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Bans Leave Smokers Fuming

Banning smoking is one of the hottest legislative issues today in states from Vermont to North Dakota.

While the bans may improve public health, they're leaving a lot of smokers out in the cold, reports The Early Show correspondent Tracy Smith.

You might say we've come a long way, baby -- but not everyone thinks we're moving in the right direction. As more and more bans take effect, smokers are being driven to the fringes of polite society, and that has many fuming.

Such as Audrey Silk, who says she's the target of a hate crusade.

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"I'm now in constant defensive mode," she says.

Silk, a writer and ex-cop, is also a smoker.

"The general attitude is that smokers are lepers, and pariahs," Silk says. "Smokers are getting assaulted on the street, because they feel they've been given the green light."

Asked if she feels victimized, Silk blows out smoke and says, "Absolutely."

The anti-smoking movement is rapidly gaining ground.

"Welcome to the ashtray of the Northeast!" protesters chant. "Help keep Jersey cancer free!"

Seven states now ban smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Three other states, including New Jersey, have bills pending.

Cigarette smokers, who once found some refuge in bars and smoking sections, are finding themselves out in the street, huddled in the cold, lighting up -- alone.

Silk notes, "In the United States of America, this is not the way it's supposed to be. You're not supposed to legislate people's behavior, and work to socially engineer them because you said so."

In Michigan, the CEO of health plan provider Weyco fired four employees for smoking, even while off the job, claiming rising health care costs were choking his business.

"This creates discrimination," Silk says. "This one steps over the line, because it's really a bigger threat."

Fed up with what she calls anti-smoker propaganda, Silk formed "New York City C.L.A.S.H.," a smokers' rights group.

The worst experience smoker Lynn Ryan-Loeb has had, she says, is having someone come right up to her face and lecture her about smoking.

Joseph Dobrian says, "I think it has become almost fashionable, almost chic, to bug smokers. I mean, you would not dream, or any polite person dream of going up to a total stranger and saying, 'Hey, fatso, lose some weight,' or 'God, get that ugly mole taken off your face.'"

Smoker Bob Martin urges, "Don't protect me from myself. If I want to smoke, allow me to smoke."

But Patrick Reynolds of points out, "The rights of nonsmokers who may be standing nearby supersede the rights of smokers."

Reynolds is the grandson of tobacco man R.J. Reynolds, and he became an anti-smoking advocate after watching his father die of emphysema.

"Why should a nonsmoker have to breath -– involuntarily -- poisonous air?" Reynolds asks.

A tolerant public turned against smokers when numerous studies linked secondhand smoke to disease. According to the American Cancer Society, over 60,000 deaths each year are caused by secondhand smoke.

But Silk's group says the secondhand smoke argument can't be proven.

Silk says, "There are no bodies. They believe this is how many would be killed, but try to find a death certificate with that as a cause of death."

Reynolds scoffs at that: "Second hand smoke kills. It's time to get your head out of the sand."

Some smokers view the bans as positive, an impetus to quit. Not Silk's group. To them, lighting up is a right, no matter what the cost.

"Its our bodies," Lynn Ryan-Loeb says. "Our choice. We want to smoke. We don't need you policing us; we don't need you telling us what is good for us, and what you perceive is not good for us. And that's just the way it is."

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