Southern US Starts to Shun Smoking

July 24, 2012
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If you ever feel like being pessimistic about public health, at least consider the case of cigarette smoking. As a kid growing up in the 1970s I hated the smell of smoke. But my mother told me to get used to it, since the important decisions were made in the smoke-filled rooms (remember that term?) and I wouldn’t want to get left out. But things did change, if gradually, to the point where smoking became uncommon in airplanes, then restaurants and eventually even bars.

If you ever feel like being pessimistic about public health, at least consider the case of cigarette smoking. As a kid growing up in the 1970s I hated the smell of smoke. But my mother told me to get used to it, since the important decisions were made in the smoke-filled rooms (remember that term?) and I wouldn’t want to get left out. But things did change, if gradually, to the point where smoking became uncommon in airplanes, then restaurants and eventually even bars.

It’s funny how after getting used to smoke-free environments it’s really offensive when you’re back in the olden days. I remember flying first class from London to Boston on American Airlines in 1995. There were three rows of first, and the third row was the smoking section. Smoking had been dumped on domestic flights but most international flights still had arrangements like this. I wrote to the airline and told them I was switching to Delta, which had gone no-smoking systemwide.

I never thought they’d get rid of smoking in Europe, especially Italy. In 2002 I spent some time in Rome where I was amazed to meet chain-smoking cardiologists stinking up the office. But even there they’ve changed.

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The South has been the most smoking-friendly part of the US, but that’s changing, too. Atlanta is the latest to ban smoking in public parks. Laws like this are being enacted at the state level, but have gotten the most traction at the local level, even in tobacco country.

Overall I’m feeling good that people have become concerned enough about public health to intervene. In another 50 years we might treat firearm proliferation with as much concern as secondhand smoke is getting today.