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.