Cigarettes & Smoking: Why is this drug still legal?

Source: stock.xchngEvery day I take the bus to work. It’s the most economical method of transportation if not the quickest way of getting there. I could shave about 15 minutes off my commute time if I drove in. But parking a car downtown is expensive.

Because I ride the bus, I do a decent amount of walking through the streets of downtown and there is a very big downside to walking through downtown Ottawa - cigarette smoke.

As I walk to and from the bus or stand waiting for one to come, I am assaulted by the smell of cigarette smoke. The worst spot, by far, is the stop beside a shopping centre where a dozen or more smokers seem to congregate at any given time. The City of Ottawa has a by-law that says you can’t smoke within 9 meters of the entrance to a building. This by-law isn’t enforced that I’ve ever seen. Drive through downtown and check out any building entrance you pass and you’re almost sure to see at least one smoker by the door puffing away. The big challenge in downtown Ottawa is that there’s often not even 9 meters between building entrances, so where can a smoker go to light up? I get that.

However, I’d personally like to see smoking banned.

Make it illegal.


This is not a popular stance amongst smokers - obviously - but I’m past the point of caring. Study after study has shown the damage cigarette smoking does to a body, yet it’s remained a legal drug. Study after study has shown the damage that second hand smoke does to non-smokers. Yet non-smokers are still forced - yes, forced - to inhale the toxic smoke emitted by smokers who have the right to smoke. 

For the record, I often try to hold my breath to avoiding breathing it in, but this isn’t always an option.

And the government - in Canada, at least - applies huge taxes on purchasing cigarettes as a “deterrent”. With any addiction, the addict rarely cares about the price. Just ask a drug addict who lives on the street how much the cost of their drug of choice deters them from wanting it. This “deterrent” is laughable to me. It’s always sounded more like a cash grab.

One cold, rainy day last spring, I walked through a crowd of smokers and the smell lingered on my jacket so badly from less than 30 seconds of exposure that I had to take it to be cleaned. But the unpleasant smell is only the superficial side of the argument against smoking.

I’ve had personal experience with the detrimental effects of smoking with loved ones. I’ve seen what it does in several members of my family and as a result I am passionately against smoking. When I mentioned this post, one family member said to me:

“I hope you realize that, despite my smoking for years, I believe it to be stupid, expensive, filthy and unhealthy. There is, in my opinion, no redeeming quality to it.” 

When a smoker feels that way, you know it’s difficult to quit.

Thirteen years ago when I met Matt, we talked for about two months before it occurred to me to ask if he was a smoker. He said that he wasn’t and that he’s actually allergic to cigarette smoke. Then he asked me what I would have done if he’d said that he was a smoker. And I said, without hesitation, that he’d have to quit or we wouldn’t continue with a relationship.

You think that’s harsh, don’t you?

You’re right, but this was (and still is) a non-negotiable area for me. I had no choice about it growing up with family members who smoked. Choosing a life partner who smokes was out of the question; I made that decision when I was about 11 and tried a cigarette for the first (and last) time of my life.

I wanted to see what was so attractive about smoking. I snuck a cigarette from a pack and slipped away to hide while I tried the cigarette. I barely got it lit, because I didn’t know what I was doing. Once lit, I mimicked the action I’d seen family do, breathing in through the cigarette I was holding between my two fingers. I didn’t inhale much because it didn’t feel or taste good.

About two puffs in, my mom began calling for me. I hurriedly put out the cigarette and rush inside, not even thinking about the lingering smell on my clothes and breath. It would be a gross understatement to say that my parents were not happy with me. What I learned that day is that smoking (like beer) is an acquired taste that I preferred not to acquire. The smell, taste, feel and look of smoking wasn’t more appealing after I tried it. Worse, my parents’ ire wasn’t worth trying it again anyway.

I made a conscious decision that day to never smoke again - and I haven’t. The one exception occurs when others are smoking around me and I am forced to breathe it in.

Smokers have the right to smoke, but what about my right to clean air?


There is no greater gift that a smoker can give his or her loved ones than to stop smoking. I’ve had loved ones quit and it makes me happier than I can even express. If you’re a smoker and would like to quit, but don’t know where to start, you can get help from Smokers’ Helpline (in Canada) or the American Lung Association (in the U.S.).

