Posted on June 3, 2013
Frank Lautenberg died today. He was 86.
Most political pundits will immediately turn their attention to Chris Christie and whom he will appoint to the Senate to replace Senator Lautenberg.
There’s not a lot of sentimentality in Washington, so that’s not that unusual. You die in Washington, and the first thing people think about is who will take your place.
But I learned something about Frank Lautenberg’s career that I found to be fascinating and important to anybody who gets on an airplane.
Frank Lautenberg was single-handedly responsible for banning smoking on all flights in the United States.
And for that I have a simple response: Thanks Frank.
My dad used to smoke three packs a day. I think cigarette smoke is among the most disgusting things to smell in America. Worse than skunks in some contexts.
My dad used to drive a little red Pinto car, and he would drive my brothers and I up to his apartment (back in the days after my parents were divorced and my mother stayed at our house. Eventually, my dad moved in and my mom moved out. It’s a long story). And he would smoke with the windows up.
We would bitch and moan about his smoking and eventually, yet grudgingly, he would roll the windows down. And then we could breathe.
When my dad smoked, everything in our house smelled like smoke. I never really got used to it.
I am so old, I remember when people would routinely smoke in airplanes. It was, umm, disgusting. Really disgusting.
The last time I went on a plane that allowed smoking, it was a flight to Germany. I almost got in a fight with a German dude who smoked in his smoking section, which was one row behind my non-smoking section.
I would have smoked him, except I was worried about getting thrown in a German jail, so I didn’t.
But I wanted to.
A couple of years ago, I went to Ireland and then to Northern Ireland.
I have buddy of mine who is a member of the Irish Dail, and he made a big deal of opposing the Irish ban on smoking in their pubs. He wanted to make a big deal out of it, so he smoked in the Dail’s Members Bar to register his disgust with the new law. With some avid smokers, that buddy of mine was a hero. But to most of the Irish, he looked a little foolish.
On my trip to the Erin Isle, I went to pubs in the North that continued to allow smoking and then pubs in the South that didn’t allow smoking. I have to be honest with you. I really enjoyed my experience in the non-smoking pubs more. A lot more.
Now, I know I am being a hypocrite here. I am usually opposed to government intervention in these kinds of matters. I am a live and let live kind of guy.
And initially I was opposed to the idea of a ban on smoking in restaurants, just because I thought the private sector could take of it.
But as it turned out, the private sector couldn’t figure it out. They did smoking sections and non-smoking sections on the theory that they could please all of the people all of the time. But smoke seemed to always drift over from the smoking section to the non-smoking section, just as clean air drifted over from the non-smoking section to the smoking section. Not a good trade.
Frank Lautenberg was the first one to demand that smoking cease on airplanes, and he got the law passed to make that happen.
Not all government regulation is a bad thing.
As a non-smoker, all I can say is: Thanks Frank.