If there's a heaven, it will have a smoking section. And if there's a God, it will be located at Club Habana in Charleston, S.C.
Reclining in an overstuffed chair, a Pedron Anniversario Maduro in one hand, a perfectly blended martini in the other, a view of Meeting and Market on a summer's evening below ... who would want to disturb such an idyllic scene?
Politicians, of course. You had to ask?
The same Charleston City Councilmembers who banned "inappropriate language" from their public meetings (after a black activist dropped the "N-bomb") has now voted to strip private property owners of their most basic rights. It's enough to make me use another "N" word to describe Councilman Wendell Gilliard and Company:
For the moment, tobacco-specific businesses like Club Habana are spared the Smoke Nazis' wrath — for the moment. But does anyone doubt the jackboots will stomp them out of business asap?
What makes the smoking ban gestapo so frustrating is that it is so, so stupid. Forget the principles of individual liberty and private property (your elected officials have) — smoking bans are just plain dumb.
First of all, it's solving a problem that doesn't exist. Private businesses are already going smoke-free in response to customer demand, and without "Granny" Joe Riley tellin' the kids to put out them dang cigareets and go to bed!
So if there's no problem, how can the Smoke Nazis — like my fellow columnist Will Moredock — defend such draconian actions as stripping business owners of their basic rights? By playing the "panic" card: "Run for your life! Your neighbor's cigarette is gonna kill YOU!"
All parties agree that the Surgeon General's 2006 report on secondhand smoke provided essential cover for the Smoke Nazis like Mr. Moredock. He happily aped the reports' claim that "there is no such thing as a safe amount of secondhand smoke."
I'm not picking on Will. He didn't get the story any more wrong than the Surgeon General did. As every person who has read the 727-page report has pointed out (a group that does not include a single politician in the state of South Carolina, by the way), the study did not find any increased incidence of heart or lung disease whatsoever from the kind of brief exposure to secondhand smoke that occurs at restaurants and bars. None. Zero.
Sitting in a bar with a smoker never killed anyone, other than the occasional anti-smoking zealot whose annoying hectoring gets them beaten to death with an ashtray.
Yes, it's true that Surgeon General Richard Carmona claimed, "even brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer." However, there is not one finding in his own report — none — to back this up. It just more speculation by yet another Smoke Nazi willing to deceive the public "for their own good."
Don't take my word for it: Ask anti-smoking activist Dr. Michael Seigel. He supports government action to discourage smoking, but he also supports science and common sense. Despite what you see from South Carolina politicians, it is possible to do both.
Yes, if you live with a smoker for 20+ years, there is a small increase in your risk of cancer, but that's not what happens to customers in bars. Saying "there's no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke" is as dumb as saying there's no safe amount of beef because it's possible to choke to death on a single bite of sirloin.
Look, I could quote still more studies showing no "causal relationship between exposure to [passive smoke] and tobacco-related mortality" (British Medical Journal, 2003), and that sitting in the smokiest bar is equal to just 0.004 cigarettes an hour. But I don't have to, because you know I'm right.
You know it because you understand what life was like in the '60s and 70s, when a majority of American children had parents who smoked. Dad blew smoke in our faces at home, in the car, over dinner, in the bathtub. If it's true that even "brief exposure" is a killer, then pray tell, Mayor Riley, how come I'm not dead?
Seriously — where are all the dead 40-somethings? The incidence of smoking-related cancers should be through the roof as my fellow baby boomers, raised by chain-smoking moms and dads, gasp our last cancer-riddled breaths.
But we aren't. Lung cancer rates are down, and plummeting for the generation of smoker babies. Obesity, not Dad's smoky Oldsmobile, is our number one killer. And we were exposed to a lot more smoke than you'll get at Club Habana on their busiest night.
So why are Charleston politicians banning smoking on private property? Because they can.
Let's face it — nobody likes smokers. They won't even defend themselves. Smokers are so far down the social ladder, if there were a linguistic equivalent of the "N-bomb" for smokers, people would feel free to use it in public.
Except in front of the Charleston City Council, of course.