Ssssssmokin!

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I meant to mention earlier this week that, as my comrades at Ban the Ban report, the attempt to ban smoking in D.C.'s bars and restaurants has been dealt a crippling legal bitchslap.

I debated Smokefree DC's Mike Tacelosky a while back, and he seemed convinced that even if we won this round, smoking bans were the wave of the future. I'm actually inclined to think that the opposite is the case: The longer we can hold out against such bans, the less likely they become. I say that because, as I wrote here back in November, it's pretty clear that the bar and restaurant market is stuck in a suboptimal equilibrium between smoking and nonsmoking climates at present. As time passes, though, the market will (as it is already beginning to) adjust to growing preferences for smoke-free environments.

When the vast majority of bars allow smoking, the nannies get to base their case, not on the universal God-given right to drink anywhere you like without smelling like smoke later (even they seem to realize that's a non-starter), but on the poor oppressed worker who has "no choice" but to risk her health slinging bottles at some hazy dive. (Many of said workers, in my experience, consider the ability to smoke on the job a definite perk, but never mind them…) When it's more like a fifty-fifty split between smoking and non-smoking bars, the notion that people who accept a job in the smoking bars have nowhere else to go, not all that plausible at the outset when you consider that you'd have to stay in such a job for quite a while to reach an exposure level associated with any significant risk, becomes still harder to swallow.

NEXT: Dark As A Dungeon, Down in the Data Mine

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  1. Resistance is useless.

  2. crippling bitch slap?

  3. Julian, the problem with your optimism is that when more and more bars and restaurants go smoke-free of their own volition, it also creates new rhetorical opportunities for the ban promoters:

    1) Smoke free bars and restaurants are turning a profit, so “clearly” a ban wouldn’t be some onerous burden on business.
    2) More and more employers are going smoke-free for the good of their employees, why should some employers be able to “get away” with continuing to offer an unhealthy working environment?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing those establishments that decide, for whatever reason, to go smoke-free. I prefer smoke-free establishments myself. However, I don’t share your optimism that people will respond to the argument that employees have a choice of venues to work in, both smoking and non-smoking.

    Then again, maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.

  4. No wonder the study that showed “second hand smoke” has a slight protective effect against cancer and heart disease and does no harm at all, was suppressed. It’s a matter of personal likes and dislikes. As with perfume, some people just don’t like the smell of smoke. And a small vociferous fraction of those people yell and yell enough so nobody else will dare oppose them. The whole issue has nothing whatever to do with science. Soon anything that offends anyone will be banned. So we won’t be able to have any fun at all.

  5. What’s wrong with an establishment becoming a “private smoking club” that also serves food and alcohol? Since the current bans (and attempts to ban) largely use the word “public” in defining the space in which smoking is prohibited, this seems to me a viable alternative. Um, at least until state liquor authorities have the option to refuse/revoke the liquor licenses of (or otherwise punish) establishments that permit smoking.

  6. Julian, the bigger problem with your position on the so-called equilibrium is that it reminds me of the people who think environmental laws aren’t needed because our environment got better since the 1950s.

    In other words, no non-trivial number of non-smoking bars ever developed in the “natural” market. Ever. Even though most people don’t smoke. The only way you got to where you are now is because regulation pushed you that way.

  7. Why is it okay to shove smoke down somebody else’s lungs — whether it’s permitted by law or not? You actually have no idea what somebody’s threshhold is for getting cancer; moreover, even if you aren’t made terribly ill by second-hand smoke, it is often painful to breathe in…just like it hurts if somebody plays screechingly loud music in a public place on their boom box. Forget legislation and let’s talk manners and libertarian ethics: Why is one considered societally acceptable — and not the other?

  8. Why is it okay to shove smoke down somebody else’s lungs — whether it’s permitted by law or not? You actually have no idea what somebody’s threshhold is for getting cancer; moreover, even if you aren’t made terribly ill by second-hand smoke, it is often painful to breathe in…just like it hurts if somebody plays screechingly loud music in a public place on their boom box. Forget legislation and let’s talk manners and libertarian ethics: Why is one considered societally acceptable — and not the other?

