A simple moment last week made me realize that I really don’t appreciate having cigarette smoke along with my lunch.
Maybe I’m just getting older and, in some ways, a bit less tolerant. But this little episode reminded me how far we have come in terms of our expectations regarding second-hand smoke in public places.
As I have mentioned before in this blog, my wife and I travel quite a bit for various professional and personal activities. Last weekend, we happened to be in Pentagon City, Virginia while she was attending a medical organizational meeting.
On Sunday, we were caught in the middle of an ice and snow storm. Although seated on the plane at 6AM, the flight was cancelled because of the weather and we trooped back to the hotel to wait out the storm. The hotel happened to be attached to a large shopping mall.
That afternoon, we decided to go to lunch at a well-known chain restaurant which was located in the mall.
When we were seated, we asked for a non-smoking section, knowing full well that Virginia is far behind other states when it comes to controlling public smoking, including in restaurants.
We were seated near the bar, which in itself wasn’t a problem. The time was about 2:40PM. There were 3 or 4 other tables seated in the same area.
And, then it happened.
Shortly after 3PM, the host sat a table of four a couple of spots away from us and the other guests.
Out came the cigarettes, and the puffing promptly started. Soon the area was filled with cigarette smoke (which was an accomplishment, since there was no wall between the smokers’ table and the mall. So, in a sense, it was a very open space).
The next event was at the table next to the smokers, where two young women were sitting. It became evident quickly that they were very, very uncomfortable with the cigarette smoke. They promptly began waving their hands through the air to dispel the smoke, and complained to their server.
Another table next to us promptly asked to close out their tab, and left the restaurant.
Our lunch was served, and we ate our meal under duress.
The puffers puffed on.
As we left the restaurant, I asked the host why he sat us in a smoking area when we specifically asked for a non-smoking section.
His answer floored me. He told us when he sat us at about 2:45, the area was non-smoking. It became a smoker’s area at 3PM. Too bad.
To say the least, I thought this was one of the most ridiculous things I have heard in a restaurant in a long time. By then, the manager was with us, and I told her also what I thought of their bizarre policy.
So much for taking care of the customer. “Caveat emptor” appears to be the rule of their day.
We then went back into our hotel, which happened to be one of those nicer chains that is known for being very accommodating for their guests.
I realized then that we were in Virginia—a notorious smokers’ paradise—and we hadn’t had a similar experience in this particular hotel.
We came across one of the hotel managers as we walked in, and I asked him what their policy was.
He proudly declared that, since they are a member of an international chain that has gone smoke-free, they had to ban smoking in their hotel.
Prior to that time, he told us, they had limited smoking to a few tables in their restaurants and lounge area. He indicated that one of his greatest job-related stresses was that he had numerous guests complaining about the smoke while he was trying to accommodate some of his regular clientele who were smokers (I found out later that this particular hotel has hosted a number of very well known international figures).
When the hotel smoking ban went into effect, he continued, his stress level eventually went way down, and his business went way up.
His non-smoking customers no longer pestered him. His smoking customers asked if he no longer liked them, but they eventually understood the policy was real and was going to be enforced. They adapted.
He also admitted that he was a smoker and had to learn to go outside to consume his cigarettes.
This episode reminded me of another similar eye-opener that happened to us back in September in a hotel not far away in Alexandria, Virginia back in September.
Once again, my wife and I were attending a committee meeting. The hotel was part of another chain, and was more of a business meeting oriented type of place. This chain has not gone smoke free.
In this particular venue, we were in meetings downstairs when we realized we smelled tobacco smoke throughout the public spaces.
Once again, we realized, the great state of Virginia allows smoking in public places, including the wide open lounge area one story up. The air—and the smoke—circulated throughout all of the public spaces.
Eyes were tearing, people were annoyed, and the attendees once again advised our staff that our meeting should never come back to a non-smoking venue.
Las Vegas is another episode that still sticks in my mind, and I have written about that previously. There, again, the meeting attendees made it very clear through a successful resolution that we never wanted to come back to a hotel or meeting space that permitted smoking.
I must admit that this is an issue that has grown on me.
When I was younger, smoking was generally acceptable in all sorts of public spaces. Restaurants, grocery stores, offices—you name it, you could smoke.
But now I am older, and I cringe whenever I smell tobacco smoke in a public place. I just don’t like it. My wife doesn’t like it. My friends don’t like it. And it certainly can screw up a good meal.
One of the more amusing sights that I have seen with increasing frequency while driving is smokers in cars holding their cigarettes outside the car through a wide open window while they are driving and smoking. Heck, even they don’t seem to like it.
So, Virginia, you may proclaim you are for lovers, but I think you are for smokers. I understand the politics you face, especially since you are home to a lot of tobacco farmers and cigarette makers who have employed your citizens, filled your coffers with taxes (although not so much on cigarettes) and spent considerable sums on philanthropic endeavors—not to mention the probable sizeable donations they make to your politicians.
But the air in some of your restaurants and some of your hotels stinks.
You are one of the cradles of liberty. “Give me liberty or give me death” was your rallying cry.
Now, I suggest, maybe it is time you rethink the meaning of those hallowed words. I no longer have the freedom to enjoy myself in your restaurants, and you may be sowing the seeds of death with exposure to second-hand smoke.
More surreptitiously, you may be sowing seeds of financial difficulties when a few more people like me start to stay away with our meetings and our money.
Plain and simple: We may be lovers, but we don’t want to come back. We no longer want to smell your smoke.