The Surgeon General Warns You that Public Urination Is Harmful To Our Health…

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Well, not the Surgeon General (a.k.a. Doctor Who?) actually, but Rogier van Bakel over at the always-innerestin' and informative blog Nobody's Business.

Van Bakel charges uber-blogger Eugene Volokh with making "a piss-poor argument" on the topic of public-sphere smoking vs. urination:

Even the usually sane law professor Eugene Volokh has his off-days–such as when he wonders if smoking on the street isn't just as bad as peeing on the street. "Both smoking and urine creates smells that many people find offensive," Volokh writes, and then he entertains the idea that maybe smoking outdoors should be banned, analogous to public urination. Is he playing devil's advocate? Here's hoping.

Van Bakel, channeling the likes of James Dean, Richard Gere, and Billy Carter, argues that public urination and public smoking are two very different beasts, writing in part, "Public urination necessitates exposing oneself (an arrestable offense). Smokers, by and large, manage to keep it in their pants."

More, including links to the original Volokh post and much, much more, here.

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  1. Hell, Vermont’s quarter has a guy peeing on a tree.

  2. Oddly enough, I recently commented on this very blog about the very same stream of, um, thought in Mr. Sullum’s “The Street Smokers of Edinburgh,” posting:

    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?

    Comment by: D.A. Ridgely at May 6, 2006 10:30 AM

  3. Van Bakel takes Volokh’s post completely out of context.

    Prof. Volokh (and some of his cobloggers) had a series of posts disussing whether laws banning public sex and nudity are justified by anything beyond the “yuck factor”. As part of this series, Volokh had a post where he asked whether people who would allow public nudity would draw the line at public urination, and if so, why?

    A number of commenters regarded the unpleasant smell as sufficient to make the ban legitimate, so Volokh asked whether they would extend that reasoning to public smoking.

    And now Van Bakel responds: No, no, smoking and public urination are totally different, because public urination involves nudity.

    The whole point of Volokh’s post was whether there are good reasons *aside from* public nudity.

    Van Bakel speculates that Volokh is playing devil’s advocate. No. Volokh was quite clear that he sees nothing wrong with laws banning public nudity in general. He was challenging those on the other side to say where the line should be drawn.

  4. Just to work the analogy a little farther, any restaurant, bar, hotel, or other place of public accommodation that allowed people to urinate outside of a confined space engineered to remove the urine (aka, the can) would be shut down immediately by the local Health Department. I doubt even Reason regulars have a problem with that.

    And yet, there is not even 1/100th the evidence for a second-hand urine/illness connection that there is for a second-hand smoke/illness connection.

  5. Um, joe, care to share a few hundredths of that evidence regarding second-hand tobacco smoke with us? Especially interesting would be such evidence regarding such smoke outdoors.

  6. DA, if you’d like to go to the EPA website, the American Lung Association website, the American Cancer Society website, or JAMA, feel free. I’m not going to do your googling for you. Oh, wait, you remember reading an article from Reason (that tower of scientific research and credibility) that linked to a now-disgraced paid shill, so you get to pretend there’s a controversy. Nevermind.

    “Especially interesting would be such evidence regarding such smoke outdoors.”

    Odd comments, since I was talking about indoors.

  7. As I thought. Nevermind, indeed.

  8. So basically, you’re going to make sure not to find any inconvenient facts on your own, DA.

    Good for you.

  9. Nice try, joe, but I didn’t make any claims one way or the other regarding evidence. You did. Well, of course, not only I but everyone else should simply take you at your word. Good for you, too.

  10. Just remember, guys: you are allowed to have all the freedom you want, but the second you use that freedom to make an unhealthy choice, we’ll take that freedom away for your own good.

    And walking through streets turned into open sewers is no more or less healthy than walking into a room where people are smoking.

  11. Isn’t the problem with public urination different than thhat for smoking in public in that urine doesn’t disperse as much or as quickly as smoking.

    A better analogy would be peeing in a pool/ocean. Which is still gross, but, last time I checked, legal.

