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Inside Column: Woe is the castigated smoker

Phil Hudelson | Monday, October 2, 2006

Perhaps it is just my own personal background, but I had never been exposed to true prejudice in my life, at least not until I came here to Notre Dame. Recently, though, I have become aware that I myself am part of a minority group here that suffers great persecution at the hands of others.

I am a smoker.

At a school that is constantly trying to become more diverse, it always amazes me that so many people can be so closed-minded about something. As a smoker, it is rare to go more than a day without at least one person telling me how awful my habit is and list a plethora of reasons for me to quit.

I find it hard to believe that there are many people in the country today who are unaware of the risks and consequences of smoking. After all, it is hard to ignore the flood of anti-smoking propaganda in every form of media. Every smoker knows the inherent risks, and has made a choice to keep smoking in spite of them. So when a random passerby feels it necessary to criticize my lifestyle choices, it leaves me dumbfounded and with no response … besides to light another cigarette, of course.

If this were the only problem I ran into as a smoker, I realize I would not have much to complain about. The real problem, though, is not as simple as having to face dirty looks from people I don’t know. Rather, it is the fact that my rights are slowly being taken away from me by the government that is supposed to protect them. There is a public smoking ban in place already in St Joe County, and in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, as well. On the ballot this November will be a proposal to make all public places in Ohio smoke-free.

The real issue here is not clean air for non-smokers, but the rights of every smoker in Ohio, as well as the owners of every sort of business and establishment throughout the state. There has never been a law saying that non-smokers must patronize a restaurant that allows smoking, and there has likewise never been a law forcing the owners of businesses to accommodate smokers. But now businesses are in danger of losing their rights, and so are smokers.

Should you ever have the chance to vote on the issue yourself, remember, even though I smoke, I am still a person. As November approaches, I can only pray and hope that I will not have to spend the rest of my life as a social pariah because of the prejudice of others.

With any luck, my rights will be saved, and the tobacco ban will go up in smoke.