I recently stayed three nights at a Westin Hotel in Kansas City which, as you would expect, was 100% smoke free except for the odd-guest guiltily puffing away outside the lobby, but at a discreet distance from the entrance. Even the most hard core smoker has been chastised into submission by rules, regulations, custom and the moral code of our non-smoking society. Thank goodness for that, but it caused me to reflect on the bad old days when smoking was considered a right on a par with eating red meat, drinking excessively and driving “big ass” cars and trucks. Back in those days, woe be the non-smoker who asserted themselves to ask, “Would you mind putting that out?”
And less we forget that long, hard struggle; let us recall some of the stops along the journey. Take flying in commercial airplanes. It wasn’t that long ago that once the airplane was airborne, the no smoking light went off with a commanding “BLINK” and we were free to light up our choice of tobacco product be it a cigar, pipe or cigarette. Back then you knew if the captain was a full fledged smoker he would turn off the sign the instant that the wheels left the runway. Addicted smokers who were veteran flyers sat poised, a pack in one hand, lighter in the other prepared to light up on the sound of that “blink.”
Eventually, the transition began. First to go were pipes and cigars. That helped a bit but the next step was the dumbest; creating smoking and non-smoking sections on the same airplane. Separate sections but we all breathed the same re-circulated air! Then smoking was banned on all flights under two hours. This made some sense but created dilemmas for flights between cities like New York and Chicago. Nominally, this is a two-hour flight but, depending on traffic and weather conditions, it can be as short as an hour and a half or well over two hours. Never officially confirmed but many of us believed health conscious airlines scheduled their flights to O’Hare for less than two hours while those who remained safe havens for smokers added time to theirs.
Finally, banned on all domestic flights, the right to smoke ended internationally first on domestic carriers, then on all flights to and from the United States and finally on most flights everywhere. Likewise, limitations spread as to where one could light up in airport terminals as it did in all public places. In its last vestige, special rooms were created with their own exhaust system. I recall one in Los Angeles that was a small, square, glass-enclosed affair. The smokers put on display looked, felt and played the part of degenerate outcasts.
I can tell you the exact moment when I realized that the war was lost and I had to give up my prized cigars and quit smoking. I was going to London on a TWA night flight from JFK on a winter evening. When the car service arrived at the airport, I saw this business man standing outside Terminal 7, his suit collar turned up in a vain attempt to fight the cold. He looked miserable, but endured this discomfort so he could smoke his stogie. By then I no longer puffed on a cigar while flying, but I could still easily devour twenty Marlboros between New York and London. But the thought of that other guy told me it was over; game, set and match.
Today, we rarely encounter other peoples’ smoke, but when those odd times occur and we unwittingly are hit full-force by a puff of exhaled cigarette smoke the jolt to the system is an unwelcome reminder of just how bad those bad old days were.