The most farcical thing I’ve seen lately, apart from the Howard government’s recent flurry of socially concerned TV commercials, is the Oxford Hotel’s new non-smoking area.

It consists of two tables near the front door. They’re like any other tables in the joint, except for their lack of ashtrays. Oh yeah, and the little laminated signs plastered everywhere around them:

Due to new legislation, there will be no smoking permitted in this area. Your cooperation is appreciated.

As a smoker who has no intention of quitting, I find the proliferation of these signs galling. I do realise smoking in venues will eventually be banned outright, but must we be subjected to these ludicrous half-arsed laws until then?

As it currently stands, I can happily compromise my health and that of others if I stand at two-arms’ length from one of these tables (usually empty, I might add), yet I can’t sit down at one. It’s much the same as the no-smoking-at-the-bar rule, which dictates that I acknowledge the lungs of the staff by not smoking in their immediate vicinity. If only they’d show the same respect by not chatting with each other in mine.

Anyone old enough to remember the golden age of air travel -“ when smoking on planes was allowed in the back five rows -“ will recognise how stupid this situation is. The rear of the plane was admittedly not the most enjoyable environment, but not because of cigarette smoke (which doesn’t recognise seating numbers) -“ it was the continual pursed-lipped glares and stage-coughs of non-smokers as they made their way to the toilet.

Non-smokers (and ex-smokers -“ the worst) relish the opportunity to express their disgust at my habit. This is usually stated in tones so affronted you’d think smoking was akin to child abuse. With few exceptions, their complaints are based on what their outfits smell like when they get home -“ a kind of fashion-related environmental concern (not uncommon when you think about it).

To these people I suggest that air quality is subjective. I’d much rather breathe in a smoke-choked room populated with good friends than take in a mountain-fresh lungful with a po-faced dickhead. Alas, as the fear of public-health litigation gradually overrides common sense, the latter is becoming the status quo.

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