Wednesday, February 15

Public Smoking Bans: A Serious Post

As of late, there has been a good deal of discussion in the Bloomington-Normal area regarding whether or not the city council should outlaw smoking in public buildings. While arguments on both sides have been both verbose and time-consuming, I find that neither side really presents a decent argument in regards to this issue. Let me recap what has been said so far:
People For the Smoking Ban: Second-hand smoke is a serious health risk. As such, it should be outlawed in public buildings. And by public buildings, they mean any businesses, not just public buildings like the capitol building.
People Against the Smoking Ban: If you don't like smoke, don't go to a place which allows smoking on the premises.
People For the Smoking Ban: Why should we leave? You guys are the ones causing the problem.
People Against the Smoking Ban: If you don't like it, you can GET OUT!

And so on and so forth. Basically, this whole diatribe has all the veracity and intellectual fortitude of a sixth-grade squabble. Unfortunately, the option of this squabble ending with a fight at the flagpole after school is highly unlikely.
Before I begin lacing into this whole argument, let me state my bias by saying that I am against a legislative act which would ban smoking in any facility not owned and operated by the government. I will get to my reasons in a bit. For the nonce, let's examine the aforementioned argument in a little more detail:
Point #1 People who support a public smoking ban are making a blanket claim regarding the detrimental effects of second-hand smoke.
Rebuttal While it is true that second-hand smoke HAS been proven to lead to health problems, the fact of the matter is that the situations for these studies are completely different from the situations which the Pro-Smoking Ban zealots are combating. In studies done on the effects of second-hand smoke, the study usually focuses on the effects of long-term exposure. To the best of my knowledge, no studies have been done researching the effects of second-hand smoke exposure that would actually occur in a bar setting. If such a study exists (one which would examine the effects of second-hand smoke exposure that would last for two to three hours once or twice a week) Pro-Smoking Ban activists have yet to cite it. The fact is, Pro-Smoking Bans activists have yet to produce a satisfactory scientific study which would warrant the claim that second-hand smoke IN A BAR SETTING is the serious health risk its proponents claim it is.
Rejoinder Since no studies have yet been posited which indicate that second hand smoke in limited amounts causes health issues, let us assume that, until such time as this point is scientifically proven, health is not an issue for the population at large. However, there is a certain percentage of the population, such as people with asthma or people with other respiratory maladies, who would suffer from second hand smoke much more than the population at large. Should these people be ignored? For them, second-hand smoke is a much more significant health risk. Should they be unable to enjoy a bar because of their physical state?
Rebuttal to the Rejoinder I am not going to claim that the desires of a certain minority should be ignored in favor of the healthy majority. I am not going to claim that people with asthma have no rights when it comes to choosing which businesses they should frequent. This argument quickly becomes one in which economic principles are placed against moral ideals. If a business owner wants to attract people who will enjoy a smoke-free environment, then they will place a "No Smoking" sign in their window. If they feel they can afford to lose that business, then they will allow smoking. Excessive legislation should not be the answer to this particular side of the puzzle. If we are to outlaw everything in which certain members of the population cannot take part due to health risks, then we must also outlaw all physical sports, any activities which might cause excessive stress, etc., ad nauseum. While the health of a select few should not be ignored, we should also not seek to equalize all aspects of life (including dining choices) simply because certain members of the population would experience a health inconvenience.
Sidenote to Point #1 If we are to take the Pro-Smoking Ban's premises (in which something is considered a public health risk without sufficient scientific backing), then we must be prepared to outlaw other types of behavior in restaurants and bars. For example, anyone with AIDS must not be allowed to enter a public facility. There is a public health risk associated with having someone with AIDS in the same building as other people. While the odds are incredibly small (and practically non-existent) that this person will give AIDS to another customer in the bar, the fact is that incredibly small odds have already been accepted by the Pro-Smoking Ban people as sufficient reason to outlaw certain activities. Going on their own terms, then, would mean that anyone presenting any sort of health risk, no matter how small, would be banned from a public facility. After all, it's a public health risk. Never mind the scientific data. As we can see, when we accept the "public health risk" argument on its own terms and apply it to other situations, it quickly becomes laughable. This argument does not hold up under scrutiny.
Point #2 While customers are certainly free to come and go as they please, the employees of establishments which allow smoking are exposed to second-hand smoke constantly and therefore placed at a much greater risk.
