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Let's fire smoking eateries
Local family restaurant doubles as a smoking lounge.

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Date published: 11/16/2003


T HE PLAN was to grab a quick dinner on our way to shop for coats for the kids. I suggested that rather than hit a fast-food restaurant, we eat at a nearby family-type restaurant where we could actually sit down and be served--fairly inexpensively.

Without naming names, the restaurant we chose is part of a national chain that would seem to be very child-friendly, with a special kids' menu and lots of ice-cream treats.

"Smoking or nonsmoking?" we were asked. We requested non-smoking seating, but soon realized that at this restaurant, the only apparent difference between smoking and nonsmoking tables is that some don't have ashtrays.

It's remarkable to me how quickly smoking in general seems to have tapered off, particularly indoors. Persuading people to do what's best for their health and safety takes time. From using seat belts, to eating more fruits and veggies, to quitting cigarettes, positive changes in behavior can take a generation or more but do eventually catch on.

So where have all the smokers gone? I think we found most of them in that restaurant. We noticed the smoke immediately but figured we'd put up with it after weighing the delay and inconvenience of driving to a different place with hungry kids. Had the server not come so quickly to take our order, we might have left.

We discovered that we were virtually surrounded by smokers. My eyes were beginning to burn, and my wife complained of a sore throat. One woman with a couple of children at her nearby table smoked before, during, and after her meal. I think I was sad and disgusted in equal parts. What must it be like in that woman's house or car? Those kids could be breathing the equivalent of a pack a day or more in secondhand smoke. How can anyone, knowing what we know, be so uncaring or stupid?

The manager we spoke to on our way out seemed to sigh and acknowledge that the smoke was pretty bad. He said his servers argue over who gets to work the nonsmoking area, as if there really is one. For them, the entire restaurant is an unhealthy and unpleasant workplace.

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