Death Cheating

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"Because of this legislation," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says of his about-to-be-enacted smoking ban, "it's literally true that something like a thousand people will not die each year who would have died." Presumably, Bloomberg is talking about people exposed to secondhand smoke. Since the evidence that secondhand smoke kills anyone–let alone New York City bartenders and waiters specifically–is highly debatable, you may wonder how he arrived at this number.

First, Bloomberg must have ignored all of the problems with the epidemiological research, typically involving wives of smokers, that links secondhand smoke to lung cancer and heart disease. Second, he must have estimated how the exposure of a restaurant or bar employee compares to that of a woman married to a smoker. Third, he must have translated that exposure estimate into a year-by-year risk estimate. Fourth, he must have known how many employees now work in smoky environments, and how long they would have continued in the same jobs. Then he must have estimated how many deaths could have been expected in this group without a smoking ban.

Or, just possibly, the mayor pulled the number out of thin air. Which seems more likely?

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  1. Help me! Help me! Please, please, Mr. Big Government Bureaucrat, please tell me how to live my life. I don’t know what to do. I can’t decide for myself. Please decide for me. Tell me what to do and what not to do. I am incapable of thinking for myself or being at all responsible for anything that happens to myself. I love you, Mr. Big Government Bureaucrat!

  2. Smoking bans are sticky and probably put undue pressure on business owners for a societal problem. It’s an undesirable solution. But it does attempt to address a real problem — one that most civil liberatarians seem to ignore.

    Public smoking among nonconsenting others is aggressive incivility that hurts people. It is intentionally putting health-damaging and offensive-smelling chemicals in air shared by other people. It damages property. You think the health risk evaluations given by activist groups are exaggerated? They probably are. It’s hard to evaluate causes of cancer, because it’s not like you notice it on the drive back from the restaurant. Maybe it’s a year later. We mostly don’t know what triggers an individual case of cancer, ever. Maybe secondhand smoke doesn’t, maybe it does. But we do know secondhand smoke contains chemicals that cause cancer in laboratory conditions, so it’s a reasonable if unproven assumption it happens in the real world. And we know indisputably that secondhand smoke harms people’s health in a variety of other ways.

    So if a legal ban isn’t the right way to go, social pressure and the market are the remaining options. If you respect individual rights, you will use one or both to defend the rights of individuals being assaulted every day by belligerent smokers. In short, even if you think smoking bans are a bad idea, public smokers are not your friends, nor are they friends to innocent restaurant owners caught in the crossfire. They’re the problem, and people, whether they favor or oppose public smoking bans, should be clear about it.

  3. He pulled the number from somewhere, all right, but it was a bit more dark and cramped than thin air tends to be.

    More nonsense from NYC’s one-term mayor.

  4. Hey Kyle,

    Just how are “innocent restaurant owners caught in the crossfire?” It’s their restaurant, right? If they want to ban smoking in their establishment they can make that choice. There’s no “crossfire” from their perspective.

    And another thing. The only reason “belligerent smokers” even exist is because belligerent non-smokers (really folks who are anti-choice) continue to piss us off with their whining.

  5. Matthew, restaurant owners are caught in the crossfire because society is floundering for answers to a problem created by belligerent smokers and sometimes hurts them with unfair laws in the process. Your comment about “belligerent non-smokers” creating belligerent smokers is simply absurd — it’s a bit like saying mugging victims create muggers by their dogged insistence on not being beaten up and robbed. If I live up river from you and dump arsenic in the river you drink from, have I wronged you? Yes. Even the Libertarian party would recognize that lawsuit. It’s the same thing when somebody poisons your air.

  6. I do think that smokers’ desire to smoke and everyone elses’ desire to not ‘have their air poisoned’ as some feel can be adequately addressed through the market and private property rights. However the antismoking movement has now gained so much societal presence that even in the absense of governmental coersion we have some perverse unintended consequences that are actually bad for non-smokers.

    I remember a few years back that most companies had smoking rooms or smoking areas. Sure, they were stinky, but as a non-smoker I never had to enter one. Now, most of the larger companies have banned indoor smoking entirely. The result is that every exit, entrance and stairwell for a building becomes the de facto smoking area. It’s bad enough that I have to expect to walk through smoke and smokey smell just to get into and out of work, but sometimes if it was particularly thick my clothing even smells like smoke when I get home!

    It also adds to the negative views of smoker productivity. Yeah, they always took some smoke breaks but now they have to travel further in many instances to get their nicotine fix. I definitely noticed a big difference in this when the Chrysler Tech Center went smoke free – it’s a very big building and people would be gone for half an hour to get a smoke!

    I know private companies have the right to do this if they decide it is the best for them. However personally I think life was easier for non-smokers and smokers alike when people were willing to be more accomodating to the smokers.

  7. The bottom line about the smoking ban is that it is a sign of the further pussyfication of America. We cannot bubble wrap our bodies, and it’s absurd that politicians and public health zealots are making this a priority. What happened to adventure, insanity and plain ole good times? Smoke ’em if you got ’em. Here’s a big “F You” to Bloomie, Giff Miller and every other whiny weasle intent on destroying the vibrant social circles that make this country great. I think we need to send these bloated politicians off to war, so they can get their priorities straight. When New York decides to become more like California, I lose faith in the possibilities for common sense in this country.

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