Thursday, March 1, 2007

Why the Smoking Ban Makes Liberals Sound Like Conservatives (and Vice Versa)

Just as states have acted while the federal government has idled on climate change, Virginia communities aren't waiting for the state to catch up to shifting public sentiment on smoking bans. As the Washington Post reports today, Alexandria has come up with a radical solution:

Frustrated that the state legislature failed to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, Alexandria officials have come up with a maverick plan of their own that would prohibit smoking in all new eateries and make it more difficult for existing establishments to allow people to light up.

The unusual proposal would use the city's zoning authority to mandate smoke-free restaurants.

If successful, Alexandria would become the first jurisdiction to bar restaurant smoking in Virginia, where the state legislature severely limits local authority. That means individual governments do not have the power to institute outright smoking bans in restaurants and bars, such as those adopted in the District and several Maryland jurisdictions.

So Alexandria has decided to use its limited powers to achieve the same result.

A recent poll showed 71% of Virginians support a statewide smoking ban, with a full 60% strongly supporting a ban. That's probably a region-wide sentiment, as similar numbers have been found in Maryland, where seven in ten voters want a statewide smoking ban. And for the first time in the nation's history, more than half of Americans live in a city or state with laws mandating workplaces, restaurants or bars be smoke-free, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.

It's usually liberals calling for broad mandates and conservatives urging local control. But in this case, it's Democratic Mayor Bill Euille asking for his community to be able to make its own decision, while Republicans in the General Assembly bitterly refuse to give up power and hang on to the statewide ban on smoking bans. If communities had local control over decisions over smoking bans, I wouldn't be fighting so hard for a statewide ban.

Do Republicans only support local control when it's in their best interests? A comment from an Alexandria pub owner is instructive:
"I don't like it. I'd be against it," said Pat Troy, who owns an Old Town pub where smoking is allowed in the bar and on patios. "I want to stand up for people who want a cigarette or a smoke. The rights are being taken from people right and left. After a while, we'll have no rights left."
Is it really rights that Mr. Troy is so concerned about? If that's the case, why doesn't he fight for the rights of the 80% of Virginians who are nonsmokers? I guess our right to breathe clean air is less important than smokers' right to smoke whereever and whenever they please. If you think Pat Troy's is taking the wrong stand, please email them!

The Washington Times had an article this week with several DC bars
claiming a loss of business due to DC's smoking ban. It makes a watertight case that lacks just one thing: Any numbers showing a single DC bar has lost business from January/February 2006 to January/February 2007. Do bars not keep track of sales, or did the reporter just not ask? Usually best to avoid details that could hurt the central thesis of the article. Oh, and it would also help if they had a shred of even anecdotal evidence Virginia has seen any increase in business due to DC's smoking ban. Other than that, great reporting as always from that paragon of journalism, the Washington Times.


Anonymous said...

I don't remember "clean air" being in the bill of rights.

The Green Miles said...

I didn't see Marlboros in there, either. What's your point?

Anonymous said...

Pat Troy is an American hero.

Anonymous said...

I am so tired of smokers defending their "right" to smoke. I understand the addiction aspect - go get help. I understand the social aspect - you learned to break the nasty nose-picking habit when you were young, break this one.

For non-smokers - smoking is so unhealthy and we feel violated due to the lingering muck that taints our lungs, hair and clothes.

Hurrah Alexandria, and let's go Arlington!

Phriendly Jaime said...

Nobody owns the air, smoking bans are unconstitutional. I hate them. Don't like smoke? Stay home.

For non-smokers - smoking is so unhealthy and we feel violated due to the lingering muck that taints our lungs, hair and clothes.

Awwwwwwwwwwwww, call the waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaambulance, then. What's next? Don't tell people that they can't smoke until SUVs are banned for what they do to the air and people's lungs.

The Green Miles said...

Again with the constitutional right to smoke. What amendment was that again?

This is not a personal rights/privacy issue. It is a public health issue. Just like the government sets food health standards, fire/occupancy code, and alcohol permits, the government has the right to ban smoking in bars/restaurants (it already mandates nonsmoking sections).

Anonymous said...

It's a question of public good. Do smokers and non-smokers benefit from a non-smoke environment? Yes. Do smokers and non-smokers benefit from a smoke-filled environment? No. That's it.

If you want to make yourself sick by smoking, you can stay at home. There is no public benefit of you smoking next to people who don't want to breathe in your smoke.

At least cars have to pass emission inspections. And I would be thrilled with emission-free cars instead of gas guzzlers. The cleaner the air the better.

Anonymous said...

I also don't see 'it's illegal to urinate all over someone smoking in public' in the Constitution. It's approximately as offensive as smoking.

See you at Ireland's Own. I'll be the one sinking pints and shifting from foot to foot.

Anonymous said...

When I was a boy,our local movie theater allowed smoking. The ventilation system pulled the air from left to right, smokers sat on the right, everybody was happy and there was no such thing as a tobacco nazi.

Today,Tobacco Naziism is a major religion but I don't think many will see Heaven.

Anonymous said...

Oh please, Jaime. I think that most smoking bans are an overreach by gov't, but it's stupid statements like yours that make me put it on the very end of my list of gov't injustice that I'm going to do anything about.

Above, someone came up with what I think is a perfectly legit analogy. What if someone took a leak on your leg at the bar, after having a beer? It's the same as your smoke in my lungs and clothes. Both are the product of someone else's thoughtless indulgence.

