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January 8, 2008

Welp’s Louisville: Smoking ban reversal: Now it’s personal

When I was but a wee lad, my father smoked cigars. In the car. On family trips. With the windows rolled up. Mom smoked cigarettes, and even though our Impala was large enough for dramatic backseat reenactments of “Brady Bunch” episodes and frenzied claw fights with my sisters, the smoke made the air quality roughly akin to putting out a tire fire with a thousand Toni home-perm kits.Still, I barely noticed the smoke. Because everyone older than 12 smoked, all that bad air just became part of the environment. Only extended periods away from the smoke made it obvious how much it smelled like ass. Secondhand smoke is like Will Smith movies and Butchertown — you have to get away for a while to truly appreciate their noxious stench. As a city, we’re now getting a good, solid whiff of secondhand smoke after a six-month reprieve. Thanks to Metro’s bungling of the smoking ban by exempting Churchill Downs, and thanks to Judge Stephen Ryan’s ruling that the Churchill Downs exemption was unconstitutional, many of us are once again breathing unwanted exhaust. And now Metro is backing off threats to increase fines and call in the cops for unforgiving smokers, and bar owners are threatening to sue no matter what happens. Being a live-and-let-die kinda guy and a longtime fan of harmful substances, I’ve never gotten too worked up over secondhand smoke. Thanks to progressive joints like Cumberland Brews and The Jazz Factory (which were nonsmoking before nonsmoking was cool), smoky rooms are pretty easy to avoid. But with Judge Ryan’s ruling, my viewpoint changed. This time, it’s personal.A couple of months ago — long after the smoking ban took effect — my beautiful first-born child accepted a job in one of Louisville’s finer taverns, where his job is to schlep buffaloed victuals to hungry patrons, in the tradition of philosophy majors everywhere. Being his father and a proud supporter of the international brotherhood of Guinness-carriers, I make as many visits to his workplace as possible, always breathing deeply and tipping well.But thanks to Judge Ryan’s ruling, my son’s workplace has reverted to the old smoking-section custom, which makes the entire restaurant smell like Keith Richards’ uvula. Worse, the smoking section is back by the kitchen, which ensures that all servers must constantly walk through the poison.Funny thing about restaurant work: It’s a workout. Imagine carrying a heavy tray of five orders of the 98-wing combo back and forth all night. Now imagine doing it while breathing the exhaled Marlboro Lights of 50 inebriated tumor farmers. I get a tickle in my throat just thinking about it. We’ve known for decades that smoking kills and that secondhand smoke leads to illness, stinky hair and death. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco kills 5 million people worldwide every year. Half of all people who smoke will die from it. Here’s how addictive smoking is: Reading a paragraph like this one makes smokers want to light up. I respect the argument that the ban impinges on personal freedoms, but can we keep it just slightly real? Have you ban opponents met Kentucky? Just about anything goes here. You can gamble, drink, juggle rattlesnakes in church, fight a duel, marry a cousin (unless you’re gay … um, with each other), and strap a razor on your cock and toss it in a fighting arena while shooting seven guns at once. If we had any more personal liberties, we’d be Mesoamerican dog people (or Hoosiers). Besides, the civil-rights argument is trumped by everyone else’s — especially restaurant workers’ — civil right to breathe without risk of illness. Even third-world countries like Ireland, France and Turkey have begun banning smoking in restaurants and bars. Turkey, people. TUR-key. I’m sorry, ban opponents: Just because your cigarettes are delicious and make you look cool and have more fun and seem smarter doesn’t mean you get to force them on others. (Oh, and would a breath mint kill ya?)If I wanted my kids breathing secondhand smoke, I’d do it myself, like dear old Mom and Dad did to me. So please take it outside, smokers, no matter what the city comes up with. Three cheers for the many, many smokers who support the ban. And Metro: Get it right this time. We’re counting on you. Contact the writer at citystrobe@leoweekly.com