I’ve never been a smoker.
I remember at the tender age of seven someone offered me a few drags off a cigarette.
I took a puff, which instantly started a coughing fit that took several unpleasant minutes to mercifully end.
I’ve never bothered to do that again, and I’ve been grateful ever since that my body had such a violent reaction against smoking the first time I tried it.
I thought that whoever came up with the idea of inhaling large amounts of smoke directly into their lungs from burning leaves should have had their head examined.
But smoking was popular and common in those days, and most non-smokers like me just had to deal with cigarette smoke constantly being blown in our faces.
Bars and nightclubs that I used to visit typically had a cloud of blue smoke, usually hovering right around the heads of all the patrons, from cigarette smoke in the premises for most of their operating hours.
Even restaurants allowed smoking at the time, which is something that seems pretty inconceivable today.
But it never really bothered me, even though I was a non-smoker, because I was so used to it and I was amazed when initiatives began almost 20 years ago to ban smoking in most public places.
I remember interviewing pub owners who claimed that banning smoking in their establishments would result in the death of their businesses.
As well, many customers I talked to said the upcoming ban would result in them picking up a six-pack and heading home to drink it, where they could freely smoke their cigarettes, instead of heading out to the bars as they usually did.
At the time, I thought the whole societal project to stop public smoking was doomed to failure, but not before the demise of many businesses that largely depended on smokers for their survival.
As mentioned, I was used to being around cigarette smoke, and I attributed the growing anti-smoking campaign to a bunch of over-eager zealots that had managed to get themselves into positions of authority.
But my attitudes have made a dramatic shift since then.
Despite my dire predictions, people really did stop smoking in these places and the businesses mostly continued on largely unimpeded.
(That’s not to say that many weren’t frustrated and much poorer after setting up separate rooms for smokers that had powerful fans, as they were ordered to, only for the authorities to ultimately decide to disallow those too.)
The clouds of blue smoke in these establishments are now a thing of the past, and even I have noticed a significant change for the better in the air quality.
Many of those same people who swore they would never set foot in a bar again if they banned smoking are still there too, but leave the building and go elsewhere when the nicotine urge calls.
These days, I can’t believe how intolerant I was of people smoking cigarettes around me.
After living in an almost smoke-free environment for years, I now find smoking pretty disgusting and intrusive, not only for fear of the impacts of second-hand smoke on my lungs, but also because of the tobacco smell that clings to your clothes and body long after the exposure to the smoke.
It’s not healthy or attractive, and I now find myself very appreciative of the changes of which I originally had such a dim view.
That’s why I’m supportive of the plans by the Municipality of North Cowichan to study if making rules around smoking close to public buildings and spaces even more stringent in the region should be considered.
There’s a lot fewer smokers these days than 20 years ago but, for some reason, statistics indicate that more than 20 per cent of the people in the central Island are still smoking, compared to 11.4 per cent across the province.
It appears that many in the region have yet to catch up with the times.
Robert Barron is a reporter with the Cowichan Valley Citizen. He can be reached at Robert.Barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com.