San Luis Obispo smokers: as you light a cigarette in public, downtown after a movie, outside a bar following a drink or two, on the way to class, do you ever feel people look at you like you’re shooting heroin into your vein?

Yes, we all know cigarettes are bad. We’ve had it drilled into our heads since we were in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in elementary school. Nevertheless, for one reason or another, some people still choose to smoke.

In 1990, San Luis Obispo became the first city in the world to ban smoking in all public buildings, including bars and restaurants. But it was not so long ago when a hostess would prompt you with “smoking or nonsmoking?” along with the number of people in your party.

Needless to say, while abroad, it was very surprising at first to have a waiter greet you and include an ashtray with the place settings and water glasses.

I would have to say I agree with the ban. Who doesn’t like to enjoy a good salad, steak or sushi roll without the smell of smoke wafting over their entr‚e?

But in a town where smoking is taboo, I would venture to say that smokers are looked down upon, even shunned for immoral conduct, if they try to smoke anywhere besides their front porch.

We all have our vices, don’t we?

I was walking on campus a few weeks ago behind a guy, who was just minding his own business and smoking. In a group of girls behind him, one loudly feigned coughing and her friend asked, “Are you OK?” The other one responded, “Well, I would be if I didn’t have smoke in my lungs.”

The guy seemed to brush it off, but it clearly made him feel uncomfortable. He shouldn’t be hounded outside in a public area simply because he chose to light up.

Another problem people have with smoking is the litter factor, but if smokers had a place to put out their cigarettes, I doubt you would find many on the ground. Just like the students that finish their coffees on the way to class don’t toss their cups on Via Carta Way or out the window on Santa Rosa Street, smokers would be less likely to stomp out their filters under their shoes after their last drag if there was an extra ashtray or two around.

In a college town, there are far more serious health risks involved with drinking. Why do we pass off people’s radical and rowdy drunken behavior as standard while we avoid those who just want to smoke a cigarette?

In 2005, 40 percent of traffic deaths in California were alcohol related, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I’ve never heard of a car accident caused by driving under the influence of nicotine or of a kid being rushed to the emergency room after having one too many cigarettes at a party.

Relax people, and let them enjoy their nicotine, just like they let you enjoy your morning coffee. Is it much different? No. If it smells, I’m sorry. But the secondhand smoke in the open air is not going to kill you. Despite the memorable television ad with the old man talking about how he lost his wife to secondhand smoke and the aggressive campaign, I think we can all be a little more tolerant of people’s quirks.

Speaking of those commercials, why should antismoking groups be allotted airtime when the tobacco industry is completely banned from advertising on TV? And how can the ban on smoking ads be justified when alcohol ads are seen in such a positive light? Super Bowl commercials, anyone?

Am I condoning parents smoking in their cars with their kids in the backseat? Negative.

Am I asking that waiters or bartenders be forced to work around secondhand smoke all day? Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.

But just as the person sitting next to you at the bar is not going to make you take a sip of their drink, we’re not going to ask you to take a drag off our cigarettes.

So mellow out, be kool, and let us enjoy our nasty little habit.

Hayley Bramble is a journalism junior and Mustang Daily staff writer.

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