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The Smoking Lamp Is Doused

Boulder votes out the smoking of tobacco in public buildings

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 02, 1995.

Boulder has taken the utterly predictable and long threatened step of banning smoking in any public building. By a seven to one margin, an exhausted City council finally pulled the plug on what one American has called an accepted form of suicide. Anticipating the federal government reclassifying nicotine as an illegal drug, the City of Boulder did what few elected entities ever do: acted in the general interest against a significant plurality of voters. For that alone, I’ll read this standing.

I myself have never smoked, but it has rarely, if ever, bothered me. I love its smell, oddly, and associate it with the gathering of family and friends. I ran a business in Boulder that had many, many conflicts based on smoking, and so I’m aware of most of the arguments.

Oddly, many of those who smoke pot do not consider it smoking. At any number of no smoking events, the quintessential pot heads would light up and express amazement that pot was considered harmful. One rocket scientist, after giving me a hard time, was carried outside, his smoke gear confiscated. He called the police and asked for his pot pipe back. I have a great image of his face as the kindly police explained how to spell moron to him. Nevertheless, Boulder has hypocrisy to face. For if smoking is deemed a health hazard, what about alcohol? Since the city funds itself in large part by taxing alcohol related events and businesses - there are over two hundred and fifty liquor licenses, I believe, a huge number in a town of one hundred thousand people - why should that proven intoxicant that kills and ruins families be tolerated either?

There is, however, no chance of that. There is a huge gap of understanding in the use of ritual and intoxication in any society but especially in ours. Unlike tobacco smoking, where the big appeal to kids in their teens is the belief it keeps you thin, drinking has a genuine function, a door to another room of being. Like all drugs, there is - somewhere - a hope for more happiness by its use. Yet the prohibitionists were and are right: drinking exacerbates conflict, leads to physical assault, neglected children, drunk driving, and inadvertent arson by smoking in bed. It would be interesting for the Boulder City council to amass statistics here: how many Boulderites die of smoking each year, granting them much latitude to include heart disease, etc. Now, how many die of drinking, including drunk driving incidents and other events caused by someone being drunk. Then, amass the amount of tax money the city receives from tobacco products and liquor events and business. Recall, smoking a pack or two of cigarettes won’t kill, or likely lead to a mental state that might. One beer could.

This is hardly advocacy for banning the drinking of alcohol. But if public health and safety are the issue, the government need not stop at smokers.