Commentary: The end of smoking as we know it

This past summer, I stayed in a hotel (which will go nameless, but it was on the West Coast) that had smoking rooms as well as non-smoking rooms.

Our room was technically "non-smoking," but the first time we walked out into the hall, I smelled something I realized I hadn't smelled in a long time: A whole lot of cigarette smoke.

"It's actually kind of nice to smell a little smoke," I joked to my sister and my cousin. "Nobody smokes anywhere anymore!"

I realize I'm not exactly old, but I still remember a time when smoking was a lot more rampant and catching a whiff of smoke was not an exotic, unusual thing.

I remember smoking sections in restaurants, and bars and clubs were definitely never smoke-free.

When I was in college at the University of Maryland, College Park, you could go out to, say, Black Cat in D.C. and leave at 2 a.m. reliably smelling like an entire ashtray.

(It probably didn't help that Black Cat was a "hipster" club, and hipsters smoked a lot. I think they still do.)

Obviously, indoor smoking used to be even more prevalent, although that was before my time.

I was watching a CBS special from the 1960s online a while ago, and at one point, they were filming inside a college lecture class.

I was shocked to see one of the students casually light up a cigarette, right in the middle of class! I had no idea that kind of thing ever happened.

People did smoke at my college, outside the buildings, obviously. It was mostly cigarettes, but I knew one guy who smoked a pipe.

(I recently walked through St. John's College in Annapolis and a bunch more people were smoking pipes, so apparently College Park just wasn't quirky/intellectual enough.)

But now even bars, at least in Maryland and Washington, D.C., are mostly clean as a whistle. Apparently California took the lead on this one, as it banned smoking in bars in 1998.

The British comedian Eddie Izzard made fun of this at the time.

"First no smoking in bars, and soon no drinking and no talking!" he warned. "Be careful, California, you're supposed to be the crazy state, the out-there, wild one."

It was true, and after California got a smoking ban, I guess the other states didn't even stand a chance.

When I was growing up, adults regularly tried to make smoking seem horrifying and very un-cool. We had someone come to our elementary school who had to breathe through a hole in their neck, just to show us the ravages of tobacco use.

This is all well and good, but the reality is, smoking IS cool, and it probably always will be. People smoking on TV or in movies will still be sexy. There will always be songs like "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" by The Platters or, more recently, "Shanghai Cigarettes" by Caitlin Rose.

Don't get me wrong, I definitely think banning smoking in public places has been a great thing, and I am thrilled that so many people have improved their health by quitting smoking. Even the decision to ban cigarettes in bars was probably a good idea.

I have never smoked, so I am not encouraging the habit in any way.

But I also don't think catching an occasional whiff of smoke is going to kill you, so it's just a little disturbing to me that smoking has been so thoroughly eradicated.

The only thing really wrong with tobacco is it's bad for your health if you do a lot of it, just like eating tons of highly-processed foods is not a wise thing to do (although, unlike smoking, eating a bunch of Twinkies doesn't even look sexy).

But, let's face it: smoking nowadays is clearly much harder than it ever used to be. It's a lot more expensive, it's heavily stigmatized and, in seasons like this, it means standing outside in the freezing cold just waiting for your cigarette to burn down.

I think smokers have been penalized enough, and I'm OK with running across some occasional smoke.

It's kind of nostalgic, and it's a reminder of a good message for the winter holiday season (courtesy of Oscar Wilde, who was a smoker):

"Everything in moderation, including moderation."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad