Trapped in a car with a smoker
WHEN I was eight years old, I had surgery on my foot, which meant a cast and crutches, and it also meant I couldn’t take the school bus. Instead, for a few weeks I got to go in a taxi. The taxi was awesome; I got to sit in the front and muck with the meter, and chatter to my personal chauffeur, Marie. She was kind and gruff and chain-smoked the entire ride, her gravelly voice no doubt the result of those endless cigarettes.
I was fascinated, watching her use the car’s lighter. I’d inhale as deeply as I could as the initial curl of smoke left the crackling tobacco. I can still see the red packaging and the block lettering of the brand: Du Maurier. I told myself, when I was old enough I, too, would smoke Dumo-reers.
I never did take up smoking, because eightyear-olds are curious and easily awed and sometimes dumb — and that’s why they don’t get to do things like smoke and drink and drive cars. But to this day, I remember the overwhelming urge, in just those few short weeks, to mimic this behaviour. There was a time when eightyear-olds (and the adults around them) thought it was perfectly OK to be trapped in a sealed box inhaling one of man’s most perfect carcinogens: cigarette smoke.
I don’t blame Marie, or my non-smoking parents. Around this time, nearly half of Canadians over the age of 15 smoked; that number has tumbled in the ensuing decades and now sits at just under 20 per cent. Beginning in 2008, most areas of Canada began making it illegal to smoke in a car with occupants under the age of 16 (19 in Nova Scotia). Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Quebec are still cool with letting the youngsters steep in the toxic waste of second-hand smoke.
These three places also have higher-thanaverage smoker rates; in fact Nunavut is three times the national average. Won’t anyone think of the children?
England is set to adopt a version of this law later this year, following the lead of only a handful of other countries. More are heading that way, but considering all we know about second-hand smoke, it’s a little mind-blowing so many can continue to believe it’s fine to belt kids into cars like tiny hostages and subject them to this.
I remember when Ontario introduced the ban — yet another nanny-state restriction, went the rhetoric — but really, how much can you argue? I agreed we shouldn’t have to make it a law; I also recognize it was the only way to force people to stop doing it.
Babies can’t speak for themselves, and all children of smokers have a far greater risk of themselves becoming smokers. I don’t know a parent alive who gazes lovingly at their newborn and hopes they will grow up to be addicted to nicotine.
When smoking got pushed out of restaurants and workplaces and malls and arenas, I was thrilled. That eight-year-old me had outgrown her fascination. For much of my life, it had been a smoker’s world and while I knew I was in the majority, we were, indeed, mostly silent. Science helped us out. If you’re a migraine sufferer, you’ll know why I’d like to see it extended to people who bathe in perfume or cologne.
If you’re purchasing a new car, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an ashtray and a lighter as stock equipment. You have to order a special “smoker’s package,” as manufacturers maximize space for more toys and tech as they capitalize on shrinking smoking rates. I see far fewer piles of cigarette butts in parking lots, hopefully meaning people have stopped with that filthy habit of dumping their ashtrays.
For those who still toss their cigarette butts out the window: please know there is a special place in the afterlife where you will have to face every motorcyclist who has had to dodge them.
Many of us view our vehicles as an extension of our homes. We own them, we maintain them, and we’ll do what we want in them. And I agree. I mean, I won’t buy a used car from you and neither will a lot of other people, but it’s your right to lawfully do whatever you want in your private space. Just don’t torture everyone else, regardless of age. We shouldn’t need a law for that.