I don't smoke. I don't like to be around people who are smoking. I was grateful years ago when restaurants started providing non-smoking sections, especially when they were well removed from the smoking sections.

At the same time, I accept the fact that some people choose to smoke. It's a perfectly legal habit, after all, and I assume they've decided the pleasure they get from smoking offsets the health risks and expense.

Likewise, I accept that some businesses choose to cater to smokers. If I owned a restaurant, bar, nightclub, coffee shop, bookstore with comfy chairs any place where people would reasonably be expected to linger I'd be inclined to establish a smoking section.

For that matter, it's fine by me if such a proprietor allows wall-to-wall puffing in his place. I probably wouldn't go there, mind you, but that's not the point. It's the owner's right to choose what kind of place to have and to make the informed calculation as to what his customers want. Wheezers like me can just go somewhere else.

And that's why I'd wish the new round of anti-smoking hysteria in the Los Angeles area got snuffed out. Now, even outdoor smoking is becoming verboten. Calabasas effectively banned outdoor smoking in March, and now Santa Monica is on the verge of passing a similar ordinance that would ban smoking at outdoor caf & #233;s or anywhere along the Third Street Promenade, among other places.

Think of how far we've gone with this matter. Years ago, smokers were told they must sit in special sections of restaurants and the like. While that was an inconvenience for business owners, it was a reasonable and low-cost solution. And, as I said, non-smokers like me certainly appreciated it.

But the next wave involved forcing more businesses to be completely smoke free. Smokers were told they needed to go outside. As a result, more businesses were forced to create smoking patios or outdoor smoking zones. The smoke-free-indoors movement was more intrusive, but I figured smokers at least had some accommodation.

But now, a gang of anti-smoking know-it-all pecksniffs are saying that's not good enough either. Smokers just need to go away. Butt out.

Of course, the nosy nannies in the anti-smoking crowd use the old second-hand smoke argument. That is, since second-hand smoke is toxic, they say, no one should be exposed to it, not for one second.

Some experts argue that the alleged danger of second-hand smoke is overblown, but I don't want to slog into the tar pit of that debate.

My point is that what's even more toxic is the loss of a freedom, the freedom of people to decide to partake in a pleasurable and legal vice and the freedom of business proprietors to cater to those customers.

In short, smokers and businesses that invite smokers have become an unpopular minority, and local governments around here are piling on.

Smokers, who have a right to be treated with respect, instead are demonized. Lawmakers feel free to call them names and pass laws that first isolated them and now are excluding them.

I've arrived at the conclusion that it is not the smokers who are poisoning our atmosphere the most.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com .

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