This article by Mike Miliard, originally entitled "Vice in a vise" but here changed to suit our English spelling prejudices, first appeared in the excellent Boston Phoenix. It's about trends in America, of course, but the GOS was so impressed by its vivid prose and the lunatic society it describes that he has decided to reproduce it in full, by kind permission of the Boston Phoenix of course. It runs to three pages - click the "next" button to go forward.
A tirade against the tyranny of health
How did it come to this? When was it decided that the dorks and the squares, the button-down mediocrities for whom a third Friday-night beer is the height of excess, would be calling the shots? Who empowered these teetotaling chumps, these jogging crypto-fascists with spotless livers and unblackened lungs, to decide where we smoke and how we drink and what we eat? The Declaration of Independence professes a commitment to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But apparently when it comes to substance abuse and foods of dubious nutrition, all bets are off. America is in very real danger from a creeping neo-prohibitionism, a systematic snuffing out of our beloved vices. It can only end badly.
It's happening in Boston. It's happening across the country. It's happening abroad. Smoking bans are everywhere. Happy hours are history. Colleges are drying out. Fast-food chains are excoriated for exercising their right - their duty! - to serve big-ass burgers. The calls for "sin taxes" grow louder. Is it that much of a stretch to envision this drip-drip-drip of reproach, repression, and regulation eventually culminating in black-market smokes and a second stab at Prohibition?
Hedonists and debauchees of the world: wake up! Our inalienable right to self-destructive behavior is being methodically stripped away, and we're standing by dumbly as it happens. The swarming armies of healthful drabness are gathering, and they mean to turn us into them. So far, they're winning. We must not let them.
in which we live and shut your fuckin' mouth" (Bill Hicks)
Bill Hicks is dead. Smoking can do that to a man. Cigarettes, no question, are bad news. But in case it's escaped your notice, an awful lot of people smoke them - they're those folks you see consigned to the sidewalks outside office buildings, bracing themselves against the winter chill. Some people - your friends and neighbors, even! - like to puff a cigarette or two only when they're out for a Saturday-night cocktail. But smoking and drinking at the same time isn't allowed anymore, so they too are kicked to the curb.
Smoking bans make sense, to a point. I won't argue, as some do, that the seriousness of secondhand smoke has been exaggerated. And as someone who hacks butts on a semi-regular basis, and who'd love to kick the habit, I gladly agree with common-sense rules. In airplanes, of course. Shopping malls. Even restaurants. But bars? Sorry. Smoking and boozing go together like Dean and Frank. To my mind, one of life's great pleasures is sitting in some quiet pub, a paper and a pint before me, the whorls from a cigarette playing in the late-afternoon sunlight. These days, one has to travel to Providence to be that decadent. Or actually, no. As of March 1, smoking is verboten there, too.
Not long after Cambridge instituted its smoking ban in October 2003, I went to the Middle East to see Holly Golightly, the bluesy English chanteuse. Between sets, I ducked out to the dingy back alley to suck down a smoke. There was Holly herself, a fag perched jauntily in her slender fingers. We got to talking, and it wasn't long before she expressed her perplexed exasperation: why the hell was she not allowed to enjoy her Dunhill with her Scotch? At that moment I was embarrassed for my city. I also wondered if the Massachusetts ban might dissuade certain performers from making Boston a stop on their itinerary.
It's a moot point now. Before long, it'll be illegal to smoke in any bar or club, in any state. The fact that Massachusetts's ban went statewide barely a year after Boston's took effect is illustrative of the way these things snowball. More and more states are following suit.
It's useless to pine. We shan't smoke indoors again. Not here, not even abroad. Norway, for instance, enacted a nationwide ban last year. In squeaky-clean Scandinavia, that somehow makes sense. But Ireland? The verdant pleasure island with more pubs than people? It boggles the mind. Why should Dublin's nouveau riche call the shots? Can't some rural culchie, knackered after a day in the fields and ready to get fluthered down at the local, enjoy a fag with his pint? No, apparently - not if the publican doesn't want to fork over 3000 euros. Italy has prohibited smoking in most public places, too. England and Scotland may soon follow suit. Even Cuba - Cuba! - where cigar exports generate more than $200 million every year, has banned cigarette machines and prohibited puffing tobacco in restaurants and anywhere within 100 yards of schools. Cuba libre? No más. And none other than Fidel Castro, who once upon a time was rarely spotted without a cigar jutting from his natty beard, has quit.
At least indoor bans make some sense. Plenty of people are happy to come home from bars not smelling of smoke. I'll buy that. But it seems even indoor bans are not enough. Hawaii is now mulling prohibiting smoking on its public beaches. A San Francisco ban on smoking in city parks exempted golf courses originally, but now may include them after all. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg, not content to snuff out smoking in bars from the Bronx to the Battery, has been pushing for a ban in Central Park. One wonders if the day will come when smokers won't even be able to indulge in their own homes.
A funny thing about that. A creepy new development has been reported of late. Howard Wyers, CEO of a Michigan medical-benefits administrator called Weyco, Inc., raised the hackles of civil-rights groups when - after instituting months of testing and offering numerous opportunities to enroll in cessation programs - he told four employees who refused to quit smoking that they'd be fired if they tested positive for tobacco use. Rather than submit to the test, they quit. Other employers - as many as 6000, according to a recent Newsweek article - now simply refuse to hire smokers in the first place. The very fact that there's a need for so-called lifestyle-rights laws, which give workers recourse against employers who punish off-the-clock activities, is a chilling comment on an ostensibly free society. Where might this lead? Will companies soon be able to pink-slip workers with unhealthy eating habits? To mandate exercise regimens? Don't count it out.
Copyright (but not the text of this article, obviously) © 2005 The GOS
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