  9. If the market is adjusting, then by definition we’re not stuck in any sort of equilibrium.

  10. The whole thing is ridiculous. Some people don’t like children. They hate it when people bring their unruly kids to restaurants and ruin the experience. No one has proposed banning children from restaurants. Smoking bans are all about a segment of the population not likeing smoking. If you can find one reputable study that shows short term occaisional exposure to second hand smoke kills people then a smoking ban makes sense.
    Until then quit whining.

  11. Amy, when did somebody force their way into your home a smoke a cigarette? What is the medical condition that forces you to go to bars? What is it that gives you the right to dictate to the owner of an establishment you choose to frequent what activities they can allow on their premises? Please, tell, us, we’re all dying to know.

  12. So the criteria for passing laws against an activity is whether or not it kills people, John?

    I’ll be right over to kick you in the nads. But don’t worry, it won’t kill you.

  13. Amy: Patrons in a bar shove their smoke down people’s lungs in the same way bands at a club shove their music into people’s ears, or resort proprietors blast patrons with oncogenic UV rays. Nobody has to walk into a smoky bar.

    M1EK: I think that’s changing, and it has much less to do with regulation than with shifting norms. There was, for a long time a social presumption in favor of smoking and smokers, so even non-smokers mostly just put up with it. But I’m definitely seeing more non-smoking restaurants and cafes (and even the occasional non-smoking bar) than I think you found ten or fifteen years ago. It’ll take a some more such places to show that going nonsmoking can be profitable, but I expect we’ll hit a tipping point within a few years, where there are suddenly many more such spots.

  14. Joe:

    Kicking someone in the nads without their permission is quite clearly assault. Inhaling secondhand smoke in an establishment that indicates it allows smoking is not. Following your logic, I suppose it would be okay to shut down places like S&M clubs where consensual nad kicking might occur.

  15. Julian:

    I remember hearing the same things nearly ten years ago when I moved to Austin (which had just enacted a tough anti-smoking ordinance for restaurants). No non-trivial number of non-smoking restaurants existed prior to the law.

    And on my first visit back home to South Florida (in ’96), where there was no law (yet), again, no non-smoking restaurants, beyond a few fast-food joints who didn’t want to pay somebody to clean up after smokers.

    Even in ’96, fewer than 10% of restaurant patrons in South Florida smoked. Yet, despite 90% of patrons being non-smoking, something like .1% of restaurants were non-smoking or had sufficiently separated smoking sections. That’s far enough off-kilter that one should think about the reasons for it on a deeper level than the adolescent responses given here by so many.

    This is a case where the market could take longer than our lifetimes to reach an equilibrium which even comes remotely close to matching the preference of paying consumers, for a lot of reasons. You do libertarianism a disservice by treating this as as simply as you do.

    And by the way, despite having a no-smoking-in-restaurants law since ’95 or so, there are still no non-smoking bars in Austin except for the one or two which are required to be non-smoking by other regulations (such as the one on the University campus).

    That’s out of over a hundred bars.

    It’s my personal belief that we’d have to hit 99% nonsmoking among adults before any number of bars would respond to the market. You may be willing to wait that long to get the first non-smoking bar; I’m not.

  16. M1EK-

    There are a large number of non-smoking bars and brew pubs here in the Portland area. They do quite well and often prominently advertise that they are ‘non-smoking.’

    If there are truly no non-smoking bars of any significance in Austin, wouldn’t that be a great niche business opportunity, rather than an argument for regulation?

    Anybody want to invest in a non-smoking Brew Pub in Austin?

  17. Below is a list (and an incomplete one, by the looks of it) of non-fast-food, totally smoke-free (no smoking section at all) restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area:
    http://www.smokefreedc.org/restaurants.php

    So even if you rule out any place where smoking’s allowed anywhere in the establishment, you’ve got a quite decent range of options.

