by TIM ROWLAND

Week before last, the State of Maryland basically made it a crime to smoke anywhere outside of your own root cellar. And only then if you get a signed release from the carrots.

With the governor's signature, the last bunkers of Marlborism - bars, restaurants and veteran clubs - came crashing down under one of the most restrictive, anti-smoking laws in the nation.

At the same time, Hollywood announced that movies that show people smoking will be subject to an R rating for graphic use of tobacco.

Yikes. I always thought that watching George Burns could be debilitating, but not because of his stogies.

And what's a movie without some swarthy lead taking a long, reflective pull off his Camel? Without the dramatic smokes, Casablanca would be just another flick about a self-absorbed businessman with a woman problem.

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And I guess it's still OK to show frat boys getting drunk off their pledge pins, but if one of them lights up - well, you gotta be 18 to witness that kind of behavior.

Not that I'm any expert on second-hand smoke, but it does strike me that if it were such a health risk, everyone in Europe would be dead.

And we're supposed to be the great world beacon of freedom, but you can walk into any third-world cafe and you are free to smoke. And you are free to bring your dog, if you want. Hard to believe that Jefferson's America has been surpassed on the freedom front by Bolivia.

Yes I am ignoring medicine. Yes I am ignoring science. Yes I am ignoring the rights of people to eat a meal without being subjected to a cloud of toxic smog. Because, as always, I address this and all issues with the following question: How does this affect me?

I don't mind the smell of tobacco, so at restaurants where there was a line for the nonsmoking section, I'd always ask for the smoking section and get seated right away. Guess that strategy no longer applies.

I wasn't even worried about second-hand smoke. I reckoned two or three other people had already inhaled and exhaled the second-hand smoke to the point where, at worst, I was subjected to fifth-hand smoke. By then, it's got to be pretty well filtered.

And really, I don't know how much of this was an actual matter of health.

For his part, Maryland house speaker Michael Busch said it is no longer "fashionable" to smoke.

What, so now we're making laws based on vogue? Like in the year 2007, a chick who puts her hair up with a scrungie is going to have to serve 30 days in the caliboose?

If that's the case, the legislature was derelict in now passing a law against teens whose underpants were sticking out from trousers that are flying at half-mast.

Fashion. Personally, I feel as if I've suffered more harm from spandex worn by women with a Body Mass Index in triple-digit territory than from second-hand smoke - where's our General Assembly when you need it?

They can do it with guns, so why not a three-day waiting period on stretch pants?

Busch says that "in the 1960s and 70s it was a different thing. You were strange if you didn't smoke."

Correction. In the 1960s, everyone was strange. There was no point breaking people down into smoking and nonsmoking groups because the lot of them were busy strumming the spokes on their motorcycles and communing with shrubbery.

I've never smoked, but I feel as if I did, having grown up in a newsroom and all. Every desk came complete with an ashtray the size of a washtub.

When smoking was banned, newsrooms lost their romance, which dissipated along with the layer of blue haze buffering the ceiling. It was sad. Seeing a reporter walk outside the office mid-story to smoke was like watching John Wayne walk out in the middle of a shootout for grief counseling.

So the government passed out cases of smokes during the war, the government pays farmers to grow tobacco and the government spends millions won in tobacco lawsuits. The government is neck deep in tobacco, but now it tells the people they can't smoke. Even if you hate cigarettes, this two-faced policy has to make you depressed. I know I am.

If you need me, I'll be in the root cellar.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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