I wrote this after reading about a nearby county's effort to ban smoking in the workplace.
| For those of you who haven’t read it yet, scientists have uncovered a new fact about the universe — Everything relates back to “The Simpsons.”
Okay, that first part about the scientists was a lie, but I stand by everything after the dash, and I bet I can find at least one scientician to back me up. Learned Harvard Simpsonologists have cited literally bilions of examples of world events, social debates and everyday occurrences that have been predicted, commented upon or can at least be traced back in some way, however minute or obscure, to Western civilization’s longest-running prime time animated series. Well, it would be more accurate to replace the words “learned Harvard Simpsonologists” with the words “some of my friends and I,” and the words “billions of” with “several.” But I still think my argument holds up.
Now, if we can draw broad, sweeping generalizations from a single example — and I think, as citizens of the most powerful and well-liked nation on Earth, we can — let’s take a look at the recent debate in Allegheny County over a move to ban smoking in the workplace.
I was just reading an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a public hearing held recently by the Allegheny County Council to discuss the proposed countywide ban. Proponents of the ban noted the health benefits of not exposing restaurant and bar employees to an early and painful death from lung cancer. Opponents said it was an infringement on smokers’ right to slowly and publicly kill themselves, and of business owners to make as much money as possible at the expense of their workers’ respiratory systems. Both sides make a compelling argument, but the real issue here is this: What would “The Simpsons” say?
Fortunately, because upwards of 71 percent of the information I stuffed my brain with in college has been slowly filtered out through my sweat glands and other excretory functions in order to make room for Simpsons quotes, I have the answer.
Like a cartoon lightbulb over my head, a specific line from a specific scene in a specific episode immediately pops up from my cerebral cortex. Upon seeing Selma Bouvier (Marge Simpson’s gravel-voiced sister) light up a smoke in a fine dining restaurant, a patron at the next table quips, “Excuse me, I ordered a Zima, not emphysema.”
Aside from being such a wittily-crafted gibe, doesn’t the remark contain a kernel of wisdom? You decide.
Think about this.
An estimated 60,000 Americans die of lung cancer each year because of the cigarette smoke they inhale — and those are people who don’t even smoke. They just breath in the carcinogens billowing from the word holes and smell holes of those around them. To measure that number of deaths in terms everyone these days may be better able to appreciate, we can think about it as 9/11, times roughly 20 — every year.
Now, it would obviously be just plain silly and insulting to equate smokers with terrorists. For one thing, not all smokers kill people on purpose. I’m only pointing out that they unintentionally kill 20 times as many Americans (on American soil, mind you) in every 12-month period as Osama bin Laden Inc. has managed to kill in the last five years total. But there is a difference, of course.
Osama tends to kill people (or more accurately, have them killed) for various weighty and complex reasons. He’s evil, he hates freedom and so forth. Smokers, although they have many more confirmed kills, aren’t nearly so devious. At the very worst, they kill people from a simple lack of consideration. They’re practically innocent, if you stop to think about it. Victims is what they really are in a sense. Victims of addiction combined with oppression. Maybe even...heroes? And here we sit condemning them for ending a few thousand lives — of people who would have eventually died anyway, I might add.
So maybe they should just be allowed to continue to puff away unabated wherever they please. After all, this is Amercia, right? Sure we lose a few waitresses and bartenders. But we have countless workers positively streaming over the border to replace them — workers who are willing to take daily abuse from rude customers for even less than the poverty wage paid to those whose shoes they're filling.
And let’s not forget, we’re at war here. And if we start to give up our rights now, then the terrorists have already won. Look at New York state. They’ve banned smoking in bars and restaurants, and they’ve lost thousands more to terrorism than Pennsylvania has. Coincidence? Let’s not be naive.
And before we go banning this or that from public buildings, we ought to consider the very real possibility that smokers may even be helping us win this War on Terror.
Don’t you think it must be awfully discouraging to the enemy to witness the speed and efficiency with which we are able kill ourselves while they struggle in vain to get a tube of Colgate onto a plane? “Sixty thousand a year!” they will say. “There’s no way we can compete with that! Let’s give our two-week notice to al Qaida and apply for jobs at Phillip-Morris.”