Public transit adventures

Now that I'm working downtown again, I am reminded of all the really interesting things you get to witness on the commute to and from, as well as throughout the day. Naturally, this is partly due to taking the bus. The demographics of those who use public transport cross every age group, most income levels and every race - especially since Ottawa is such a diverse city. For me, taking the bus has reminded me what a small world we live in.

Just a couple of weeks ago I bumped into a former co-worker who is one of the nicest, most genuine people you could meet. We lost touch with each other when I parted ways with our once mutual employer. When we ran into each other at the bus stop, it was the first time I'd seen her in almost 9 years. It turns out that she lives - almost literally - around the corner from me.  Her life and mine have both changed dramatically in the years since we worked together and I'm thrilled to have the chance to reconnect. 

One thing about riding the bus that makes me curious is how riders will often have very personal conversations on the phone or with other riders they know. Okay, it's not that they have personal conversations - I would too, to an extent. What gets me is how many people have conversations of that nature that are so loud the entire bus can hear. I'm just a very private person (I say as I blog away). I don't really want to know others' business either so I usually escape to my music and other activities on my phone - like blogging about riding the bus.

One of my favorite activities I do to entertain myself on the bus is people watching - when I'm not reading, gaming, texting or blogging. I'll often look at someone and then invent a name for them and a whole life story just based on how they look. It isn't about judging them - sometimes it's the look on their face for a split second that activates my imagination. In truth, I don't know them, so I guess it's more a way for me to flex my imaginative muscles.

Every once in a while, I see someone or something that makes me stop and wonder.

Recently, I was sitting absorbed in my little world when a passenger got on and sat next to me. Nothing at all unusual about that. I probably wouldn't have even given her a second thought except for the scent that she seemed to have bathed in was making me think twice about staying seated.

There are three things that have motivated me to get up and move to another location on the bus - the nauseating scents of a really heavy smoker (today, I landed beside a really heavy smoker who also smelled like beer - at 7:00am), someone with really bad hallitosis who is also a mouth breather and people who dip themselves in a vat of bad perfume, cologne or whatever. I don't do this to be rude at all; I'm extremely sensitive to certain smells and all of these make me feel ill.

On the day that smelly lady sat next to me, I decided to stick it out as I wasn't far from work when she got on. Besides, sometimes I can breathe through my mouth and manage to keep the smell from bothering me too much. (I just hope I don't have really bad hallitosis!) In this case, I was surreptitiously checking out this woman. She was in her late 50s/early 60s and I noticed when she got on that she was wearing a fitted coat that looked good on her. Because her hair and makeup were perfectly done, at first glance I would have pegged her to be an executive type. Then I happened to spot the white leather cuff secured to her forearm over the sleeve of the black fitted coat. It was an odd accessory choice, so I thought she might have a little eccentric streak.

Her hair was the dark, dark red that would be auburn, but it's too red to really be called auburn. She had a short, stylish cut that was well suited to her petite frame. Everything about her seemed to indicate that she cared about her appearance and spent time on it. I can respect that. It feels good to look good. She had well-manicured nails - painted quite perfectly with black polish...yuck! (I'm sorry if you're a fan of black polish, but I'm not and never will be. I don't like dark nail polish of any color, mostly because dark colors all look stupid on me because I have such fair skin.)

When we were approaching my stop, the woman next to me went to the door just ahead of me and I saw - for the first time - the rest of her outfit. Black flats, black leggings, a pleated skirt - gray, with a fine plaid pattern that hit her just below the knee, and peeking out from under the fitted (and also fairly short) coat was a long, flowery, flowing blouse. I really don't care about fashion - making sure my clothes match each day is the most effort I'm willing to put into my wardrobe. But even I could see this was a fairly odd combination that made me wonder how it could be pulled off. The really crazy thing is that she might have been successful at it! This woman was very confident. She walked and acted as if she knew who she was and had no fear. Perhaps she's very fashion forward...though, I would request that we leave pleated skirts in the past or for girls under age 10. I used to love them 20 years ago, but I'm not such a big fan anymore.