WASHINGTON, DC—The nation's anti-tobacco lobby scored another major victory Monday, when Congress passed legislation restricting smoking in the U.S. to a specially designated "smoking lounge" in Oskaloosa, IA.
The lounge, a storage closet located in the basement of Oskaloosa's American Legion Hall #3567, will protect non-smokers from the harmful effects of the second-hand smoke of the nation's approximately 65 million smokers.
"Smokers have infringed upon the rights of others for far too long," said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), co-sponsor of the bill. "Now that this issue is finally settled, we can all 'breathe a little easier.'"
"I really need a smoke right now," said White Plains, NY, resident Peter MacAlester, 52, speeding westbound along Interstate 80 toward Oskaloosa. Biting his fingernails and wiping sweat from his forehead as he drove, he added, "I figure if I drive straight through and manage to stay awake, I can probably get there within the next 16 hours."
The legislation's passage ranks among the most significant moments in the battle against smoking in the U.S. These include the 1989 Supreme Court decision to limit smoking to the Midwest; Congress' 1993 restriction of smoking to Iowa only; the Iowa Supreme Court's 1995 statewide ban on smoking except in Oskaloosa; and the Oskaloosa City Council's 1997 declaration that, with the exception of the American Legion Hall, Oskaloosa would be designated a smoke-free city.
Smoking opponents throughout the Oskaloosa area are applauding the latest piece of legislation, which bans smoking in the American Legion Hall, except in the basement's storage closet.
"It's about time," Oskaloosa non-smoker Caryn Tapp said. "That building's tolerant 'all-areas' open-smoking policy encouraged the filthy habit. Not only that, but the building's proximity to the local Arby's helped promote tobacco use among Oskaloosa's 65 teens."
"My daughter lives in California, and she's refused to bring my newborn grandson to visit me because of that building's relaxed smoking code," said Harriet Mortimer, 63, who lives down the block from the American Legion Hall. "But now that it's been restricted to the basement storage closet, she's considering coming here."
Added Mortimer: "That closet doesn't have any windows, does it?"
As popular as the new legislation is among Oskaloosa-area non-smokers, it is every bit as unpopular among smokers across the U.S.
"Having to get to Iowa to grab a smoke on my lunch break every day was certainly inconvenient enough: Oskaloosa doesn't even have a 7-11, let alone an airport." said Boston marketing executive Daniel Freeburn, 38. "But now, on top of everything else, we have to deal with this? That lounge only has room for, at most, 40 or 50 people, and that's when they're packed in like sardines. With lines of up to 50 or 60 million people during noontime rush periods, I'm sometimes as much as six months late getting back to my desk."
Gnawing at the bruised, bloodied ball of his thumb, Freeburn added: "Fucking shit-ass Christ piss!" He then asked if anyone had any gum. Less than an hour later, he was reportedly arrested by Boston police for bashing his office supervisor's head against a desk.
Across the U.S., smokers have resorted to desperate measures in order to sidestep the latest government restrictions. Some have been caught hiding cigarettes inside asthma inhalers. Tempe, AZ, smoker Abel Greene was recently caught attempting to dig a 700-foot-deep hole in the ground in the crawlspace beneath his home. According to police officials, Greene was planning to use the pit to secretly smoke in private, far beneath the Earth's surface.
Despite the victory, anti-tobacco groups across the nation stress that the war against smoking is far from over.
"We still have a long way to go," said Francine Stotts, director of the Citizens Health Action Institute and a member of the board of directors of the San Francisco-based What About The Children? foundation. "It is true that, by restricting all smoking in the entire country to a cramped closet in a barely accessible rural hamlet surrounded by nothing but miles of flat farmland in every direction, we have helped reduce the non-smoker's risk of exposure to secondhand smoke. But we cannot stop there. We must continue to lobby for greater restrictions until smoking is only allowed beyond the orbit of the outermost gas giant Neptune."