The row in front of me was a smoking row.
That’s how it was then— preposterous!
I was three months pregnant and allergic to cigarette smoke.
The plane ride was a torturous eight hours as the man in front of me lit up every thirty minutes.
While government has been slow to respond to the dangers of cigarettes, smoking was banned on all U.S. domestic flights in 1990. And in 1995, Delta made all flights, including international flights, smoke-free.
On New York City streets, I run around, and in front of, people who are smoking.
Not wanting to breathe secondhand smoke, I sprint past buildings where workers congregate, smoking.
And what makes this running around extra-annoying is that smokers seem oblivious to the discomfort they cause.
Fortunately, the law has gotten involved.
And while Michael Bloomberg’s initiative to ban smoking in bars and restaurants was met with much resistance, it has been successful.
According to statistics, smoking in New York is down, and the city, and its restaurants and bars, seem to be thriving and doing just fine without the smoke-filled haze.
While Bloomberg was in office, he proposed a law to force residential buildings to develop smoking policies. He wanted buyers and tenants to be made aware of smoking regulations.
Unfortunately for me, the law did not pass.
I learned the hard way about noise due to construction in the city a few years back when I rented an apartment. But I truly thought it was me alone who experienced such terrible luck.
How was it possible for one individual to be surrounded by so much noise? (See: On Writing and Distractions.)
There is a Yiddish folktale: It Could Always Be Worse. But with the three apartments surrounding mine under construction, and one above me, I did not believe that could possibly be true.
But it was true.
A few months ago I signed a one-year lease on a New York City apartment. And in this new apartment the problem is much worse.
My neighbor is a chain-smoker and her secondhand smoke seeps into my apartment making it difficult to breathe.
The hallway carpeting reeks.
(Read this upsetting article about third hand smoke.)
Neighbors on all sides are incensed. But there is nothing we can do.
Our building does not have smoking restrictions. And us non-smokers have no rights, even though our health is at stake, our quality of life is compromised, and smoking is ranked second in causes for New York fires.
I don’t know how I didn’t notice the repulsive smell when I went to view the apartment. But I didn’t and the real estate agent didn’t point it out to me. Legally, she’s bound to mention bed bugs.
To make matters worse, my neighbor is an eighty-year old woman. She has been smoking for decades. And even if we (me and my neighbors) had the right, we wouldn’t evict an old lady.
We are stuck.
So often as a non-smoker, I’ve felt trapped, without choice, powerless.
So I was happy to discover that there are new smoking laws that protect children.
In England, you may not smoke in a private vehicle carrying children under 18.
In Italy, there is a ban on smoking in cars carrying pregnant woman and children.
In France, smoking was barred in July 2015 for children under 12.
In the United States, smoking with kids in the car is banned in eight states and the age of the child varies from state to state.
These laws do not apply to e-cigarettes or convertibles with the top down.
One day, soon I hope, in the same way we came to understand the importance of legislation demanding the use of seatbelts and helmets, and laws prohibiting drinking and driving, we will come to realize the obligation we have to protect non-smokers.
We will look back on this time in our history and wonder why we allowed smokers to subject non-smokers to pollutants that are known to affect health, cause cancer.
Could it get any worse?