I’m going to date myself.

That’s because I remember when people were allowed to smoke in the hospital. And not just visitors but the patients, nurses and the doctors themselves lit up at the bedside.

I know it’s hard for millennials and younger to believe that smoking was allowed in a place that promotes health, but it’s a true story.

And we can’t forget restaurants.

The best part about going to a Waffle House back in the day was watching the cook maneuver bacon and eggs on the grill as a cigarette clung to his lips with a sliver of ash at the tip ready to drop into the waffle batter.

I’m convinced that’s what gave the food its unique flavor and Waffle House its character.

Heck, it didn’t matter where you were — airplanes, elevators, port a potties. The more the confined space the better when it came to smoking.

I even grew up thinking my country fried steak was supposed to taste like an unfiltered Camel cigarette.

It was unfettered “smoke ’em if you got ’em.”

Simpler times one might even argue.

People were just coming around to the idea — you know, just maybe, possibly, hypothetically-speaking — that only those who smoked were exposing themselves to heart disease and lung cancer when the medical community suddenly announced that secondhand smoke caused the same health issues.

No big deal, right? Secondhand smoke only contains more than 7,000 chemicals — hundreds of which are toxic, according to every health expert on the planet.

But even that revelation took some convincing.

If you’re of a certain age, you might remember nonsmoking and smoking sections in restaurants.

Yes, that was a thing.

Walk into the local Applebee’s prior to Y2K and the first question asked was “smoking or nonsmoking?”

That was because everyone knew the smoke only hovered around the smoker like he or she was Pig-Pen from the “Peanuts” comic strip.

On the contrary, it was an attempt to appease the smokers who proclaimed their rights were being infringed upon.

You know how this is a free country and all.

That’s true until you start infringing upon the rights of others with the bad that you’re doing.

And if the secondhand smoke remained around the smoker like Pig-Pen’s dust cloud, the “free country” argument would have been valid.

But secondhand smoke takes over a space, and there’s no hiding from it.

The smokers didn’t seem to care, and restaurant owners were afraid of losing customers if they posted no smoking signs on their entry doors.

Neither wanted to

do the right thing for overall public safety.

So what happened? Where did all the restaurant smokers go?

The government — in our case, Daviess Fiscal Court, also affectionately known as The Man and Big Brother — mandated in December of 2005 that no business that permitted anyone under 18 could allow smoking.

This county was a little late to the no-smoking party, but better late than never, I say.

The local smoking ban has gotten stricter since then, but that 2005 vote was the first real step forward in terms of protecting public health.

So here we are in 2021 with another public safety crisis.

Too many people are refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine because this is America, and once again, the justification is people should have the freedom to choose to do the right thing or not.

When we were locked down last year, one of the main arguments I heard was “are we going to ban cars because of the thousands of fatal accidents per year across the country?”

Well, my reply to that has always been you can’t catch a car wreck while buying bread at Kroger.

But cross paths with the wrong person in the toilet paper aisle, there’s a good chance, especially before the vaccines, COVID-19 was going to be in your future.

And as the newest version — the delta variant — is spreading like wildfire, the vaccine refusal has only been elevated.

Of all the life-saving vaccines that have been invented, this is the one that people have decided to take a stand against.

Why? Political views are driving much of this.

And I wonder how many of the same people refusing the vaccine are ingesting prescription pills that they really don’t know much about, but produce side effects that are as bad as the condition being treated?

Much like secondhand smoke that we now understand can cause significant health problems to those around us — family members and strangers alike — COVID-19 is similar, if not worse.

The government shouldn’t have to force people to do the right thing.

But I have to say, I enjoy my country fried steak tasting like country fried steak instead of an unfiltered Camel cigarette.

And it would be nice to lose my mask for good and feel comfortable knowing that the strangers sitting near me at the restaurant weren’t carrying a deadly disease, because they refused a vaccine for no other reason than placing politics over public safety.

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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