20100421-RE-0101Written by Walter Pierce
Wednesday, 21 April 2010

A smoke-free Festival International is a good idea whose time has come.

When a blog ignites five times as many words in reader commentary as the blog itself, you know you’ve struck a nerve. But it was somewhat surprising that last week’s blog, “Festival International aims to become smoke free,” became, per capitals, the most talked-about item to appear on our Web site in a while.

The gist of the article, as the headline indicates, is that Festival International is asking smokers to refrain from lighting up during the event. As FIL Executive Director Dana Cañedo is quoted, “We encourage all of our festival goers to be smoke free, so that you and your family can enjoy the sights and sounds of Festival for years to come.” Encourage, not demand. But within minutes of the post, indignation flared.

“Long Live the Nanny State!” read one.

“Heart disease is a big killer in Louisiana as well. How about doing away with all things fried in the food vendor areas. Oh, and alcohol exacts a dear social price, too. Gonna prohibit that?” chimed another.

“Absurd. In an outdoor venue? Give us a break.”

And the most telling of all: “Maybe I’ll smoke a little less but I’ll probably smoke a little more just in spite ...”

Where the comments really veer toward the bizarre is in the conspiracy theory that The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living is abetting this nefarious plot to snuff the civil liberties of smokers. Indeed, TFL is quoted in the blog endorsing a smoke free festival, and it’s one of dozens of corporate sponsors of FIL. TFL is a statewide program funded by an excise tax levied on tobacco products. Its name pretty much gives away its mission, and who can argue that its goal isn’t laudable?

The group’s most prominent campaign right now is the “Let’s Be Totally Clear” series of public service announcement featuring bartenders, waitresses, casino workers and musicians including Lafayette’s David Egan — people who work in an employment sector in which they are legally exposed to carcinogens. Nearly 700 adults in Louisiana die each year from exposure to second-hand smoke, most of them no doubt the spouses of smokers but many others bar and casino workers.

I’m not unfamiliar with use of the foul-smelling, pollution-emitting carbon monoxide delivery system, yet I’m not averse to the concept of a smoke-free festival, especially if clove cigarettes go elsewhere. Emo kids are creepy and cliquish. Besides, smokers are accustomed by now to huddling together around dumpsters and back doors, averting their eyes from the fresh-breathed. Banishment to the margins is part of the deal — part of the allure of whittling time off the back end of one’s life.

Alcohol clearly has extended social consequences in drunk-driving related fatalities and the upheaval of families, as one of the comments above points out, and Louisiana’s high-fat diet definitely exacts a toll on our health. But they don’t compare to second-hand smoke. And in the close quarters of a Saturday night in late April in Parc International when music fans are squeezed together like, well, like cigarettes in a brand new pack, second-hand smoke as a public health issue moves outdoors.
The stigma of smoking or public policy or both will eventually extinguish lighting up in public places, but in the meantime, may the only smoking butts at Festival International be between our knees and our navels.

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