    As for the town comparisons, it seems the relevant datum isn’t the percentage of non-smokers, but the number of non-smokers that (owners believe will) either patronize a place or not largely on the basis of its smoking policy. It’s the recognition that there are plenty of these that’s driving the change we’re already seeing. Whereas before, there may have been plenty of non-smokers, but many fewer of them considered it as important a criterion as smokers did.

  18. Thoreau,

    The things you say could become rhetorical devices of pro-ban folks could just as easily be used against bans.

    1) Smoke free bars and restaurants are turning a profit, so “clearly” a ban wouldn’t be some onerous burden on business.

    Look at it this way: if optimal economic output is what we’re looking for, then obvioulsy there would need to be a balance between smoking and non-smoking bars. Otherwise, there would be a group (the number in DC is about 7% according to a poll done by Smokefree DC) who would never ever be going to bars who could be satisfied by a small number of smoking establishments–those are people who would otherwise not be spending any money at all going out. A ban eliminates the possibility of this market niche.

    2) More and more employers are going smoke-free for the good of their employees, why should some employers be able to “get away” with continuing to offer an unhealthy working environment?

    Look at it this way: There are scores of industry employees who just don’t mind being subjected to secondhand smoke. Indeed, when I’ve worked in bars and restaurants, being able to smoke there was actually a nice perk. In my experience, industry workers are disproportionately smnokers themselves. Since the market niche is small, there would almost certainly always be willing and eager workers to work in smoking bars. And all the people who do mind the smoke could work in the many places that don’t allow smoking.

  19. The real issue here is how a media campaign can convince people of a falsity, the idea that second hand smoke is dangerous. It won’t be long and the ratio of boozing bars to non-boozing bars will be about 50-50.

  20. I suck down smoke every time I run through Santa Monica or down the boardwalk. Do I really need to hide in my house because other people want to put out foul, lung-scraping odors?

  21. Amy: That would be an argument for banning smoking in public, not for banning it in businesses open to the public. I said a long time ago that if we really wanted to protect people from unwillingly inhaling smoke, we should ban smoking on the streets but allow it in any private building, including businesses open to the public. Of course, I wouldn’t enjoy such a law, but it would be much more consistent with the ideal of protecting people from harms they do not choose to inflict on themselves.
    You shouldn’t have to “hide in your house,” no. But neither should I have to stand on the freezing sidewalk in January outside of a bar because even though the bar owner would prefer to let me smoke inside where I can keep buying drinks, the government says that people like you have a right to tell him he can’t let me. If you don’t like smoke, patronize establishments that ban it. But don’t try to force your preference on the rest of us.
    –The other Amy, who actually likes the “foul, lung-scraping odor” of Kamel Red Lights

  22. Why is it okay to shove smoke down somebody else’s lungs — whether it’s permitted by law or not?

    Depends on the context. If you’re going to a bar that allows smoking, why should you have the right to dictate to the patrons of that bar whether or not they can smoke? If you don’t like second-hand smoke, don’t go to a bar (if there aren’t any non-smoking bars in your area). If you want to hang out with your friends at a bar, you can either accept the smoke (since most people who patronize the bar are willing to do so) or you can find an alternative.

    The ban on smoking in bars and restaurants seems to me to be a matter of having your cake and eating it too. Which is fine if you can find a place that doesn’t allow smoking, but is really stupid if it imposes your preferences on a bunch of other people, especially if it’s completely indiscriminate. You’re not allowing those who prefer to smoke and hang out at bars their preference, because apparently your happiness is much more important than theirs.

    The best solution is just to let property owners decide what to do with their property. If you think that there are a bunch of non-smokers out there who want to hang out at a non-smoking bar, get some money together and start one. That’s the beauty of free enterprise ? you don’t have to bitch that your needs aren’t being met, you can find some way to meet your needs yourself.

