The Street Smokers of Edinburgh

|

Responding to complaints that smokers pushed outside by Scotland's ban on smoking in bars and restaurants are marring Edinburgh's historic beauty, Michael Siegel zeroes in on the dual justifications for such laws: While most people who support the bans just want to be rid of secondhand smoke, many activists push them to discourage smoking in general by making it less convenient and less socially acceptable. Rosemary Mann, an official of the Edinburgh Old Town Association, complains that smoking shelters outside pubs "are against the spirit of the legislation, which was meant to encourage people to stop smoking, not push them out to smoke on the streets." (Mann's dismay at people smoking on the the streets makes you wonder if she's ever been in a city with a smoking ban.) Siegel, who has long campaigned for bans on smoking in workplaces, says the "prohibitionist" goal of eliminating smoking altogether

undermines the entire public health nature of the debate over smoking bans. Frankly, if the issue were encouraging people to quit smoking, I would not be supporting smoking bans and I wouldn't have devoted the better part of my career so far to working for such laws.

The appropriate justification for smoking bans is to protect workers from secondhand smoke exposure, not to force smokers to quit. While there is evidence that smoking bans do encourage smoking cessation, this is clearly not the purpose of the law. It could be viewed as an added benefit to the law, but it in no way justifies the intrusion into the operation of businesses.

I would argue that a ban on smoking in a private business, even when the goal is to protect employees, is not truly a public health measure because secondhand smoke in a bar or restaurant is not imposed on the public at large in the way that toxins dumped into a river or emitted by a factory smokestack are: People can choose where they work and decide for themselves whether they're willing to put up with the smoke. Still, it's refreshing to see a longtime anti-smoking activist concede that smoking itself is not a public health issue.

NEXT: Goss'd Overboard

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Siegel is either a nut who actually believes that second hand smoke in the workplace was a real health hazard, or a prohibitionist who is afraid of a court challenge and is doing damage control to keep the true agenda hidden from view. If opponents can successfully demonstrate the real intent behind the smoking bans was prohibition, there’s a better chance of having them overturned.

    At least, that would be true in the US. Don’t know if it works quite that same way in Jockland.

  2. Siegel invites the devil in, shakes his hand, and then wonders why the place stinks of brimstone.

  3. The appropriate justification for smoking bans is to protect workers from secondhand smoke exposure, not to force smokers to quit.

    Depends on who you ask. For most of their most vehement supporters, they are incremental stap toward a total ban, and are all about forcing smokers to quit.

    While there is evidence that smoking bans do encourage smoking cessation, this is clearly not the purpose of the law.

    See above fiskervation.

    It could be viewed as an added benefit to the law,

    Oops. Little slip there. So forcing people to quit smoking is a benefit, and a likely result of the workplace bans, but is neither a purpose nor an appropriate justification for such bans? Not sure I follow.

    but it in no way justifies the intrusion into the operation of businesses.

    How is it that protecting the health of one person who comes to the place of business volutarily (the employee) is justifies a smoking ban, but protecting the health of another person that comes to the place of business voluntarily (the customer) is not?

    Sorry, Michael, not buying any of it.

  4. Two words:

    Gaaaaah!

    (when spoken, that came out as two words) 🙂

  5. It sure does seem like a simple air exchanger that keeps smoke particles below a reasonable level would be the answer. I always wonder why smoking bans don’t allow this solution. It’s “No Smoking”, end of story.

  6. Speaking of second-hand smoke in the workplace, does anyone out there know anything definitive about its effects, if any, on the hard drives of computers? I’ve read that one should not smoke around one’s computer, but if the drive really is sealed, why would it matter?

  7. Tobacco is an anti-depressant.

  8. Eugene Volokh yesterday asked, I assume only partially tongue in cheek, “By the way, what would you folks think of banning smoking on public streets, by analogy to the bans on public urination? Both smoking and urine creates smells that many people find offensive.”

    Is there something in the air?

  9. jw: does anyone out there know anything definitive about its effects, if any, on the hard drives of computers?

    The problem isn’t the hard drive – it’ll be fine. The problem is all the fans. Given that your computer is trying to get rid of a lot of excess heat all the time, a lot of air passes through it. Cigarette smoke gunks it up a lot faster than it will the rest of the room. It will coat the fans and screw up their motors, and it will coat the hot surfaces, making them exchange heat less efficiently. Over time, this will reduce the life of your computer.

    But the hard drive should be fine (it’s unlikely that the heat increase will be so dramatic that it will affect the read/write head in the drive).

    I used to maintain computers for a university. The wood shop and the road construction shop computers had to be cleaned out and/or replaced once every 6 months. The inside would be coated with sawdust or road tar.

  10. darkheart,
    Thanks for your answer. I suspected as much. In my case the question is moot – I gave up smoking ten years ago.

  11. “For most of their most vehement supporters, they are incremental stap toward a total ban, and are all about forcing smokers to quit.

    I call tautology… for those who see it as an incremental step towards a ban it is seen as an incremental step… not for most who support the laws…

    But all who agree with RC Dean, agree with RC Dean, particularly those who are the most vehement RC Dean supporters…

  12. Another possibility is that these anti-smoking laws aren’t really meant as incremental steps toward outright blanket prohibition, but rather as substitutes for outright blanket prohibition.

    Simply outlawing tobacco would make it just another illegal drug, with all that that entails. Since support for both anti-tobacco laws and decriminalization/legalization of already-illegal drugs – two seemingly contradictory positions – both tend to come from the left side of the political spectrum, my theory is that the anti-tobacco laws, as a group, are really a creative attempt to effectively outlaw smoking without adding tobacco to the prohibition regime that many of the same anti-tobacco activists and politicians would just as soon see abolished.

  13. One does not always have much choice in one’s job. Especially for those further down the economic ladder. There are many laws for protecting workers from avoidable dangers. For example, rules for mine ventilation.

    Perhaps Jacob Sullum wants to go back to the “good old days”, when working as a journalist necessitated being subjected to the secondhand smoke of one’s associates?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.