Sunday, January 25, 2009

Killjoys blow smoke on character-building era


This last week, the province of Ontario made it illegal to smoke in a vehicle containing passengers under 16 years of age.

On some levels, I'm sure this is a dandy idea. After all, scientists tell us, although it packs far less of a satisfying buzz, second-hand smoke is still pretty doggone dangerous.

(Although the jury is still out on third-hand smoke, which as I understand it occurs when you kiss somebody who watched a movie that showed somebody smoking a cigarette.)

But sometimes, I wonder if we're being a tad overly-protective of our young people, particularly when I think back to the halcyon days of my youth in the mid-1960s.

Back then, of course, almost everybody smoked, including non-smokers, hockey players, pets, Sunday school teachers and my grandmother.

And while it's true my dad usually forced grandma to sit in the basement when she lit up, that actually had more to do with my dad's relationship with his mother-in-law than any concerns about the dangerous effects of tobacco.

I still fondly recall when, for no reason other than they were thoroughly fed up with me, my parents would drop me off for the day, or in one instance, for about 15 years, at my grandmother's house, where I'd happily light her cigarettes (because she was extremely health conscious, she smoked only menthol brands), crack open her bottles of beer and join her in gleefully insulting the neighbours.

I should point out that my beloved grandmother, who insisted on calling me Butch because she thought Ian was a wussy name, insulted everyone, regardless of their heritage, appearance or economic status. And not a day goes by when I don't thank my lucky stars grammy taught me so much about equality, inclusiveness and the life- affirming benefits of all-round, cranky cussedness.

Those were character-building times.

So too were the days when I'd visit my uncle and we'd load up his air rifle and pellet gun, find a comfortable perch in the back bedroom and then blast away at the various cats, dogs and squirrels that had the temerity to venture into his backyard.

Today, of course, some tree- hugging, pet-loving do-gooder would likely claim that taking pot shots at animals is cruel. To which I respond: Yeah, well, what about the hand-eye co-ordination? What about the vocabulary lessons I so effortlessly absorbed when my uncle missed his target? And what happened to your face? Huh!?

These are tough times, and I often wonder if today's kids, who know next to nothing about guns, or smoking, or how to pack an ice ball that'll leave a permanent mark -- are really equipped for facing the daunting challenges ahead.

I mean, who would you rather have leading us into the future? Somebody wearing a seat-belt, a helmet and a happy-face smile? Or somebody who understands how to empty a school with a smoke bomb made from a ballpoint pen?

I don't think I need to answer that.

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