Indoor second hand smoking — the one thing that pisses me off

I need to get in the habit of anticipating second hand smoking in restaurants during my China stay. This is my single biggest complaint throughout past, present and future visits. My nose is especially sensitive to cigarette smells. It used to be not like that, for instance when I was studying in the Netherlands a decade ago. I must have acquired the distaste for cigarettes during my miserable year in low income NYC apartment, where the entire unit was permeated from time to time by neighborly tobacco. Maybe European cigarettes were not as repulsive as the American or Chinese ones.

The fact that some of my wife’s family relatives work in the tobacco industry does not soften my stance against smoking. I had childhood history of asthma and even as an adult often had coughs and lung infections as a result of catching influenza. The recent article about a Beijing retiree’s miserable death by N3H2 that bankrupted his whole family, after they sold all their houses, makes me financially more conscious of lung protection.

As soon as I walked into my aunt in law (mother in law’s sister)’s luxurious apartment home, I was greeted by the familiar toxic puffs, radioactively spread from my half younger uncle in law (aunt in law’s younger half brother)’s shtick. Fortunately, the female in laws stepped up their complaints in defense of my daughter’s health, and my younger half uncle in law obediently stepped out to the balcony to finish his smoldering stub, and stayed smoke-free for the rest of the afternoon. I often marvel at how people like my aunt in law can stand such second hand smoking environment on a daily basis. It is almost cruel for me to remind them the carcinogenic risk of second hand smoking, in a society where it is virtually unavoidable.

Later in the evening, we walked over to a restaurant to bid farewell to my younger sisterly cousin in law (my wife’s sisterly cousin, for lack of a better term), who was flying back to Australia early the following morning, as well as my half uncles in law, who would be heading back to their small village town the next day as well. This time, I was much more alert to the possibility of indoor smoking. Sure enough, a gentleman sitting diagonally from our table puffed like business as usual. Smokers do strike me as tougher human beings whose rights are harder to infringe upon, just like my younger half uncle in law, whose tone became more gangsterly under the aura of cigarette smoke. Fortunately I knew better than confronting a puffing stranger directly, and turned to a young waiter looking for errands. “My good sir”, I walked over with a hand covering our conversation, “there are several young kids here, would you mind asking that gentleman there to not smoke indoor?” The waiter looked initially confused, defensively. Then as I insisted through my condescending gaze, he replied that some senior manager would need to intervene. I was briefly reassured and started looking forward to a worry-free meal, until he and a slightly more senior female attendant approached me at my seat and explained thus, “you know we do put up the smoking is prohibited sign at the entrance, but in our restaurant business, we really can’t upset the customers about smoking restrictions since it’s a local custom. You can move your daughter two seats to the left so that the smoker isn’t seated as closely.” While extremely unhappy, I knew there is little I can do and what they told me was largely the truth.

To my brief relief, the two staffs did walk over to the gentleman, and even though I didn’t overhear their conversation, the man did not pick up another shtick for the rest of the evening. And the relief lasted about 5 minutes, when a gentleman seated right next to our table became the next source of the local custom. At this point, I could only force myself to get used to it and have a nice meal.

Later that night I feverishly scoured and other almighty shopping sites for tobacco masks or nose filters, and did find a few. But even under the rage and rabidity of physical violated, I knew full well these contraptions were no substitute for a clean environment with strictly enforced indoor smoking bans.

There is nothing more irritating than cigarettes in this otherwise perfectly lovely and harmonious country. Is it the need to appear tough, calm, and carpe-diem, that propelled generations of male workforce onto the tobacco stage? Surely the political leaders did not act as great role models. Population density may be another important factor, since NYC was not in a very different situation. Even though I am not a big believer in marijuana legalization, concerned about its psychological effect on our young kids and social mores in general, I would not hesitate if it can completely weed out tobacco, a much more criminal substance that takes toll on my lung cells directly. Had cigarettes been invented in more recent history, it would have been strangled in the cradle by the FDA and similar organizations in other countries without a doubt. Traditions like that and islamic jihadism and Catholic condom ban unfortunately have to continually be tolerated in societies.


About aquazorcarson

math PhD at Stanford, studying probability
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