FLINT - I am nothing if not fair, and so I present the following column in glorious point-counterpoint fashion. But since I'm both lazy and so obnoxiously correct on this issue, I'll present both viewpoints. (Hey, I said I was fair, not life.)
Our topic: Michigan's indoor smoking ban.
Our debaters: Me, and the angry smoker guy we all know who gets exceedingly bitter any time the subject of the ban is brought up.
Me: The ban is a year old now. I say it's improved life in Michigan immensely. Restaurants are cleaner. Food tastes better. Bars and bowling alleys aren't gas chambers any longer. It's great. Don't you agree?
Bitter guy: "Yeah, it's improved things, if you call ruining life as we know it an improvement."
Me: Oh, c'mon, nothing's been ruined. The ban's a huge success. A new poll says 74 percent of Michiganders now favor it. That's pretty incredible. You can't get three out of every four people to agree that the sun comes up in the morning much less a public policy issue."
Bitter guy: "Bah, you can get polls to say whatever ya want. All I know is this is America, and no one has the right to take away my right to smoke."
Me: But no one has. You can smoke anywhere you want as long as it's not inside a public place where other people, including me, are forced to breathe your noxious exhalations and possibly get lung cancer, which, by the way, is the leading cause of cancer deaths in U.S. men and women.
Bitter guy: "Hey, no one's forcing ya to breathe my smoke, buddy. Plus, if you don't like the smell, you can ask me to switch to a nice menthol, or, here's an idea, you can go outside and breathe all the fresh air you want. It's a free country, or at least it used to be."
Me: Used to be? Really? Don't you think that's a bit dramatic?
Bitter guy: "Not at all. What else would you call it when suddenly YOUR right to not get cancer is apparently more important than MY need to have a smoke whenever I feel like it?"
Me: Personally, I'd call it sensible.
Bitter guy: "Yeah, well, I call it socialism. The government calls all the shots now, and them that's in the minority don't get no say anymore."
Me: Oh, you mean other than all the decades where smoking was allowed in public, despite the known health hazard and despite the fact that the vast majority of people prefer smoke-free environments, especially restaurants?
Bitter guy: "Exactly. Ah, now them was the good old days."
Me: Ah, yes, the good old days when politicians in Michigan were either in bed with the tobacco lobby or too afraid of a few screaming smokers to do the right thing.
Bitter guy: "Hey, maybe they was just trying to protect businesses, you ever think of that! Do you know how many thousands of bars and restaurants have gone outta business because of this precious ban of yours?
Me: No, and neither do you I'll bet. And if you do, I'd like to see the study.
Bitter guy: "Yeah, well I'll show ya mine if you show me yours "
Me: OK, then how about this: The same poll I mentioned earlier found that just as many people say they go out to bars and restaurants now as before the ban - about 93 percent. That's not scientific, of course, but it's a pretty good indication that smokers who said the sky would fall when the ban took effect were, if you'll excuse the pun, blowing smoke.
Bitter guy: "Ha, that's where you're wrong. The sky has fallen for me, pal."
Me: Oh, how so?
Bitter guy: "Well, for one thing, now that I'm not smoking while I eat I can actually see and taste stuff."
Me: And that's bad?
Bitter guy: "It is if you eat in some of the places I eat."
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.