Smoking is hot news, both locally and across the nation.

— The Village of Elk Rapids last week banned smoking — of any plant including tobacco and marijuana — in parks and on beaches and trails.

— The City of Traverse City is in the process of regulating medical marijuana dispensary businesses.

— Beverly Hills, California, is considering outlawing tobacco sales everywhere in the city except a few cigar lounges.

— The state of California’s promised “track and trace” system for legal marijuana is not functioning, an Associated Press story revealed last week.

— Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, but public pot use (basically anywhere outside a private home) still is banned by that state’s constitution. (The use, sale or possession of cannabis with a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content of 0.3 percent or more remains illegal according to federal law. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, which has very low levels of the psychoactive component in cannabis.)

— Federal law prohibits banks or credit companies from handling money related to marijuana sales, which has forced cannabis entrepreneurs to operate as strictly cash businesses and has led to armed robbery incidents in Colorado.

There’s a maelstrom of smoking news swirling around us.

Tobacco has been big business for centuries. Cannabis in the U.S. is in transition from underground market to legal business.

Bans on public smoking and the dissemination of facts about smoking’s health dangers have had major effects on the tobacco industry.

According to, almost 50 percent of U.S. adults were cigarette smokers in 1964, the year the Surgeon General’s report determined that cigarette smoking was a major health hazard. By 2012, only about 20 percent of U.S. adults were cigarette smokers.

As of 2013, more than 80 percent of the U.S. population lived in municipalities covered by smoke-free workplace laws. Smoking in restaurants, theaters and airplane cabins was ubiquitous in 1964. Today, smoking is banned in many public places.

The number of cigarettes smoked per capita in the U.S. in 2012 was about the same as it was in 1932 — but less than a third of the statistical peak in 1964. Sales of e-cigarettes — which electrically heat a liquid until it becomes aerosol and can be inhaled — have grown exponentially in recent years.

The idea of intentionally inhaling smoke never appealed to me.

Perhaps my personal attitude originated from that time as a child when I got too close to the garbage my dad was burning in the back yard and ended up coughing and crying. The odor of a burning cigarette still reminds me of that smoldering trash heap.

Or maybe it was the time my big brother got a chemistry set for his birthday and convinced me to take a deep sniff of the sulfur powder he was melting on a tiny spoon over a Bunsen burner.

I sympathize with people who are addicted to nicotine and to smoking. Reversing a habit is hard; beating a chemical addiction is much more difficult. I feel lucky that I never started smoking.

Adult experiences reporting on house fires — particularly those caused by people who were careless with cigarettes — reinforced my dislike for the odor of smoke. Ditto for industrial fires. It’s frightening to witness any structure in full flame. It’s sobering to view the ruins left behind. And the stink lingers in hair and clothes for days despite showers and trips to the laundromat.

“Eau de Structure Fire” is not my favorite fragrance.

Not all smoke smells bad. I enjoy the odor of a campfire. There’s something calming about the sweet fragrance of crackling pine or blazing maple — as long as it’s safely contained within a fire ring and not corrupted by melting plastic or other toxic materials.

Campfire smoke has a dreamy, nostalgic fragrance. Burning garbage stinks. There’s also a major fragrance difference among types of tobacco.

Every non-smoker with whom I’ve discussed the matter agrees that cigarette smoke smells bad. Cigar smoke, by contrast, can smell quite pleasant — but stogies, in my opinion, smell even better before they’re lit. As a young kid, I was fascinated by the exotic odor wafting from my grandfather’s stash of pipe tobacco.

Despite those interesting fragrances, I never wanted to light anything on fire solely so I could breathe the resulting smoke.

Smoking, though, continues to attract new enthusiasts despite the health risks.

The tobacco industry remains a global powerhouse of commerce. Vaping products are selling very well. The legal cannabis industry is on the rise. Smoking continues to generate massive profits.

Contact Business Editor Dan Nielsen at 231-933-1467 or