Thank you for NOT BEING QUEER

No Queering sign

“NO QUEERING” … yeah, how would you feel if you saw this sign as you walked into a restaurant? Whether you’re gay or straight, it would probably strike you as questionable to say the least. It’s discrimination, right? But, what about when you see this sign:

No Smoking sign

You probably see these things all over the place and probably think nothing of them. Even if you’re a smoker, you just accept and generally obey these offensive things. Why doesn’t seeing one of these signs make you uncomfortable, then?

Before you jump on my case about the fact that smokers aren’t a protected class in the United States while homosexuals are, lets remind ourselves that fat people aren’t a protected class, either. How would you feel if you saw this sign up at a restaurant:

No Overeating sign

One could argue that the restaurant is trying to discourage folks from engaging in unhealthy activities which could lead to serious negative health effects like obesity, increased risk of heart disease, and early death. Also, they might be trying to create a more pleasant atmosphere for the other patrons–you know, it’s an unpleasant sight watching someone eat themselves into a food coma as part of their 6,000-plus-calorie-per-day diet. Yet, if a sign like this went up, there’d be no end of people complaining about how insensitive or offensive it is, or how businesses nor government should have this much control over how folks choose to fill their bodies.

According to the CDC/NCHS, a rough estimate based on sampling from 2003-2004 suggests that over 32% of U.S. adults are considered obese. Similarly, from the CDC’s 2003 data, the national average of smokers is only 22% of the population.

The American Lung Association claims that 438,000 deaths per year may be attributable to smoking-related causes, including second-hand smoke. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates 300,000 deaths per year may be attributable to obesity.

When I’m standing outside in the freezing cold, trying to enjoy my cigarette in peace in the only place left where I can exercise my personal freedoms, I really love it when someone feels the need to come up to me and say “you know, those are bad for you, you should quit.” Well, boy-howdy, I’m so sorry your great aunt Ruth died of emphasema or lung cancer and blah, blah blah. Look me in the eye and ask me if I really care. If I was related to someone as intrusive and annoying as you, I’d probably rather be dead, too.

The next time you see some fatass ordering two double-Whoppers with cheese and a large diet soda, you walk right up to them and tell them how your great aunt Ruth died of coronary disease and kidney failure and how they might want to think about quitting overeating–you might just save a life. Or, piss someone the hell off who is likely to be a lot less polite than your average smoker, who will likely tell you to shut the hell up, instead of just nod and smile and let you walk away.

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  1. The examples you quote are not analogous. Gay people and fat people do not hurt anyone, harm anyone’s health, or physically affect anyone else by their actions. If I am in a restaurant and someone lights a cigarette at the next table, I can’t avoid smelling it, and it makes me cough and seriously impedes my ability to enjoy my meal (not to mention that MY hair and clothes end up smelling so icky that I have to shower and change after spending more than 2 minutes near anyone who’s smoking), whereas if I were the type to be offended by gay or fat people I could just look elsewhere if they were at the next table — their decisions are not being forced into my nose.

    I do not dispute your right to smoke…as long as I don’t have to breathe in your exhalation of said smoke. (And, btw, I’m not one of those people who harasses smokers. But I do support laws banning smoking in indoor public places, for the reasons I mentioned above. Heck, I’m not fond of walking through the gauntlet of smokers outside on my way into work since I have to hold my breath to avoid choking, but since it is outside and I just walk through it as quickly as possible, I don’t make a big deal about it.)

  2. one person’s overeating and/or gayness does not affect my health.

    put me in a smokey room and i look forward to smelling like crap, blowing black mess out of my nose, and a visit from the two-weeks-of-chronic-asthmatic-bronchitis fairy.

    people can smoke all they want — i don’t want to have to suffer for it.

  3. Tina, Dave:

    Yes, I should have addressed your point: smoking is an area effect. I’m not suggesting that you should be exposed to other people’s smoke. What I take objection to is laws which prohibit private businesses from allowing patrons to smoke. Such a law is, in my opinion, equally offensive as a law, say, that prohibits businesses from allowing people to overeat.

    I can appreciate that many people prefer restaurants, bars, etc. to be non-smoking. I understand that simply separating smoking and non-smoking areas doesn’t satisfy some non-smokers. However, I’m also a firm believer of “voting with your feet”–if you object to it, then only patronize businesses that are completely non-smoking. But, to support passage of laws that prevent businesses that wish to cater to smokers–but can’t, because of the law–is offensive to me.

    Almost as offensive as, say, passing a law that would prevent women from obtaining legal and safe abortions.

    The problem is that many smokers are simply too polite and accept the will of the masses (asses?) instead of coordinating themselves and speaking out, loudly, in opposition. 22% of the adult population is potentially a significant lobbying body, yet smokers rights continue to erode. Why?

  4. “Such a law is, in my opinion, equally offensive as a law, say, that prohibits businesses from allowing people to overeat.”

