An open letter to passive smokers

Its not easy giving up smoking and still trying to have a life in Tel-Aviv, let me tell you.

light smoking great 88 (photo credit: )
light smoking great 88
(photo credit: )
I had my last cigarette on Wednesday May 28 and by this writing I have not had another, I promise. Star of David my heart and hope to live until 120. On that day I took part in the treatment offered by the Abrahamson Institute, which teamed up with the Carmel Forest Spa of the 'Isrotel' chain, that hosted several journalists, including myself, who wanted to quit smoking. The deal was you get to the Spa, which is quite an impressive place nestled in the Carmel forest range, undergo twenty minutes of bio-energy 'reiki-like' treatment, and are then allowed to use all the spa's facilities until the next day. Amir, one of the Abrahamson practitioners, sat me down and told me he was going to rip the addiction out of my 'bio-energy sphere'. I smiled, safe in the knowledge that this would never work, and that I would never have to tell anybody that I let someone tamper with my 'bio-energy sphere', which is very close to my heart. This would be over soon, and I could enjoy the Jacuzzi for the next 12 hours. Amir put two crystals in my hands, walked around me in silence for about 10 minutes while my eyes were closed; clicked his fingers once or twice, and that was that. I haven't smoked since. I don't know if what Amir did to me was hocus pocus [he called it magic], or if I just really wanted to stop smoking and his 'treatment' was just a well-timed placebo. And I don't care: I haven't smoked for a month now and life is much better. I walk up stairs without panting, I wake up in the morning without a sore throat and my chest pains have disappeared. I have more money now that I don't buy cigarettes, and I just generally feel better and more optimistic about my life. I waited this long to write about the experience because I wanted to see if it actually worked or if I'd eventually start smoking again. I haven't yet, and I don't want to. I may smoke again in the future, but right now I don't want to even think about that. I'm grateful for those little daily rewards, when my body remembers just how rotten life actually was when I smoked, and treats that memory like you would a fond distant cousin. It is now Saturday night, June 23, and I have just come home from my favorite local Tel-Aviv bar, and I'm not happy: My clothes stink, my throat is sore, my eyes are sore, I'm breathing heavily and panting up the stairs back home. I'm upset that a whole month of not smoking, pretty much the first full month of not smoking in 16 years, is in peril, because I have inhaled some serious passive smoke. Have I really stopped smoking if I inhale second-hand smoke? Am I a fake quitter? Do I seek out second-hand smoke and thus fool myself into believing I'm becoming healthy? Am I becoming a passive smoker? I'm very proud of myself for not smoking this past month. But now I feel like everywhere I go I'm a victim of smokers, of bar owners, of other passive smokers. And I've never liked feeling like a victim. I've always thought people who complained about smoking in public places were a nuisance. What does big tobacco put in the cigarettes that makes smokers so oblivious to everything else going on around their habit? What chemical in there induces your ability to care about the health of others? Its not easy giving up smoking and still trying to have a life in Tel-Aviv, let me tell you. This past month has been a mix of self-congratulations [for not smoking], moments of crisis and despair [after a great meal, while drinking a cold beer, or just saying farewell to a very long day], and now, a growing rage against my inability to tell everyone who is at a bar with me, and is smoking, to stop, right now, immediately, put it out, I just stopped killing myself and I don't need you to kill me. When I do try and tell a smoker that he or she is bothering me and that I've just quit and that they're really not helping, I get attitude. When I tell the waiter or the bar owner, I get platitude. Israeli law forbids smoking in any public place which serves food and beverages: bars, restaurants, celebration halls; while it allows for a closed off smoking area. This is the law. And we all know the government cannot be relied upon to enforce anything in this day and age. For five years the law has been on the books. The law says that the proprietor of the establishment is liable for a suit brought by someone against smokers at the establishment. Twenty-four percent of Israeli adults smoke. That means 76% don't. That means there's a non-smoking majority in this country. Out of this majority, 1,500 are killed each year by passive smoking, according to the Health Ministry. Medical experts tell me passive smoking is "only slightly less bad" than smoking itself, so there are probably many more out there slowly dying. So they suffer, they are victims, and now I'm addressing you directly: you do nothing about it, except complain. Not only are you passive smokers, you are also passive victims. You passive smokers are not helping me and others like me quit smoking, and you are not helping yourselves. For years you've encouraged me to quit smoking. You said it didn't suit me. That it was a disgusting habit and not at all appealing. Well, I think passive smoking is a disgusting habit. It doesn't suit you. You say that the problem is that you have no alternatives. You give as an example that the only "non-smoking bar" in Tel-Aviv closed after 4 months. You say the government doesn't enforce the law. That's not even close to being a valid excuse in the Israel of today, where it is the State Comptroller, the Treasury's Accountant General, or the rare journalist who are the only ones that can get the government to abide by the law, let alone enforce it. Its not an excuse and you know it. I'm not blaming actual smokers for the afflictions associated with passive smoking and I'm not expecting any support from them to help me quit: they are poor addicted souls who need to be saved through love and attention, and weaned off the nicotine narcotic. They are the victims of the most devious combination of scientists and marketing men since the birth of modern advertising. Passive smokers are not the victims of smokers anymore, they are the victims of their own inability to organize a coherent and unified campaign to save their own lives, largely by making it impossible for bars and restaurants to make a profit if people are smoking in them. Like battered and abused spouses you get angry as hell when out of earshot of your tormentor, but powerless to confront him when he's standing right in front of you. You know why you keep on going to these smoke-filled bars? Because you're addicted. You're either hooked on the nicotine that's in the air or addicted to being a victim, or both. So I'm giving you an ultimatum: unite, start boycotting places that don't enforce the ban; stay away from them, picket them, water bomb them, do something, anything that will get the ban on smoking in public places enforced by the end of summer. If you don't, I'll start smoking again and then you'll really be on your own.