Smokers get burnt end of the stick
With Hawaii's tough new anti-smoking law taking affect last week, I was a little worried about how my friend Hardly Coughin was coping. I found him strangely upbeat, hunkered under his house smoking a cigarette.
"Hardly, you can smoke in your own house," I pointed out. "That's about the only place under the new law you can smoke."
"Not in my house, or, I should say, my WIFE's house," he said. "She's worried the cats are going to get emphysema or something. Besides, I like the peace and quiet under here." He hands me a beer from a cooler.
I told him he seemed to be taking the new law pretty well, considering it makes it illegal to smoke just about anywhere in the state except private homes -- with consenting spouses.
"Yeah, well, I was angry at first," he said, taking a drag and holding the cigarette with the kind of affection one might hold a pet mouse. I think he actually petted the thing.
"I mean, on the one hand, they expect us smokers to prop up the state financially. They keep raising the tax on cigarettes to bring money into the government. They actually need more smokers to keep everything paid for. But do they thank us for throwing away our health just so we can keep the state solvent? No. They treat us like heroin pushers."
I point out that they actually treat smokers worse than heroin pushers. Heroin pushers are sent to prison, one of the few places in the state where smoking is still allowed.
"You mean if I knock over a 7-Eleven, I could go to prison and smoke as much as I want?"
Yep, I said. He looked dreamily at the water heater, apparently considering various ways of getting arrested.
"No," he said, finally. "I'm not going to prison just so I can smoke. At least not yet. I just don't understand all the hostility directed toward smokers. I was smoking in my own car stuck in a traffic jam the other day, and some lady starts screaming at me from the next car over. Screaming! Said she could smell my smoke and I had no right to kill her with my cigarettes. When she wasn't screaming she was shoveling down a plate lunch ... greasy ribs and gravy and mayo-mac salad and bread and butter and slurping down a Pepsi the size of a trash can. She weighed about 800 pounds. I said, 'Listen, my little humpback whale, it's not my secondhand smoke that's going to kill you. It's all that garbage your shoving down your gullet.'"
He looked at me sadly. "Why don't they put a health tax on plate lunches and mayonnaise?"
Good point, I agree. Being the founder of the Worldwide I Hate Mayonnaise Club -- which, incidentally is about to be featured on the Food Network's Rachael Ray show -- I've always wondered why mayo isn't on the federal government's list of dangerous substances. Like firearms, there should at least be a five-day waiting period to buy a jar of the disgusting slime. I notice he's smiling again and ask why he's so happy despite all the recent anti-smoking action.
"Because I got a plan, buddy boy," he says, stroking his coffin nail. "I'm going to get rich off this no-smoking law."
"How so?" I inquired.
"You can smoke in a private house, right?" he said, eyes twinkling in a very deranged sort of way. "So, me and about 150 of my closest smoking buddies are going to buy some property out in the country. We'll be co-owners. We'll build a big 'house,' about the size of your average restaurant. And we'll meet there in our house to enjoy smoking cigarettes. Then, just to make things comfy, we'll install a nice big kitchen and dining room and put on some great 'family' dinners. Then we'll put in a big, long bar, because family members who smoke together like to have the occasional snoot, if you catch my drift. And we'll put in a couple of big-screen TVs for football games and such. And maybe a pool table. There'll we'll be, having a beer, watching a game, smoking at will and having the same kind of great time we used to have at those high-priced nightclubs. But the beauty of it is that we will all be 'owners' of this joint. It will be our private home, and any wives or husbands that don't like it can go somewhere else. The government won't be able to touch us. And I'll take a big cut of all the food and booze sales. Soon there'll be these private smoking houses all over the island. I'll be a millionaire."
Sending out a string of smoke rings, Hardly Coughin seemed quite happy with this vision of the future as I clambered out from under his house and to my car. Could such a thing happen? I don't know. There must be something in the new law to keep a bunch of like-minded people from enjoying smoking together on their own property. The constitutional guarantee of freedom of association apparently doesn't apply to smokers. And even if he and his friends got busted for running an illegal smoking operation, what's the worst that could happen? They'd all go to prison where they'd get to smoke anyway.
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org