Breaking: People who are smoking do not like to be told not to smoke. Particularly out in the middle of an open-aired park, surrounded by empty chairs, after they’ve been cast from bars and restaurants and their own homes. Particularly when that one cigarette comes from a pack that cost more than $11, making every puff count.
Nonetheless, with Bloomberg’s proposed ban on smoking in parks, beaches, and pedestrian areas, including in (otherwise polluted) areas like Times Square, comes the suggestion that civilians enforce the ban themselves, you know, simply by “asking other citizens to do their civic duty to just stop smoking.”
Unfortunately, this is an idea that works far better, if it works at all, in a conceptual form than in actual practice, as the New York Times points out in an experiment in which they ask public smokers to put out their nasty butts.
In Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan, a sleekly dressed woman, teeth clenched in barely suppressed rage, asked, “Is it illegal?”
Informed that soon it might be, she grudgingly snuffed out her cigarette in the grass: “The last time a government endeavored to keep people from smoking, it was actually Hitler. You should look into it.”
Okay, but seriously, beyond the problem of backing much-maligned smokers against the wall even further (cornered animals will bite), there’s the whole issue that this sort of civilian manners policing completely goes against everything New York stands for and is. We ignore each other, conscientiously. We don’t make eye contact unless absolutely necessary. We live in close proximity to complete strangers. And that is how we survive. Imagine if this were to happen:
“I’m looking for Gale Brewer, citizen, to be able to say to the other citizen: ‘Excuse me, sir, but that’s illegal. You really can’t smoke here,’ ” said Ms. Brewer, the councilwoman who introduced the bill at the City Council meeting on Thursday.
Oh, gawd. We don’t even smoke, really — I mean, only sometimes, like when we drink — but jeez, this is going to make New Yorkers hella annoying if it goes down. Regardless of how disgusting a habit is, and whether people should quit said habit, why should strangers be assigned the responsibility of telling them what not to do, when friends and family have likely failed? You just know there’s going to be some pushy asshole who will love this game and take to the streets empowered by an invisible hand. And we will all have to take it until finally some smoker breaks down and fights back, and the fragile social construct upon which we are built falls, and chaos ensues.
It’s one thing to hate the cops for slapping you with a $50 fine. You’re supposed to hate the cops. But actively hating your busybody neighbor for getting all in your business? Might as well move to the suburbs and join the PTA. Or to Montana and start stockpiling weapons — and cigarettes.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 17, 2010