A few months from now, smoking will be banned completely among a large subsection of the Georgia populace that has likely dabbled in more illicit substances than Keith Richards.
No, I'm not talking about public high schools, where smoking has been banned for a while now (though not when I was there, um, several years ago). Nor am I referring to such loveable institutions as the Earl or 529, where smoking is pretty much a prerequisite.
Nope, Georgia's prisons, of all places, are banning smoking. Prison: The very place where it would seem one would really need a cigarette, not to mention a world in which the economic structure relies on cigarettes as currency.
So while prisons will be "smoke-free" (in the same way they're "drug-free," but that's beside the point), Atlanta's bars and restaurants — at least those restaurants that shun children — will continue to permit you to smoke to your heart's content.
Of course, your heart's content literally will be diminished if you're smoking, or even hanging out in the presence of a lot of other smokers. If a recent study is to be believed, a smoking ban can decrease heart-attack hospitalizations by more than 40 percent. The study looked at a workplace smoking ban, not a bar and restaurant one, but still ... aren't bars and restaurants workplaces? What about those guys' lungs? Another piece of irony worth noting: The study was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, located, unfortunately for them, in Atlanta.
Personally, I'd like for local government to regulate my bad habits a little more closely. Go ahead. Challenge me to rethink that cigarette, a vice that becomes increasingly attractive the more time I spend in a bar. My thought process, admittedly empowered by that third cocktail, goes something like: "Well, I've inhaled the equivalent of two cigarettes just by breathing. Might as well make it official."
I'm not a smoker, per se. Never have been. But I do smoke a cigarette here and there (sorry, mom), and 90 percent of the time I'm smoking that cigarette in a bar.
Would I smoke less if I couldn't smoke in bars? Absolutely.
The thing is, Atlanta's actually a great contender for a ban on smoking in bars. The weather, despite what you've been exposed to over the past few weeks, is lovely most of the year. Just think of poor Chicago, where smokers are relegated to the not-so-great outdoors. Also, a lot of Atlanta bars have patios, in part because space is readily available. Not so much the case in, say, smoker-unfriendly Manhattan. Seriously, why not just make smokers go outside?
But still, we smoke. Or we inhale other people's smoke. And the government won't help us stop — at least not until we get to prison.