Rebuttal If legislation is needed to ensure that the employees of such establishments are not put at risk, then it should take the following forms: 1) Any employee of an establishment which allows smoking ust legally be informed of the risks to her or his health 2) The employees of such establishments, if it can be proven that they are not smokers or are not engaging in activities which would cause the same health problems that exposure to second-hand smoke would, would be entitled to a higher rate of pay than employees who do smoke. While it is impossible to put a fiscal value on someone's health, there should be some compensation in order to prevent further legal action on the part of the employee, should any health problems arise.
While it is certainly true that second-hand smoke does prove itself to be a risk to employees, due to the fact that the War on Smoking has become so much more intellectually fashionable, this seems to be the only instance lately in which risk to the employees has required so much legislative attention. Other workers who face health risks on a daily basis (security guards, animal trainers, construction workers) have taken care of their problems with little to no drastic legislation on the part of the government. It is safe to assume that the employees of establishments where smoking is allowed will take care of this issue on their own as well.
Point # 3 If you don't like it, don't go there
Rebuttal In all honesty, this argument is so childish and puerile that I find myself cringing at the thought of arguing against it. It honestly saddens me that so many people who oppose a public smoking ban would resort to such a childish argument instead of attacking the premises of their opponent. As I have shown, the "health risk" that second-hand smoking poses has become nothing more than a spurious Grim Reaper - "take our word that bar smoke will kill you, and pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" All comments about health risks aside, though, Point #3 now really comes down to an argument in etiquette. When we take away all the alleged health risks of second-hand smoke, the argument now simply becomes a Sartrean discourse on whose interests should supercede whose. There really is no answer to this argument, except to say that if we take a Kantian viewpoint (in which whatever provides the most amount of happiness with the least amount of pain for the general population), then we must do further study. The morality of this situation now becomes dependent on how many smokers would like to frequent a bar and how much pain a smoking ban would cause them versus how many non-smokers would like to frequent the same bar and how badly second-hand smoke would affect them. The issue at this point remains inconclusive, unless a decisive census can be taken determining all the desires of the citizens of Bloomington-Normal. Until such time as a census is taken, I remain neutral on this point.
Legislation is not the answer Until such time as it can be proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the second hand smoke exposure one would be subjected to in a bar/restaurant setting is deadly enough to warrant such legislation, the matter remains one of economic interest rather than political necessity. The environment of a public establishment and its contribution to the resulting loss or increase of business will dictate to the owners of an establishment whether or not people want to frequent a building which exposes them to second-hand smoke. But let's think for a moment what a public smoking ban will open the doors to:
1) Child abuse. Once you have established that second-hand smoke is a public health risk and should be outlawed in all public buildings, it is no logical leap to assume that any home in which the parents smoke is a deadly place for a child. Erego, any smoking parents are willfully endangering their child, and should have their child removed from them.
2) Private home legislation. Again, once privately owned and operated businesses are denied the privilege to allow smoking on the premises, it is not that far of a leap to claim that private homes should not allow smoking. Otherwise, inviting someone into your home would be considered attempted murder, or at least assault.
Once we open the Pandora's box labeled "Public smoking is a health risk", we must be prepared to follow the trail it sets out for us. I, for one, am unwilling to accept both the aforementioned results of a public smoking ban and any unforeseen results which may result from such excessive legistlation.
Conclusion While I have said a lot regarding the arguments of both sides of this debate, my main points remain thus: 1) Second-hand smoke has not been proven to cause the extreme health risks which would necessitate a legislative ban 2) In situations where it does, the choice of the customer/employee will allow them to leave such a facility if they are experiencing health problems associated with second-hand smoke, and finally 3) It is not the government's place to legislate what may or may not go on in a privately-owned facility, as long as such activities do not break any pre-set laws or do not willfully endanger the lives of people who frequent such an establishment. Again, the problem lies in the fact that we are proposing excessive legislation, which will inconvenience a great majority of the population, in order to address an allegedly "public" health concern which may or may not exist. In all instances, it has been my utmost belief that excessive legislation must be avoided. When personal freedoms are taken away (such as the right of a business owner to choose whether or not he wants to allow smoking in his establishment) without any substantial reason, the government is overstepping its bounds. I realize that it's fashionable to rail against smokers, but the fact is, taking away the right to choose is not the answer. Smokers don't take away your right to protest. Please don't infringe upon their rights to conduct their life in whichever manner they choose until such time as you can prove scientifically that it is a serious risk to you as a person.
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8 Bullshit Responses:

Anonymous Angela left the following bullshit...