    In the meantime, all that the smoking ban proponents want is to establish their preference as the “correct” one. It’s a rather solipsistic proposition. Consider if positions were reversed, if almost all bars were non-smoking establishments, and smokers were agitating to make all of them smoking establisments. Not just to allow bar owners to allow smoking ? to mandate it. Seems silly, doesn’t it?

  23. If you think not being able to smoke in a bar is bad, try here in southern california where at least one area has banned smoking on the beaches. Remember folks, this is the beach… It’s always breezy, and just about the only think you can smell is the sea breeze or the Shell Oil factory. In fact, I was down at Huntington a few weeks ago & there was someone smoking a cigarette right next to me (inside of 4 feet) and I couldn’t smell any smoke at all.

    Now, I’ve never been a cigarette smoker. However, I do enjoy a good cigar once in a while. And to not be able to walk down the pier, listen to the waves crash, and puff back on a good Diamond Crown is quite a disappointment.

    But more disappointing is when I’m walking along the beach in Huntington and have to listen to Mariachi music blaring, or see a dirty baby diaper wash up along the shore, or to know that the water is so dirty after it rains here -that it’s absolutely unsafe & unsanitary to go in the beach water for at least 3 days after the rain.

    These are much more problematic situations than the occasional wift of cigarette smoke from a population that doesn’t smoke much to begin with.

    If we dig deeper on this issue, I think we find a more more fascinating situation. The FDA (not to be confused with corporate media lapdog Micheal Powell & the FCC) has a job of determining what is safe for human consumption (to a degree) & what presents a risk. Those medicines, pills, and whatever (read efedra and other diet pills) that may be bad -nearly instantly banned. However, with tobacco, the government wants to have their cake & eat it too. They’ve deemed that it’s ok for tobacco companies to just slap a warning label on the packages & ban certain individuals (read: children) from tabacco, but permit distribution to the masses (so long as good old uncle sam gets a nice, fat cut). Just seems like an interesting contradiction, don’t you think?

    Regarding bars, couldn’t some type of air filtration system be set up (like a glorified car air filter) that would clean most of the toxins out of the air even with a bar full of folks that choose to partake in a smoke? Is this an option?

    nation watch

  24. Nobody has to walk into a smoky bar.

    You don’t have a right to smoke. Get over it.

  25. M1EK: re: market inelasticity–You make a good point to a certain extent; however, there are two major flaws in your analysis. First off, you’re comparing smoking rates in the general population to the percentage of no-smoking bars. That’s the wrong comparison; the correct comparison would be the smoking rates among bar patrons. Now, undoubtedly that number’s not close to the percentage of bars that allow smoking, but I’ll bet good money its a lot higher than the rates among the general population. [And I’d bet even more that the rate among patrons is decreasing at a slower rate than the rate among the general public.]

    The second flaw is that you’re completely neglecting non-smokers who honestly, truly don’t mind being around smoke. Again, that may or may not be enough to make up for the difference, but I think when you compare the percentage of establishments that allow smoking to the percentage of patrons (or even potential patrons) who are smokers, plus the percentage that are totally indifferent to (or prefer) being around smoke, that you’ll get a much different picture.

    Dan: And you don’t have the right to impose your will on the rest of us (business owners and smokers alike). Get over it. (And look over your shoulder. Madison’s still there.)

  26. Dan, method: We have only the rights we agree to give each other. Since both sides cannot be satisfied with either absolute solution, it seems obvious that compromise is in order.

    One might argue that there is inertia in the market, and bar owners have little incentive relative to risk for switching to exclusively non-smoking. If we’re going to have a state, perhaps this was a time for that freedom-robbing entity to mandate some portion of the market be smokeless. A portion large enough to demonstrate the viability of the model, and under regulation with sunsets to allow the market to find its own way once the inertia had been overcome.

    Everybody wants their rights now. That social change takes time is little consolation to those taking their last breaths through a tube. I heard it somewhere that freedom isn’t free. If a nonsmoking worker can demonstrate that their ailment was caused by secondhand smoke when there were no other employment options available, either pay the price of freedom by dying, or shift the cost onto the transgressor through the legal system. Please do not shackle the public to your suffering.

