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Nov 17, 2008


Norman Alston

I understand that smokers tend to feel discriminated against. After all, it would seem that we are all entitled to our bad habits. Smoking, however, is a particularly communal offense. Even outdoors, the smoke and acrid odor are essentially impossible to contain to the smoker's immediate area. Without such controls and given the inherently unhealthy attributes of smoking, any ban on this practice in public places seems appropriate to me.


I'm not a smoker and (the occasional cigar excepted), never have been. But I'm quite opposed to smoking bans. It's none of the government's damned business. Liberty matters -- in ways both small and big.

Rick Wamre

Scurvy, your point is a good one, and one I struggle with on this issue. I don't want the government legislating every aspect of our lives, yet Norm's point is well-taken, too: A smoker's impact is felt by people well beyond the smoker's normal circle of influence, and it's not always possible — if people can smoke wherever they want — to escape that influence, even if you want to.


We already have a smoking ordance. This ordance is mainly about expanding the current law to include bars, cigar bars and billard halls. Hardly public places where you have to go. Granted there are probably no cigar bars and billard halls where smoking doesn't occour, but there are non-smoking bars. I was there yesterday and it appears that this is a done deal as the committee is stacked with anti-smoking zealots. I also object to holding the property owner liable for not properly enforcing the law.


I'm perfectly happy for the owners of any establishment to impose their own rules about whether smoking, or any other bad habit, is permitted at their establishment. (I always enjoy going to clubs that have the immensely civilized rule forbidding the use of cell phones in the clubhouse, for that matter. I'd rather be at the next table to a Pall Mall smoker than some vacuous 20-year-old yammering into her phone.) Similarly, I'm just fine with the State of Texas prohibiting smoking in a state courthouse, for example, or a city banning smoking in a city park. But for a city to tell the owners of a bar that the patrons of the bar can't smoke there is much too nanny-state for my taste.

Just for the record, I took particular delight in voting for McCain in the Texas primary as a way of voting against Huckabee, in part because of Huck's support for a national smoking ban. Like Old Bull Lee in On the Road (based on William S. Burroughs, of course), I have a "sentimental streak" for the America of 1910 because:

"you could get morphine in a drugstore without prescription and Chinese smoked opium in their evening windows and the country was wild and brawling and free, with abundance and any kind of freedom for everyone."

Norman Alston

I am sympathetic to the individual freedoms concerns, I just fail to see how they apply here. If the government wanted to ban smoking in your home or car, you'd have a point. But that isn't what we have here. Public places like bars, restaurants, even pool halls, are already controlled by a variety of reasonable regulations to protect general public safety. This ban would be no different.

As I alluded to in my original comment, we all have our bad habits. However, my overeating at the table next to you doesn't make you fat, just me. If someone next to me at the bar is drinking too much, I'm not affected unless they drink to the point that they are unruly or unsafe driving to the next bar. At that point only, the point where others are put at risk, the laws kick in. With smoking, the smell and the health issues associated with second hand smoke start as soon as you light up. If you want to argue personal liberties for smoking, then you need to devise a way to keep smoking a purely personal experience. Good luck with that.


In my model, there would be -- in response to market demand -- smoking restaurants and non-smoking restaurants, smoking bars and non-smoking bars, &c. You and your sensitive nose would have places to go.

By the way, the 20-year-old yammering into her cell phone at the next table does raise my blood pressure. Want to help me get the government to regulate her? No, I didn't think so.


Just one more thing to help you grasp the freedom concern. As bar owners understand very well, people like to smoke and drink at the same time. If they can't smoke at a bar, they won't stay there and drink as long. Can you understand the bar owner's desire to have the freedom to set the rules at her establishment? (Oh, but that's just economic liberty. Who cares, right?)

Norman Alston

I don't know that I like it any more than you, but I say let the cell phone user talk. Freedom of speech is understood in most circles to be clearly protected, up to the point that speech disturbs the peace, in which case it is just as clearly limited by the law. In neither case do I see real health issues for anyone. It appears that your ears are a lot more sensitive than my nose.

Economic liberty? Does that include rolling back restaurant health standards, fire-resistive provisions, emergency exiting requirements and building structural standards? I can say authoritatively that all those things cost a significant amount of money. Are these safety and health-centered provisions also an encroachment on the bar owner's economic liberty?

At least it appears that we can agree that pointless sarcasm is a freedom any of us can enjoy without limits.



Of course, I don't recommend rolling back restaurant health standards. You see, as a potential restaurant customer, I can't determine how healthy the kitchen is. That is the sort of thing that it makes sense for the government to regulate, because the costs to the consumer of trying to make those determinations are excessive. Same analysis for your other examples. I can't tell much of anything about a building's structural quality just by looking at it. You obviously would have a much better understanding of what you were looking at, but still probably wouldn't get all the information you'd like from a cursory visual inspection.

That's completely different from the burden I would place on you, which is to pick up the phone and call a restaurant that you're thinking of trying for the first time, to find out whether they permit smoking. If they do, you don't have to go there. You could get all the information you needed, with minimal effort. No need to regulate this.

We can certainly agree that pointless sarcasm is a delightful freedom. The internet would be much less entertaining without it. :)

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