The world as we know it almost came to an end this week when Keith Richards and Ron Wood defied Britain's new anti-smoking law and lit up during a concert in Greenwich. We were surprised to learn that these two aging artists had any bad habits at all -- but that should be more of a concern to their respective families and their physicians.

Apparently the sight of the two veteran musicians smoking on stage almost caused an outbreak of smoking in the audience. Fortunately, a mass smoking outbreak was stamped out before anyone came to serious harm. Authorities chose not to fine the arena (the equivalent of $5,300) but instead issued a warning not to let it happen again. How in the world anyone is expected to control the Rolling Stones, or any other decent rock band, once they are on stage is beyond us. And somehow we think the $5,300 fine could easily be absorbed by any member of the band and would hardly act as a deterrent to further malfeasance. Don't get us wrong, we are all for keeping society civil and for rules that are applied equally --but some rules might need an exception. Let's call it in this case the "smoking exception" or perhaps the "Keith Richards clause."

This is not only reasonable but necessary. For example, if Keith Richards were to stop smoking he would cease to be Keith Richards. That is a well-known scientific fact. For that matter, imagine Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca or The Big Sleep without a cigarette in his hand. We are sure there are technological means by which the offending cigarettes could be erased, but would it still be Humphrey Bogart on the screen? The Daily Telegraph of London this week offered an important reminder of the role that cigarettes has played in the production of great art. The article pointed out that if Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Evelyn Waugh or Virginia Woolf were alive in today's Britain "they would not be allowed to indulge in a habit which sustained them during the most creative phases of their lives. The moment they popped their favoured cigar, cigarette or pipe between their lips and lit up, they would have been fined on the spot." For art's sake, let Keith Richards smoke.