  27. Anytime government wants to legislate in any area remotely connected to smoking, ask them how much of their tax base comes from the production or consumption of said products. Then ask them if they’re willing to give up that revenue. Then tell them to shut the fuck up!

  28. The reason they will not allow bars the option to be smoking or non-smoking the way it was when smokers were in control is that non-smokers are lousy tippers, and so no one would want to work in a non-smoking bar if they had an alternative.

  29. Grylliad – “The best solution is just to let property owners decide what to do with their property. If you think that there are a bunch of non-smokers out there who want to hang out at a non-smoking bar, get some money together and start one. That’s the beauty of free enterprise ? you don’t have to bitch that your needs aren’t being met, you can find some way to meet your needs yourself.”

    I’m with Grylliad all the way. I’m a non-smoker. But, if I’m putting up the money to open an establishment and taking the business risk, I should have the right to do my own cost/benefit analysis to determine whether or not I’ll make more $$ as a smoking or non-smoking establishment period. If preferences are truly changing towards the majority liking a non-smoking environment, it’ll filter down to my bottom-line, good or bad, either way. Consumers vote with their dollars and feet.

    If, cigarette smoke from an establishment was gathered and pumped outside, we’d have a different issue. But, thanks to the wonderful folks at Smoketer, we don’t have that problem…

  30. Phil: Get your own evidence. Go work for tips sometime and you’ll discover that nonsmokers and black people are lousy tippers. (Not absolutely, but predictable enough to make me change jobs)

    joe: WARNING! X-ray machines in use. Pacemaker wearers take caution. A similar alert could be put on the door to everywhere about potential tobacco smoke, and those with lily-white lungs could make the choice to “walk through the door”. But then how many ridiculous warnings must we post before everyone is safe? Or is it wiser to ban hot coffee, floor mopping, and basically everything which has the potential for harm?

  31. God bless mothers & grandmas, but in my experience the absolute worst tippers are old ladies. And whiney, too.

  32. A bar here in Gwinnett County, Georgia was ordered to install a million dollar filtration system by the health inspector, only to see indoor smoking banned everywhere but in homes. The bar appealed to the county commission, but to no avail, even Republicans can be brainwashed by the nannyfucks. The case is now going to court and I’m betting the judge sticks to the ban, but hopefully he’ll allow for some compensation for the wasted million. All because we’ve been fooled into thinking second hand smoke kills.

  33. . . . non-smokers are lousy tippers . . .

    I call horseshit on this. (Pretty much like everything else Walter “I Suck Donkey Cocks And Sometimes Molest Prepubescent Children” Wallis says.) Evidence, please.

  34. Specious,

    “Kicking someone in the nads without their permission is quite clearly assault. Inhaling secondhand smoke in an establishment that indicates it allows smoking is not. Following your logic, I suppose it would be okay to shut down places like S&M clubs where consensual nad kicking might occur.”

    If I went into an S&M club to buy a new harness, and someone walked up and kicked me in the nads, it would indeed be an assault, and a government ban on such activity appropriate. “You chose to walk through the door” arguments notwithstanding.

  35. I suck down smoke every time I run through Santa Monica

    Perhaps that’s because everyone is smoking on the sidewalk because they can’t smoke anywhere else.

    You don’t have a right to smoke. Get over it.

    Tobacco is legal, and 23% of Americans like to smoke it. Get over it.

    Regarding bars, couldn’t some type of air filtration system be set up (like a glorified car air filter) that would clean most of the toxins out of the air even with a bar full of folks that choose to partake in a smoke? Is this an option?

    Absolutely. There’s a bar here in Tucson that has a killer ionization system (it’s constantly crackling overhead…kind of like a bug light) and even in a bar full of smokers, you pretty much have to be smoking yourself to even smell it.

  36. Rich people often give the same tip, regarless of the size of the bill, so you end up with a great tip for a table for 2, and a lousy tip for big parties. Always seemed weird to me.

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