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Nudge, Nudge: Smoking bans set aside laws of logic

As we all know, there are no greater villains in modern society than smokers. With that in mind, non-smokers are stepping up the offensive.

As we all know, there are no greater villains in modern society than smokers. With that in mind, non-smokers are stepping up the offensive.

Ian Ferguson, a Victoria film/television-maker, writer and smoker, recently fired up a ciggie on a downtown sidewalk. A young man riding by on a bicycle commented, “Now there’s a bad habit.”

Ferguson said: “You know what else is a bad habit? Being rude. Because it sometimes gets you punched in the face.”

“The kid did his best Lance Armstrong and vanished,” Ferguson later told me. “Not that I was planning to chase him. I’d be winded after half a block. Although I am considering switching to smoking something more socially acceptable here on the West Coast, like dope, or meth, or crack.”

An Ottawa-based tech company, Momentous, recently made headlines over its policy of hiring only non-smokers. That’s a 24-hour-a day ban on smoking — which, of course, includes the would-be employee’s free time away from the office.

Online, its anti-smoking stance is No. 10 on a list of 10 declared values: “We drink. We swear. We don’t f--king smoke.” Only the third word isn’t hyphenated. (Value No. 6 is, by the way, “We have more balls than Ikea.”)

Momentous’s president, Rob Hall, was quizzed by a journalist about his anti-smoking policy. “Everyone knows that smoking kills you,” he said. “And we prefer to work with very intelligent people who aren’t choosing to kill themselves with every puff.”

That would rule out folk like Barack Obama, who smoked when he first took office (he’s since quit). Not to mention Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. These poor schmos would be ineligible to work at Momentous (even if three of them weren’t already dead). And that’s a shame. Because Momentous — a software and web developer — is a very hip company.

There’s the stuff about Momentous being kosher with swearing, drinking and being more ballsy than a Swedish furniture company. Also, Momentous allows dogs in the office. No doubt, employees play Hacky Sack on their decaf coffee breaks while pondering their next flash-mob sortie.

Smoking and smokers are bad. And Greater Victoria politicians know this. That’s why the Capital Regional District is steadily moving toward banning smoking on beaches and in parks. The CRD is following the lead of Vancouver, where beach/park puffers get slammed with $250 fines. Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief health officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority, says people in parks are being exposed to “measurable levels” of second-hand smoke.

Despite the it’s-for-your-own-good intentions of it all, the logic behind such public anti-smoking stances seems dubious.

Consider the proposed CRD ban on smoking on beaches and in parks. I’m no biochemist, but it seems to me cigarette smoke dissipates pretty quickly in the open air. If one is to outlaw cigarettes, why not also ban vehicles from beach and park areas? No doubt they produce noxious fumes in far greater quantities. And car exhaust is helping create a greenhouse effect altering our planet’s weather systems.

But we like cars. And so we still gleefully drive around in them on the way to restaurants and pubs that ban smoking because, well, it’s bad for your health.

As for Momentous, how can a company dictate what employees do on their own time, as long as it’s legal? Refusing to hire people who are, say, hobby burglars seems perfectly reasonable, as burglary is anti-social, against the law and suggests a certain moral laxness. Yet smoking outside the office hurts no one but the smoker.

The joyless vilification of smokers rankles because it’s more about the mutability of societal attitudes than common sense. But of course, in the court of public opinion, the laws of logic don’t necessarily matter. Smoking, once considered OK and even cool, is now as unfashionable as the Tilley hat-wearing guy driving a metallic-purple PT Cruiser with Trooper’s Raise a Little Hell cranked up on the stereo.

Science and logic aside, here’s my own unfashionable opinion: People who never do anything that may impair their health are, for the most part, not fun people. Yet more and more, such folk are dictating how we live our lives.

Shall we punch them in the face? Certainly not. But we can certainly take their black-and-white dictums with a Hacky Sack-sized grain of salt.