Saturday, August 11, 2012

No Ifs, Ands or Butts In Anti-Smoking Crusade (August 10, 2012)

The place: Times Square, New York City.
The time: High Noon, the present.
The scene: Two men slowly walk towards each other. A few passersby anticipate a showdown and seek nearby cover.
The Villain, clad in basic black from head to toe, advances from the left. The Hero, dressed in stylish off-white, approaches from the right.
As they get close — at the intersection of Broadway and 42nd Street — The Villain strikes a match and lights the unfiltered Camel dangling from his lips, then rudely exhales the smoke into The Hero’s face.
The Hero coughs, but stands his ground. He places his hand on a holstered gun on his left hip. The Hero withdraws it, points it at The Villain, who doesn’t flinch, then places his forefinger on the trigger and squeezes. As a steady stream of water gushes forth, it douses the man in black’s cigarette with a low hiss and drips from his face.
The Hero holsters the water gun, raises his hands in triumph, smiles and says, “Now we can all breathe a little easier.”
The Villain, looking disgusted, pulls the wet Camel from his mouth and tosses it to the ground.
“This town ain’t big enough for both of us,” he snarls. “I’m goin’ to Jersey. Give my regards to Broadway.”
A black limousine appears and stops. A chauffeur steps out and opens the rear door. Before The Villain steps into the vehicle, a police officer hands him a summons for littering. The Villain gets in, slams the door and the limo heads south towards the Lincoln Tunnel.
A small crowd, safely watching from a short distance away, explodes with cheers and applause and gathers around to shake The Hero’s hand and slap him on the back.
If only reducing the number of smokers was that clear-cut — or civil.
It’s about a decade since the City Council enacted the first regulations to ban smoking in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and other indoor public places. That legislation has protected thousands of New Yorkers from involuntary — second-hand — exposure to a host of deadly chemicals that make up cigarette smoke.
By the way, those who think the city is suppressing their rights, no one ever complained when spitting in public or littering were banned. Yet, non-smokers find smoking to also be vile, offensive and equally unhealthy.
Though some New Yorkers may assume Mike Bloomberg was the first mayor to limit smoking, the ban was actually introduced during Ed Koch’s administration. Bloomberg, nevertheless, orchestrated several wider prohibitions. In 2003, it was extended to include bars and other public places, then two years later, legislation prohibited smoking in most restaurants and offices. It was next extended to include hospital grounds and, most recently, the ban covered parks, pools, beaches and other outdoor areas.
The most recent estimate maintains that more than 85 percent of New Yorkers do not smoke and almost half a million have quit since the campaign to reduce smoking began under Bloomberg. Smoking, according to Health Department figures, is the leading cause of premature preventable death in NYC, killing more than 7,000 New Yorkers annually.
I’m among that majority who strongly support any efforts to limit smoking. After all, why would anyone oppose prolonging their own life?
Do smokers pay no attention to or just not care about the Surgeon General’s dire warning on cigarette packages: Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy?
And what about the ugly graphic images in anti-smoking campaigns? Do smokers really not get the message?
Actually, smokers and tobacco manufacturers gained a minor victory last month when the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a 2010 ruling that New York City could not try to scare smokers to the dangers of tobacco by forcing retailers to display shocking images. Two years ago, when Manhattan Federal Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff ruled against the city Health Department, he pointed out “even merchants of morbidity are entitled to the full protection of the law,” despite data that one-third of smokers die of tobacco-related diseases and that in New York more people die annually from smoking than from AIDS, homicide and suicide combined.
After the Circuit Court ruling, a Health Department statement noted that “…tobacco remains the city's number one killer and we remain committed to providing smokers with life-saving information and resources to overcome their addiction.”
Nonetheless, anti-smoking efforts continue and smokers’ rights advocates continue to contest them.
When it comes to smoking, I’m never objective. I’ve seen lives cut short or slowed down — like my father’s — because of tobacco. Not only does second-hand smoke irritate my susceptible breathing passages, but I find the lingering odor of cigarettes to be repulsive. Always have, always will.
I’ve never smoked cigarettes. If there’s any benefit from being a lifelong asthmatic, that’s it! When I was diagnosed, I also learned I was allergic to tobacco, so it has always been taboo for me. At the time no one suggested that other smokers — namely my parents — aggravated my condition. Heck, in those days the effects of tobacco use were deep, dark secrets kept from the public by Big Tobacco corporations.
After decades of deceit and deception, when it was revealed that cigarette tobacco contains nicotine, a highly addictive drug, among other noxious ingredients, it didn’t seem to matter much to most smokers who kept puffing away. The major reason nicotine is not regulated and/or completely banned is probably because tobacco is the cash crop for an industry that makes sizeable political contributions.
In politics, money changes EVERYTHING.
For those who may think the anti-tobacco trend impedes their pursuit of happiness, do yourself a favor and visit your doctor. Have an X-ray of your lungs taken. Frame it. Then keep that hideous image hanging within sight of your favorite smoking chair.
Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose agency spent $54 million for a three-month, national anti-smoking ad campaign that recently ended, noted that most people don’t realize smoking has consequences beyond health disorders. He said that health care costs are $2,000 more each year for smokers — about 20% of U.S. adults — than for non-smokers, and smoking remains the leading cause of preventable deaths.
As New York City expanded anti-smoking rules over the last ten years to include such outdoor public areas as parks, beaches pedestrian plazas and pools, non-smokers have been able to breathe a little easier.
Though New York smokers may assume they’re being unfairly targeted by Bloomberg, nearly 500 cities and towns across the country, including San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque, also prohibit smoking in most public places.
Until smokers light up at home, even when a spouse complains or in the presence of their children and grandchildren, to whom secondhand fumes may adversely affect, only then will I concede that they can smoke ‘em if they got ‘em.
But until that day — or hell freezes over, whichever comes first — smoking where others’ lungs may be impacted, must be forbidden.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Big Apple Summer Games Would Be An Olympic Mistake (August 3, 2012)

