Let People Breathe

It is difficult to point out even one law in Israel that is properly enforced, but the law on smoking in public places - that one is enforced energetically and with strange fervor.

I candidly admit, to my shame, that I am a smoker. I smoke less than I did in the past and more than I should. I am aware of the damage smoking causes. Because of this, I quit a hundred times and, for the hundredth time, went back to my evil ways. How does a man like you smoke, I've been asked. And what does "a man like you" mean? Someone who is not a total idiot, and knows what poison is being sucked into his body. To those who are surprised, I respond that my smoking is the proof that perfect people are a rarity - no one is without some deviance, and that is mine. I wasted my "character" on conquering other inclinations and did not have any heroism left over.

Nevertheless, I am in favor of the law limiting smoking in public places; I always voted for it. No one other than myself should have to suffer for my weakness, and the damage of even passive smoke is bad, although there is a tendency to exaggerate it. Second, such a restraint is good for me: In this way, the veil of smoke is lifted, and for an hour I take my leave of the company of lepers and temporarily join the company of healthy people whose sick energy levels have always aroused amazement and jealousy.

But there is a line, and in recent weeks it has been crossed. They have gone completely crazy, those Knesset members. Throughout the Western world, laws have been passed limiting smoking, and restaurants, bars and cafes are off-limits to smokers. But in no other country have lawmakers been tempted to take such draconian measures.

On January 1, a law will go into effect in France prohibiting smoking in public places. They have already started talking there about the second French Revolution. A whole culture of coffee, cigarettes and intellectual conversation might go down the drain. Who can imagine the city of lights snuffing out the dim torch at the end of the cigarettes of philosophers, authors, poets and painters? How naked Paris will look, devoid of its wrap of Gauloise smoke.

But they have still not gone as far as they have here; there, places are still allowed to be set aside for the lepers, on condition that they are closed and ventilated. In Denmark, smoking is prohibited in public places, and yet cafes and small bars may define themselves as smoking premises. In Belgium, too, lawmakers have approved permits alongside prohibitions, as they have in Spain. But not in Israel, because we are always holier than thou.

This week I was sitting out on the sidewalk and innocently having a smoke, when the waitress approached and recommended I stop. That morning, she said, city inspectors had been by and handed out fines. I put out the cigarette and lit up a thought: What a laughable decree this is. Suddenly the state is so concerned about us, going out of its way for our welfare. The same good country that spares the life of every soldier before he is sent out on a useless mission; that takes pity on every sick, handicapped or elderly person, on every orphan, widow or single mother; that takes pains to save us from traffic accidents and violence in our homes. That country has no choice but to protect us from smokers. What is more natural for our country; what more can we ask of it? What more can we ask of the authorities, whom we all know practice what they preach in legislation and enforcement?

In fact, it is difficult to point out even one law in Israel that is properly enforced - from the Minimum Wage Law to the law ensuring free education. But the law on smoking in public places - that one is enforced energetically and with strange fervor. It is an open secret: Where there is neither will nor way to deal with serious business, they deal with little things, with foolishness.

I wish they would take care of the big smokers here - the chimneys and exhaust pipes of the power stations, buses, industry and transportation; those whose pillars of smoke veil the eye and the sky. I wish they would leave the little smokers alone on the sidewalk, outside, even in the winter. The legislature, alas, has lost its good judgment. But who will come to their senses first and recognize the difference between where to enforce and where to let slide? Let us breathe in this country.