Maryland's tough new smoking ban has only been in effect a few days, but that's more than enough time for a columnist to form snap judgment and jump to hasty conclusions about how it's working.
So let's see what we have here, shall we: Sullen office workers huddling in doorways for a few frantic puffs before rushing back to their stress-filled jobs. Resentful factory employees grabbing a smoke in the rain on their lousy 10-minute break. Sociopathic inmates and jittery guards sweating out nicotine withdrawal in the hellholes of violent penitentiaries. Yep, all in all, I'd say the ban's working just fine.
The law continues the decades-old movement that has gradually recast the smoker in the role of Social Leper.
I'm not a smoker myself, but the way things are going, smokers might soon be wearing sackcloth and ringing a bell and crying out "Unclean! Unclean!" when out in public.
In the building where I work, male smokers on my floor used to be confined to lighting up in the men's room.
The men's room! Say, there's an uplifting place to grab a smoke! That'll really make a smoker feel good about his habit, huh?
But I guess smoking against the lovely backdrop of porcelain urinals and graffiti-scarred stalls and toilets flushing loudly was too good for these poor slobs.
Because now they have to take the elevator down five floors and smoke outside the building, which is like going to New Hampshire for a smoke in terms of the time it takes.
Then again, once you get outside, there's a lovely view of traffic inching up Calvert Street and the odd transvestite or two. So I guess it is worth it.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, by the way, was remarkably consistent throughout the crafting of the new law, waffling every step of the way.
First he said smoking would be banned in almost all indoor workplaces except small bars and restaurants.
Then he said, OK, you can smoke in bars and restaurants that are a little bigger, too.
Then he said, OK, you can smoke in any bar.
Then he said, OK, you can smoke in any restaurant, too, as long as it has a separate dining room for smokers and the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars.
So you really have to hand it to the governor. Once he puts his foot down on an issue, boy, that's it. End of debate.
You wonder if this is any indication of the no-nonsense way things work around the Glendening household, where the guy must be a regular Don Corleone. More likely, the conversations go something like this:
Guv's kid: "Dad, how 'bout five bucks?"
Guv: "Absolutely not!"
Guv's kid: "But, Dad . . ."
Guv (opening wallet): "OK, here you go."
Anyway, as you can imagine, the new ban is not exactly being greeted with noisemakers and confetti by hard-core smokers, who view this as another example of the Health Gestapo goose-stepping into the personal lives of citizens.
On the other hand, non-smokers, especially the Fresh Air Fanatics wing of the movement, are thrilled with the ban and the idea of not being exposed to second-hand smoke. And the truth is, no matter what compromise Mr. Glendening reached with tavern and restaurant owners, hotel associations, etc., it wasn't going to satisfy everyone anyway.
It's interesting to note that the new smoking ban even extends to TC prisons, where, I'm guessing, things can get somewhat tense and a fella may find himself in need of a Marlboro every now and again to calm the nerves.
I find it difficult to muster much sympathy for prison inmates, being of the mind that if you stick a gun in an old lady's face and rob her, you should be doing more than cracking a Diet Coke and watching Montel Williams and barking to the guard: "My lawyer call yet?"
Nevertheless, it has to be a jolt for an inmate to hear: "Look, we're locking you away for 20 years. You'll be surrounded by 500 of the most dangerous, twisted, psychopathic criminals this side of Leavenworth. Plus you'll be bunking with a hulking ax murderer who lifts weights and is, by turns, filled with rage and oddly affectionate.
"Oh, and by the way, no smoking."
I don't know . . . isn't that a little severe? It seems to me that a guy who's just fended off 15 drooling thugs in the shower room with nothing more than a sharpened toothbrush deserves to kick back with a Salem if he chooses.
Although I could be wrong about this.