The Green Miles said...

Jeez, Anonymous, people have commented that nonsmokers like me can go to hell, but I didn't think they meant it literally! :)

Anonymous said...

An individual's predisposition to lung cancer is partly from genetics and partly from exposure and sensitivity to the carcinogen, nicotine.

Some people have or have relatives that smoked for their entire lives and never got cancer (good for you). Others (Dana Reeve) never smoked, yet developed and died from the disease. None of us can know whether we're going to get it or not, but I'm not really willing to play that game of Russian roulette, thanks.

One in five, non-smoking women will develop lung cancer. Think about your mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, nieces, etc--how would you feel if they ended up with cancer (any type)--how would you feel if it might have been prevented.

I work in health care, and I've seen many people who have had their voice boxes removed as a result of years of heavy smoking--they have great difficulty communicating with others, are tethered to an oxygen tank and fatigue easily. Others wait in vain for lung transplants or run out of time. If you want that life, keep smoking, but I think I can speak for many non-smokers when I say leave us out of it.

Aside from the fact that it smells FOUL, smoke is simply an irritant to the nose and throat. Thanks for days of hacking, coughing and phlegm, post-bar. Hope you're enjoying it.

Non-smokers' behavior in a restaurant or a bar doesn't prevent smokers from enjoying a meal. Smokers' behavior, however, does prevent non-smokers from enjoying ours. Thanks, again.

Burn and smoke your money, but don't do it in my face. Ban it.

Anonymous said...

Look, folks. If it makes you feel better to insult smokers on this silly blog, go ahead.

But the decisions will be made by politicians eho do whatever they're bribed to do.

Anonymous said...

You're gay.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of how you feel about this, localities should be able to decide this on their own. It's complete hypocrisy for the Republican establishment in Richmond to continue to not allow local governments throughout the state to govern as they, and their constituents, see fit.

As for the smoking ban, I support a ban in all public places, though am not a fan of banning smoking in private establishments. Alexandria has a voluntary non-smoking program, which 1/3 of all restaurants already belong to. This is an area where the market will produce results. If some of the numbers I’ve read are true, and upwards of 80% of local residents want smoke-free establishments, business owners will follow suit and make their establishments smoke-free as it makes good business sense. If there are a couple restaurants left in town, Pat Troy’s being one of them, that still allow smoking and cater to that clientele, then so be it. Consumers can drive this issue by choosing to dine at smoke-free establishments.

However, smoking does cost society. There are significant external costs that everyone has to pay due to smoking- the costs associated w/ treating all the cancers that are caused by smoking alone should mean that establishments that choose to be smoke-free should be compensated through tax breaks as they are taking steps to lessen these costs, and vice-versa, those establishments which allow smoking should pay a tax to specifically cover the costs that we all have to pay as a result of smoking. In the end, the market will produce results and in Alexandria most restaurants will be smoke-free while there will be a few places left that smokers can enjoy.

The Green Miles said...

To the last commenter, I agree with most of what you said, but I disagree that the market should be allowed to decide this issue for two reasons ...
1) Secondhand smoke is a public health issue, and we don't let the market decide public health issues. If you follow this logic, then the market should also be allowed to set things like food safety standards, the drinking age, etc.
2) While many restaurants in Arl/Alex have voluntarily gone smoke-free, virtually no bars have. Is that because restaurant customers have a much different smoking rate than bar customers? Or is it because bar owners are terrified of change? The bar market has refused to act, so it's up to the government to regulate.

Anonymous said...

Alright, I just smoked my last cigarette about 4 hours ago.

I believe in freedom but really, what good is cigarettes to anyone? They aren't cigars and they aren't chewing tobacco. They taste like crap and mentally, they only satisfy an urged which you have trained yourself to need.

Replace all the tobacco fields in America with plant life or sludge farms fit for energy production. Give Phillip Morris and the rest of his friends tax incentives to transform their cancer business into something worthwhile for society. I think its overdue.

When us "former" smokers breakdown and start whining for a ciggy, in the long run we'll be happy none are around to buy.

Anonymous said...

Miles, I'd mostly say that it's because smokers tend to throw much bigger fits than non-smokers (when it comes to their unhappiness re: the restrictions on smoking in a given place).

I think the argument over lost business has pretty much been put to bed. If NYC, SF, and fraking *Ireland* can do it, so can we.

Anonymous said...

I am a former smoker who does not support the ban - and who especially has a problem with the way the Peoples Republic of Alexandria intends to implement it.

For me, it begins with the issue of freedom. I believe in an adult's freedom to choose whether, when and where to smoke (but hope that smoker will be courteous in public). For private enterprise that means being able to choose whether your establishment is non-smoking or smoking. And for consumers that means choosing whether you wish to patronize one type of establishment over another.

Currently a third of Alexandria's dining and drinking establishments are "smoke-free," and the balance are not. Obviously the different restaurants and bars see economic benefits to the choices they made, and equally obviously is there are enough choices available to satisfy everyone.

The real problem I have is the way a few elected officials have decided that the means justify the ends.

Using "loopholes" to achieve one's goal is sneaky at best, and does little to inspire confidence in government or the elected officials. We should be able to read a law and have a certain level of understanding what the consequences of that law are. Undoubtedly many if not most laws are full of loopholes. Must we now live in fear of how they will be used for or against certain segments of the population?