    But it’s not! An overeater harms only him- or herself, while a smoker can’t avoid having an effect on anyone nearby. That is my point. You simply cannot equate smoking bans with discrimination against overweight or gay people. They are nowhere near similar.

    I do vote with my feet (and wallet) when it comes to selecting non-smoking establishments. However, if I were, say, a waitress in an area that has few or no non-smoking restaurants, I wouldn’t necessarily have the choice to avoid being exposed. To me, this is just another occupational safety law like those prohibiting businesses to allow hazardous gas leaks.

    Full disclosure: I grew up in a family of smokers, some of whom encouraged me to try cigarettes when I was SEVEN years old. As I grew older, if I complained about the smoke, they’d blow it in my face. All the smokers I encounter now are polite, but I still have a deep and lingering prejudice regarding smoking, and finding out that someone I know does it does lower my estimation of them somewhat — I just can’t help that. But as I said, I would never harass anyone for it; I just do my best to avoid exposure.

  5. Tina, I guess I agree with you: it could be seen as an occupational safety issue, too.

    Personally, I don’t smoke inside the house. I smoke in my car, but not the family mini-van as that’s what the kids ride in. In severely cold or rainy weather, I will hustle out to the detached two-car garage (which we use mostly as an oversized storage shed, sadly) and smoke in there.

    Thanks for reading my rant and helping me think through this. That’s what makes the Internet so great–being able to tap into lots of different opinions really quickly.

  6. Tina, Dave: it is not a right of ours to avoid all unpleasantness, be it olfactory or otherwise. Should we ban garlic eaters because some people don’t like that smell? Or beans, when they cause flatulence? Or people that don’t bathe often enough, or choose not to use heavily perfumed deodorants? Yes, there are some health issues with smoking that are not present with those other things (unless you are eating say, peanuts). But there is a world of difference between walking past someone smoking and being exposed for 10 seconds versus growing up in a household of 3-pack a day smokers.

    Dossy: there are considerate and inconsiderate smokers. The former will stay well away from doors and be sure to dispose of their ashes and butts properly, even to the point of carrying with them a portable ashtray for when there is not a fixed one nearby. The latter will flick butts into the gutter to be washed into the oceans and choked on by gulls, and keep the office door propped open with their leg while smoking outside so they don’t have to take their access card with them. I hope you are of the former variety.

    Then there’s the German approach to allowing smoking in restaurants.

  7. Jeff: Sometimes I’ll stomp a cigarette out on the ground, but often it either goes in an ashtray, or I’ll knock off the head of the cigarette and stuff the butt back in the pack or in my pocket until I can find a trashcan. I am guilty of tossing cigarette butts out the window while I drive, though–I don’t like using the ashtray in my car.

    I think the Germans have the right idea, but that picture eerily reminds me of goatse. *shudder*

  8. Jeff said: “But there is a world of difference between walking past someone smoking and being exposed for 10 seconds versus growing up in a household of 3-pack a day smokers.”

    10 seconds is not my issue — I never said smoking should be outlawed totally, just that I support not allowing it in indoor public venues…because if I’m sitting in a restaurant where many people are smoking, my exposure to it is much longer than 10 seconds. I don’t particularly fear for my long-term health in that kind of situation (I’m aware that one hour among smokers is highly unlikely to kill me)…but aside from having trouble breathing for the duration, my real problem with it is the fact that *I* smell like a damn ashtray for hours afterward!

    I also still don’t buy the argument that it’s the same as other scents; most other smells (perfume, garlic) tend to be highly localized and it’s generally unlikely that many people in one room would be exuding the same scent; therefore nothing has quite the same effect as a roomful of smokers. But as I said in my comment above, I am very, very biased when it comes to this subject, and I fully admit it. So I should probably shut up now, but I’ll post this anyway. :-)

    Dossy: “I am guilty of tossing cigarette butts out the window while I drive, though” — hey, you’ve hit another of my pet peeves! You do know that your burning cigarette butt can easily fly into someone else’s car and cause an injury or even an accident, right? This is one reason I hate riding with the car windows open in warm weather, because of the possibility of a burning projectile being flung at me when I least expect it. (And no, this has not happened to me personally, though I have known people who it has happened to.)

  9. Tina: I think the “cigarette flying into your car” thing is an urban legend. In my 10+ years of driving now, I’ve always driven with my windows open–wide open in the summer, open 3-4 inches in the winter–and I’ve never had a cigarette butt from another car fly into mine.

    Twice in my life, I’ve had cigarette butts that I flick out the front window fly back into the rear passenger window. Twice in 10 years, of regular daily smoking, many of those years where I had a 1+ hour commute each way to work.

    Think about the fluid dynamics of the air as it travels around a moving car. Something as lightweight as a smoked cigarette butt isn’t going to be able to break out of the stream to enter into an open car window.

    The one scenario I could see this happening in is when you’re stopped at an intersection, and someone flicks a cigarette into your car from theirs. That is really either complete carelessness or, at worst, malicious intent. Either way, the smoker is being a jackass and yes, feel free to turn the hate on. :-)

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