No Smoking sign does not say you can’t smoke.
No Smoking sign does not say you can’t smoke.

No Smoking sign does not say you can’t smoke.

We were at a res­taur­ant the oth­er day, and out­side on their patio was a No Smoking sign. So I’ve been think­ing about that: the No Smoking sign.

When I was a kid it was the 70s. The golden age of sub­urb­an house parties. The base­ment in our house was­n’t “fin­ished” per se, but it was all set up for enter­tain­ing. My dad worked at the TV sta­tion, and he acquired a set piece that was a great long, dark wood bar, that fit the width of the base­ment at one end. It had a mir­ror that went all along the wall behind it, just like in a pub­lic estab­lish­ment. I remem­ber too that we had a couple of ban­ners that I believe were BC Lions ban­ners (though why, coz my dad was an Edmon­ton fan), but these ban­ners hung floor to ceil­ing to help hide the lack of pan­el­ling or dry­wall on the walls, and made the place look all hip, along with the oth­er super spiffy decor of the era. So my folks had these big parties, and I’d be upstairs sleep­ing through it all. And they had all these ash­trays, because lots of people smoked, though my folks were non-smokers them­selves. We had this little set of stack­able ash­trays in a vari­ety of col­ours that sat out on a side table, and when I was a kid I used to play with them when I had to pick them up to dust the furniture.

As time went on my folks thought more about it. The Big Party in the Base­ment days wore down, and they ten­ded to only have smal­ler din­ner parties, with one or two couples. And of course this was also the era where res­taur­ants star­ted hav­ing No Smoking sec­tions, which, though bet­ter than sit­ting right among all the smokers, was still crazy, because you usu­ally had to walk right through the smoking sec­tion to get to the non-smoking sec­tion, not to men­tion the whole, y’know phys­ics thing about air cir­cu­la­tion and fun stuff like that.

Mean­while, back at home… It took a while, but even­tu­ally my folks real­ized that they really did­n’t care for the cigar­ette smoke. So they asked their friends to sit out­side on the covered deck to smoke, which their friends were fine with, because y’know, it’s about hanging out, being togeth­er. Those little stack­able ash­trays no longer sat out, but were sent into a draw­er to be pulled out only when needed. And even­tu­ally… this took even longer, because some­times it’s hard to set bound­ar­ies, and stick to them when it affects your friends, y’know, people you love. You want to avoid con­flict. But finally, my folks said, “Hold on a second. This is our house. And we’re allowed to make the rules in our house.” So they said if someone wants to smoke, we have the right to ask them to go stand down in the alley coz we’d rather they did­n’t smoke on our prop­erty at all. It’s pleas­ant spot. Lots of trees and plants. Not a ton of cars going up and down. Not a huge hard­ship. Of course more and more of their friends had quit smoking, so it became less and less of an issue. The stack­able ash­trays van­ished. Prob­ably got sent to the Sally Anne, I dunno.

Now out in the world, the health effects of smoking and second-hand smoke on non-smokers became clear, widely known, and is no longer in dis­pute. In July of 2000 the City of Van­couver imple­men­ted a smoking ban in all pub­lic places, which included res­taur­ants, bars, bil­liard halls, bingo halls, bowl­ing alleys and casi­nos. Des­ig­nated smoking rooms were allowed for a while, but the Province-wide ban came in in Janu­ary of 2008, and that even did away with the smoking rooms. Now there’s a smoking ban in pub­lic spaces all across Canada, with vari­ations in the details depend­ing on the jur­is­dic­tion. Now there was quite a hue and cry about this when it began in Van­couver. I remem­ber hear­ing about the fear that res­taur­ants and bars were gonna go bank­rupt because all the smokers were going to be just so mad. But in fact, what happened was that all the people who did­n’t tend to go out because they did­n’t like all the smoke every­where, star­ted going out, and giv­ing their busi­ness, spend­ing money in places they did­n’t used to frequent.

See, my folks wer­en’t say­ing, “We don’t want to be friends with you any­more.” They wer­en’t even say­ing, “You can­’t smoke.” They were just say­ing, “You can­’t do it here.” And because those people loved my par­ents, they respec­ted that rule. The desire to still keep com­pany with them was great­er than the desire to fight them on their smoking boundary.

And out in the world even­tu­ally the hue and cry died down and every­one got used to it, and now smokers go out to res­taur­ants and bars, and the movies and every­where, along­side the non-smokers, and they smoke where it’s allowed. Because it was more and more under­stood that the No Smoking sign is not a viol­a­tion of smokers’ rights, where­as let­ting them smoke any­where they wanted was a viol­a­tion of every­one else’s.

The No Smoking sign does not say you can­’t smoke. You just can­’t do it here. For the pro­tec­tion of oth­er pat­rons, and the people who work here, you can­’t do it here.