I Walk the Line

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To show my opposition to Washington’s new smoking ban, I plan on doubling my tobacco consumption: now I will smoke two clove cigarettes each month instead of one. According to the public service announcements running before the vote, this is the same as me spraying twice as many people in the face with pesticide, or cornering twice as many Bambi-eyed waitresses and exhaling directly down their tracheas.

Today I’m smoking while standing on the dashed yellow line in the middle of Water Street, in front of Liberty’s stately office building. The street is about 60 feet wide, so I can take maybe two steps towards either sidewalk before I have to extinguish my cigarette, lest some business owner risk a $250 fine on my behalf. See, Washington voters weren’t content just to close loopholes for bars, restaurants, and bowling alleys left open by an earlier Clean Indoor Air bill; no, they dreaded the possibility of little groups of smokers congregating outside, socializing, making friends – groups that have become so chic in other smoking-ban jurisdictions (California, New York City, even Ireland) that some take up smoking just to gain admittance. Thus the referendum specified that no one could smoke within 25 feet of a door, window, or vent – basically, within a 25-foot buffer zone around the entire building.

Supporters of the ban (and that’s nearly everyone; there was no organized opposition) helpfully pointed out that businesses can petition city councils for an exemption – not from the ban itself, but from the 25-foot zone. Some cities in eastern Washington may prove more lenient, but I have no doubts that every town west of the Cascades will exact a high price from bars to let their patrons smoke outside: remodeling for disability compliance, or retrofitting for the historical council – or just old-fashioned palm-greasing.

The sun is setting over the Olympic Mountains. A few weeks ago, I would have headed straight for the deck at the local pub, to enjoy nature’s beauty with Kentucky bourbon in one hand and Carolina tobacco in the other. Today, I grind my cigarette into the asphalt, and get out of the road.

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