Hi Austin. Ok - so I agree that you make a good argument, and I am not much of an argument-maker myself, but I think smoke is gross. Ok, so that's not my comment. Getting the government involved in things is usually a bad idea, so I can't completely agree with a ban. I agree that privately-owned businesses have the right to choose to allow smoking or to ban it. If anything, all of the people who support the smoking ban should take action and plan a protest-of-sorts of specific establishments that cause discomfort to them specifically. I can only imagine some creepy biker bar, where all of the regulars smoke, under a smoking ban that was activated by people who would never have imagined frequenting that bar ever in their lives (yes, Bloomington-Normal is filled with creepy biker bars).
Now that I have made the fact clear that I think a smoking ban is not necessarily the best plan of action, I can explain why I support it. First of all, I hate smoke. Second of all, people are lazy and a smoking ban is the easy way out, and therefore the only way I would be able to go out and enjoy myself at a bar, restaraunt, or other establishment that might allow smoking otherwise. Now that I have still not found a way to say what I really wanted to say, I will just start over and bitch a little bit.
What is so hard about stepping outside to smoke a cigarette? Sure, it might be cold/hot or whatever. Whatever the situation, the smoker would probably endure discomfort for less than the majority of their night whereas a non-smoker would endure discomfort for the entirety of their night if smoking is allowed inside the building. Also, people who smoke while eating (barf) or smoke for the majority of their night (cancer) are pretty much disgusting beings and shouldn't be allowed out in public. Boo smoking.

10:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous left the following bullshit...

OH austin. You are your cute but horrible irrelevant examples...
Ok. A comparison to physical sports and stressful situations is completely false. Clearly these are activities that you subject yourself to, rather than being unavoidably affected by when you wish to be in some public place.
AIDS, Austin? COME ON. First of all, you know there's a difference between outlawing a person and outlawing a person's behavior. Secondly, if AIDS were nearly as big of a risk as the (you claim, i don't really know) slight risk of second-hand smoke, it would be an's not.
Child-abuse? Private home legislation? A.)clear difference B.)are you seriously that paranoid? The general population doesn't care that much about smoking bans. This isn't big brother scale.
Conclusion...your argument seems directed at an uncritical reader...I can't help but wonder if you saw all this and just figured it'd slip by (and that makes me smile). Anyway, thanks for the vote of confidence.

1:37 AM  
Blogger The Angry Drunken Irishman left the following bullshit...

Ok, princass....

You missed my point on the AIDS and child abuse arguments. I was saying that IF WE ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT SOMETHING AS A HEALTH RISK WITHOUT SCIENTIFIC BACKING, then those two examples would logically follow (and I didn't mean to make AIDS out to be something big, I was trying to make second-hand smoke something little). As per my example re: asthma, yes, I suppose that there is a difference between actively participating in an activity and being passively affected by it...if you are willing to completely disregard the fact that anyone going into a bar is ACTIVELY CHOOSING TO INHALE SECOND-HAND SMOKE.
Given the fact that you skimmed a lot of my argument and had significant grammatical errors in your comment, I can only assume that you were drunk when you typed this.


8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous left the following bullshit...

I would like to preface this with an "I love you Austin, and you are way more intelligent than I will ever be, but you wanted comments..."

I would also like to say that I am pretty much a fence sitter on this subject, but am leaning towards each place of business making their own decision on the matter.

But there are a couple of things I would like to say. While there is no hard evidence on the effects of smaller amounts of second hand smoke on the masses there is some evidence that touches my life that might point to it being a very not good thing. My great uncle died of lung cancer having never smoked a day in his life. When he was diagnosed his doctor asked him if he had because his lungs looked like those of a light smoker. After a few more questions he told the doctor about his love of bowling and how for the last 30 years of his life he had bowled in a friday night league and spent most saturday nights the bowling alley as well. He was subjected to second hand smoke on every one of those night. I think you can get my point from here. I know, not an actual scientific study, but something that hits home with me.

Also, I know I would love there to be a bar or five that I could choose from in the area that I could go to and not wake up in the morning not being able to talk normally and feeling like I swallowed acid the night before.

But that's not really a good reason, just a preference. Mostly I should probably just move to California so I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore. :)

I think the best route would be for people to petition their favorite places of business for change.


8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous left the following bullshit...

I agree with Brekke on that last part. I think you'd have to be a moron not to accept that ciagarette smoke is unhealthy and uncomfortable for most poeple. However, I think it is up to the discretion of the owner to allow or prevent smoking on her premises. The government should have no say in that. Brekke's idea of leaving it up to the patronage of an establishment to petition for a change seems the only correct course of action.

By the way, you should try and be more concise. I had to scroll through most of that to get to the leaving comments part. ;)


12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous left the following bullshit...

I'm just sick of having to wash my clothes after every time I go out. Smelly.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous left the following bullshit...

... uh, you wouldn't have washed your clothes anyway? I mean, since you were wearing them all night and sweating in them, etc? THAT'S smelly.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Btown83 left the following bullshit...

Hey Austin,
I was plesantly surprised to actually find an arguement pro or con on the smoking ban that was actually written by someone who was educated enough to actually discuss the real issues. I am pretty adament about this topic, but gave up discussing it because I was so sick of constantly hearing arguements such as

If you don't like it you can GET OUT


Why don't you just smoke your death sticks at home

Etc, etc

Thank you for an informated and enlightened side of the issue


11:46 AM  

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