Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oh, Just Ban Smoking Already!

First of all, let me just say that I loathe the phrase "Nanny State" and think that any commentator who uses it with a straight face is welcoming a full-blown Freudian interpretation of his argument as a response. In fact, I may adopt that policy in the future

That being said, it seems to be an extremely effective framing device that primarily conservatives use for few other reasons than too feminize the opposition and to pit them against what they would have you believe to be the "cultural elites" (who else can afford a nanny?).

There are two bills before running through the state pipeline that will inspire critics to scream "Nanny State!" The first is the smoking ban. Regardless of whether the smoking ban is successful this time around or not, there will be no smoking in bars in Wisconsin within the next 10 years. Period. It's just a matter of time, folks. It's best to accept this now.

This trajectory started back in the early and mid-1990s when most national fast food restaurants went entirely smoke-free (honestly, the people I now see smoking the most around fast food joints are the employees). Not long after most locally owned restaurants closed off their smoking sections. Then came the full bans in places like California, Colorado, Boston, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, Chicago and New York. Christ, even New Hampshire is now smoke free.

At this rate, America's final smoking section will be a small room in Iowa.

I seriously don't understand where people who oppose the smoking ban get off thinking this is about them, i.e. the smokers. Frankly no one's really all that concerned with you. The bill is intended to protect the people that aren't smoking. And there is an increasing body of evidence that they need protecting.

There are three arguments that I have heard most frequently given to oppose smoking bans. The first is the economic consequences to bars should a bar be implemented. Lobbies like the Tavern League say that bars will suffer a decline in business should the ban pass. Thus far in places that have a ban bars have actually seen an increase in business. The Tavern League will likely counter this argument with some nonsense about the "bar culture" here in Wisconsin -- well, if that's really the case, then the "bar scene" will survive a smoking ban.

If a middle ground is needed for some kind of compromise, then it might be wise to look at an "exemption clause" like the one used in Washington, DC.

The second excuse is the "slippery slope" argument. Some smokers and civil libertarians are worried that by banning smoking in bars the legislature will be opening the doors to banning smoking in private residences or cars or whathaveyou. There are examples of this actually happening. The focus of any proper smoking ban should never be to punish adults for engaging in behavior, however unhealthy, that is still legal, but as long a bans is intended to protect non-smokers it should be given consideration.

The last argument is one of the most asinine wastes of breath I've ever heard and typically sounds a lot like this: Well, what if I enjoy having a cigarette with my beer? Then eat outside. Well, what if it's winter? Then wear a jacket. This isn't about you, this is about the people around you.

[Incidentally, I think this could be a very effective marketing phrase to help pass such legislation. Nearly every smoker I know, no matter how much they enjoy and defend their habits, knows at least on an intrinsic level that what they do is not optimal healthwise. They don't exactly go around promoting or encouraging others to pick up their hobby. A smoking ban shouldn't be about smokers' convenience. It should be about public health.]

In the future this debate will look just as silly as the great seat belt debate of the 20th Century does now.

The second bill making its way through the capitol is a ban on text messaging while driving. Sen. Alan Lasee is the author. Alan Lasee!* Honestly, this is a no-brainer. No one would condone the use of a lap-top while driving and that's essentially what text messaging is: using a small computer.

Neither of these issues are about personal freedom. They're about public safety. If you think you have a right to enjoy a smoke with your beer, then there's someone with just as much of a right to enjoy his or her beer with a breath of fresh air, and frankly that smoke-free personal air space is constantly getting larger and larger.

* CORRECTION: Originally, I had "Sen. Frank Lasee" as the author of the text messaging driving bill. I got the office right, but the Lasee wrong: it's Sen. Alan Lasee who's introducing the bill, not Frank Lasee.

Tune in next week when I confuse Jeff Fitzgerald with Scott over something or another.


Mary Jan said...

The bill is being introduced by Senator Alan Lasee, not to be confused with Representative Frank Lasee.

Jb said...

Damnit! You're absolutely right. And the scary thing is that I actually made a very conscientious effort to make sure I distinguished between the two.

My Bad.

Teresa Thiel said...

I completely agree with you on the smoking ban. While I don't disagree that text messaging while driving is a no-no... I don't think we need a special law for it... we already have one called inattentive driving.

Jb said...

That's a valid point; but, frankly, whatever is needed to stop the phenomenon before it becomes a mass habit I'm fine with. Sometimes, it's just nice to be able to say in a driver's ed. class (or whatever), "This activity specifically is not allowed under the law. Don't do it."

Rogers Susan said...

Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) causes disease in non-smokers. Workplace bans on smoking are interventions to reduce exposure to ETS to try to prevent harmful health effects. The Irish Government on the 29th March 2004 introduced the first national comprehensive legislation banning smoking in all workplaces including bars and restaurants. http://www.chantixhome.com/