Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Shaming A Smoker Into Submission

Some friends of mine are visiting from out of town and so I decided it would be fun to meet them for breakfast. After a lovely meal at Alice's Teacup where I attempted to finish a bowl of Alice's mauritius tea-infused granola with vanilla yogurt (the bowl is huge!), we started to walk along a particularly pretty tree-lined street on Manhattan's Upper east side, facades of brownstones looming down upon us, when something happened.

Friend A reached inside her purse, pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Friend B. She turned to me and said, "Would you like one, Sam?"


I stared on in they both proceeded to light their cigarettes anyway. Maybe I am being overly sensitive but I was seriously ticked off that no one asked me (a non-smoker) whether I was okay with inhaling their second-hand smoke. I may have said yes, but the fact that I was not asked really irked me.

"You don't smoke, Sam?"

Me (already a little miffed): "No. I think it is a terrible and disgusting habit."


Me, still bothered, continued: "In fact, do you know that in New York city it is against the law to smoke in parks and public beaches?"

Friends: "What? But those are public spaces!"

Me, clearly on a roll, in my fury: "Because there are studies that have shown that even second-hand smoke in those settings can be damaging! Just like I am inhaling your second-hand smoke right now!"

Silence again.

Friend B put out his cigarette and said, good-naturedly, "Way to rip into us, Sam."

Suddenly, I felt terrible. I had shamed my smoker guests into submission.

This is a free country and people do have the right to smoke. I fiercely value my freedom and love that this country, unlike many that I have lived in, supports free speech and respects civil liberties. Plus, I grew up in a city where the malls are littered with ashtrays! Smoking  is so deeply-entrenched into the culture in that part of the world and yet, growing up, I never batted an eye-lid.

So why did this encounter evoke such a strong reaction in me? I am still not entirely sure.

I think it's partly because of the training I have undergone over the last few years, in order to become a pathologist, and because I have seen, first-hand, and examined the ugly tumors that erode angrily from the surfaces of entire lungs, bladders and colons that have been surgically removed from the bodies of smokers.

And also because I spend too much time and energy in trying to be healthy to throw it all away by passively inhaling someone else's cigarette.

But I still feel bad. I am not proud of making my friends feel like crap. It was obviously not their intention to antagonize me. They could not smoke in their hotel room. They could not smoke at Alice's Tea Cup. So could they be blamed for wanting to smoke outside on the street? I don't think so but I maintain that I should have been asked me if it was okay.

So what do you all think?

Did I over-react? What would you have done? Have you ever shamed a smoker into submission?