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Ryan Bakken, Forum Communications, Published November 18 2012

Ryan Bakken: Blindingly obvious but a longtime coming

GRAND FORKS - I remember the first time I was asked to snuff out my cigarette. I was surprised then. I am repentant now.

It was the late 1970s and I was riding in Tom Petrik’s new car. Petrik was one of the best athletes and best people ever at UND, a standout in basketball, football and life. Out of respect for his muscles and character, I complied.

But I remember how odd the request seemed at the time. Back then, smokers lit up everywhere, even in churches, schools and grocery stores. People smoked wherever they darn well pleased and didn’t think twice about it. And, out of habit and misguided politeness, non-smokers accepted it.

Since then, we’ve learned more about the dangers of second-hand smoke. Restrictions have increased, in stages. For instance, smoking inside the Herald building ended in the early 1990s, so we were neither early nor late in our epiphany.

My history with tobacco is roughly broken into three equal parts — 20 years of not smoking, 20 years of smoking and 20 years of not smoking.

I’d like to tell you that quitting 20 years ago was the result of my character, my compassion, my grit and my commitment to doing the right thing. It wasn’t. It was the result of my smoker’s cough being more painful than nicotine withdrawal.

North Dakotans, often the last bastion of change, made it more difficult on Nov. 6 for people to take up smoking in the first place. That’s when 67 percent voted for an indoor smoking ban.

A 2-to-1 margin on any issue is huge. North Dakotans don’t even elect Republican governors by that margin.

You could see it coming, with a gradual opinion shift over decades. In recent years, even Class B towns were enacting smoking bans. Rural bars are traditionally the last frontier of indoor smoking.

The weight of the vote was not just the percentage. The weight also was the fact that it drew a majority in every county, from Marlboro Country to Imperial Cass. Even Democrats and Republicans agreed, maybe for the first time in a decade.

It was approximately 35 years ago that I was surprised by the audacity/courage of the request to snuff my butt. In another 35 years, people will wonder why it was ever allowed.

Change happens. Usually it’s good. This smoking ban move is slam-dunk good, if I may be so bold as to point out the obvious.