Seven years ago New York City was in the running to host the Summer Olympic Games that are underway 3,500 miles east of here. We made it to the final five before London was selected.
Though I’ve yet to hear about any major problems for the games, except too many empty seats early on, or hassles getting around London, if the 2012 (pronounced twenty twelve, not two thousand and twelve) games had been held here, more than likely it would have inconvenienced many city residents. Besides the congestion and the temporary population explosion, the cost to build new or renovate existing venues, including a proposed $2 billion stadium near the Lincoln Tunnel, the plan would have been prohibitive considering the city’s traditionally strained budget.
Initially, the idea of New York hosting the Olympics may have caused more than a few mental somersaults, but while I hate to be an Olympic party pooper, New Yorkers might wanna dwell on the inherent logistical problems if the city were to host a future Olympics.
Drivers and commuters are accustomed to the traffic jams and delays we regularly experience, but if the Olympics were in town for almost three weeks, it might be more sensible to go on vacation for the duration, unless you score tickets for an event or two and make your mind up to deal with the temporary inconveniences.
If New York were to host the Summer Games, it would undoubtedly put the Big Apple center stage, which it has been for years. Before the millennium, crime, drugs and filth were brought under control and began to decrease, making New York the world’s preeminent showcase. For more than decade, it has become a top tourist destination. Despite prevailing economic woes, the city’s image may now be at an all-time high. A decade from now travelers will still want to flock here, whether or not we host the Olympics.
Okay, let’s consider what a 17-day Olympics would mean for the average New Yorker. Most probably wouldn’t attend an Olympic event, due, in part, to steep tickets prices and also because of ticket scarcity for top events. And what about the frustration and hassle it would create for those who live and work in the five boroughs?
Traffic gets snarled on an average day, especially if there’s an accident or vehicular breakdown or when the president or some head of state visits and several Manhattan streets and thoroughfares are closed off to vehicles and pedestrians, triggering slow-moving detours. How about when the Department of Transportation undertakes a key construction project or major roadway repairs?
Keeping things moving smoothly — gridlock free — in this city is routinely a monumental task. Multiply that tenfold and you can envision the resulting Olympic-sized traffic nightmare if the Summer Games were held here, with an influx of thousands of athletes and tourists, not to mention the addition of 24/7 round-the-clock security.
Here’s food for thought. Every year during the New York City Marathon, getting around the city by car in some neighborhoods is exasperating. Any attempt to drive across the Verrazano Bridge from morning to mid-afternoon results in creeping along for hours at a snail’s pace. And that’s just a one-day event. The Olympics last for 17 days.
What about the detours that would escalate during the construction of Olympic venues? Imagine what getting around would be like in the years leading up to the opening ceremony. Then think about more than two weeks of gridlock. Now that’s an Olympic nightmare!
Sure, on the face of it, hosting the Olympics may seem like a splendid idea that would attract thousands of free-spending tourists to boost the city’s treasury, businesses and polished image.
But let’s be pragmatic.
Would the money accumulated over a short period offset the costly Olympics preparations? More importantly, would that revenue trickle down to bolster public schools, maintain the infrastructure or other municipal necessities?
A decade ago, New York was among eleven cities that tendered bids to host this year’s games. Some believed, a mere fourteen months after 9/11, that lingering international sympathy gave us an advantage. But, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) didn’t make its choice until 2005, so, by then, compassion had weakened. Nonetheless, New York had to prove it was more worthy than such competing cities as Rome, Paris, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul, Johannesburg and, of course, London. Anyway, the IOC is not known for its empathy or compassion, which it plainly demonstrated with its neglect of a meaningful tribute for the eleven Israeli athletes and coaches killed by terrorists during the Munich games forty years ago.
I’m a native New Yorker. I love this city and I defend it in good times and bad. Nonetheless, before we start dashing, sprinting or jumping to host the international athletic competition, with its inherent inconveniences and disruptions, our anxious public officials and those influential figures eager to welcome the summer games must assure the city’s hardworking, taxpayers that most of the logistical hurdles would be successfully cleared. Without such a guarantee, hosting the Summer Games would be an Olympic mistake.