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England may be a tad behind the times when you compare it to a place like, say, the state of California, but it does seem to be coming along.  On July 1st of last year England (like most of America before it) instituted a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places including offices, factories, pubs and bars -- just not outdoors.

This "not outdoors" part is what seems to be getting to me lately.  Now, I know people have the legal "right" to smoke if they so choose, but even outdoors in public their smoke is interfering with my right to breathe clear air.

The most current example of this is at London city bus stops, under the bus shelters.  In London a majority of people use mass transportation and don't even own cars -- a lot like New York City -- and I am one of those people.  At least five days a week I find myself standing at bus stops and more than waiting a long time for the next bus, the thing that annoys me most is when someone else standing under the bus shelter decides they are going to have a cigarette.

Yes, technically the bus stop is outdoors, but when you're sitting on a bench in a two or three-walled bus shelter and the man or woman sitting beside you lights up, their smoke goes directly in your face.  There's no way around this.  And smokers in London don't seem to give a damn if it's drifting all over your face, clothes and hair.  They don't even have the courtesy to stand up and smoke a few feet away from the rest of the people.  They are oblivious to the concerns of the people around them -- even when shoulder to shoulder with them on a bench.

Maybe this is a European thing.  I know Europeans love their sidewalk coffee cafes and chain-smoking cigarettes, but clearly in a country that has taken the step of banning smoking in enclosed public spaces the residents must have gotten the message of just how gross and offensive their cigarettes are.

I'm not going to get up on my soapbox and rant about the health implications of smoking, nor am I going to suggest that smokers only smoke inside their homes.  I just want to ask why smokers aren't a little more considerate of the non-smokers around them.

An insane example of what the smoking ban has created can be seen outside any bar, pub, restaurant or other place where lots of folks hang out.  Anyone who goes out knows that in order to step in or out of a pub they will walk through a wall of smoke created by the people obeying the ban, but who only step a few inches outside the doorway to the establishment they're patronizing.  Frankly, it's pathetic.  When I see these clusters of people all I can think about is how sad and ignorant they must be, and then I wonder about their level of education.  Can any reasonably intelligent person really be a habitual smoker in this day and age?

I walk past a large hospital on a regular basis near Hammersmith (my area of London), and it never fails to amaze me how many men and women are standing outside smoking.  It's not just stressed-out family members of sick patients, either -- it's people wearing scrubs, people in hospital employee uniforms and yes, patients in nightgowns with a coat and sneakers on, sucking on cigarettes like infants at their mother's breast.  It's truly a shocking sight -- I imagine it would be even for some smokers.  Walking on the hospital's sidewalk along the main road is like being in a haze.  I actually walk by and see how long I can hold my breath because of the amount of smoke in the air.  It's outdoors, yes, but that fact doesn't mean the smoke magically disappears directly upwards into the atmosphere. 

And while I'm thinking of it, there's another element to smokers that is on my nerves lately.  Could someone please tell me who in the world's history decided that cigarette butts are perfectly OK to throw on the ground?  Why aren't butts considered garbage -- nuisance litter -- like other things people inconsiderately toss on the ground?  London is a filthy city (in my humble opinion) and I couldn't BEGIN to count how may butts I step on during a walk to the tube station or grocery store.

This socially accepted practice of throwing finished cigarettes anywhere they want is infringing on my right to safely walk my puppy in the local park.  Every day when we go to this particular park -- which is large, grassy and popular -- my little puppy starts to chew or choke on a cigarette butt that he's picked up off the ground.  This happens whether playing in the middle of the grassy expanse or while sitting on the fringes at a riverside bench.  It's really sad and disgusting to pry my puppy's mouth open and find that the item he's got is someone's discarded cigarette.  It's just another reminder of the personality of the average smoker.

I'm sure someone reading this is a smoker who now feels offended -- or perhaps an ex-smoker who now agrees with me about cigarettes.  I don't really care.  I just wish the people who CHOOSE to ruin themselves by smoking wouldn't ruin my day in the process.