  12. Oh and for joe, the analogies are:
    peeing in pool:smoking indoors
    peeing in ocean:smoking outdoors

  13. joe is the guy who personally knows least a dozen people that died from second hand smoke, really! I mean I’m not sure whether he himself has died from breathing shs (probably not) but of course he’s safe as houses that indoor smoke has to be letal. Look, he’s the man from the (local) government, isn’t he, and for sure government knows best!

  14. DA writes, “Well, of course, not only I but everyone else should simply take you at your word.”

    And he writes this in response to my recommendation that he look up the issue at “the EPA website, the American Lung Association website, the American Cancer Society website, or JAMA,” which is a bit odd.

  15. Jennifer, “And walking through streets turned into open sewers is no more or less healthy than walking into a room where people are smoking.”

    Actually, the analogy wasn’t to “open sewers,” which would presumably contain blood and feces, but to urine. While the two former materials are loaded with pathogens, urine is actually pretty harmless. Unless you consume enough to give yourself gout, and that’s just weird.

  16. Lost in all this is that “public smoking” is all that’s left after they’ve outlawed smoking in private buildings.

  17. The whole pissing in public is big fat red herring since anyone who has ever been in a men’s room can attest that it is nothing more than semi-public pissing into a funny looking sink. The fact that some prude passed a law requiring a designated “free willie” zone doesn’t cut the grade since you could piss into your own wine glass and achieve the same net result.

    The concept, to me at least, is clearly about property rights and the ability to enforce those rights. You may not piss on someone else’s shit (as metaphor not necessarily literal) and the street (again a metaphor), being communal shit, carries the same restriction as it may inhibit the ‘public’ use. That said, it doesn’t apply to things beyond control, inasmuch as a pigeon is free to shit on our shit as it sees fit.

    Extending the concept to outdoor smoking is a misapplication because you can’t define ‘which’ air falls under communal use or private use. One might be tempted to declare a system of quotas but enforcement is ‘a bit tricky’ because all someone has to do is let their car idle for 3.218 seconds too long and exceed their quota. Also note that hyperventilating or burning a steak on the grill (a crime in its own right, steaks should be rare ideally or medium at worst) would not be allowed and the silliness becomes pretty clear.

  18. While the two former materials are loaded with pathogens, urine is actually pretty harmless.

    Urine from a healthy person is sterile when it first leaves the body, but let some pools of it sit around for awhile and see how harmless it remains.

    For all these people who say that public smoking is no different from public urination except for the nudity bit, somehow I suspect that if these people had to choose between walking into a room full of smokers or wading through a puddle of piss, they’d probably go with the smoky room.

    Unless, perhaps, there was a camera crew nearby.

  19. Human urine is good for jellyfish stings; especially when you’re sea kayaking and you don’t have anything else in your medical kit for such.

  20. OK, first off, urine is useless for jelly fish stings. What you need is vinegar. Urine really won’t do anything but make you smell bad.

    Secondly, anyone who has been to Mardi Gras has walked through an open sewer, and it is certainly much worse than smelling second-hand smoke. It is nasty, unless you are too drunk to notice.

    Third, I basically agree that if smoking should be banned anywhere, it should be banned in public. If a private establishment wants to allow smoking (or pissing on the floor for that matter), it should be up to them. Out in public, you really shouldn’t impose your nasty habits on innocent bystanders.

  21. P12s L8s,
    None of those links attempt to establish a relation to outdoor exposure and health. If anything, one would likely determine that outdoors was equivalent to or better than smoke-free indoors.

    I’d also wager that jellyfish aren’t especially fond of human urine, although it may piss them off enough to provoke more stings. 😛

  22. accommodation that allowed people to urinate outside of a confined space engineered to remove the urine (aka, the can) would be shut down immediately by the local Health Department. I doubt even Reason regulars have a problem with that.

    The market will punish those who tolerate haphazard urination. How many people will want to eat or spend the night in a place that reeks of urine? And those who do have no one to blame but themselves, as they could not but have been aware of the urinaceous nature of the place.

  23. And yet, there is not even 1/100th the evidence for a second-hand urine/illness connection that there is for a second-hand smoke/illness connection.

    Comment by: joe at May 8, 2006 09:33 AM

    Gee, doesn’t someone need to do a few multi-million dollar, taxpayer-funded studies before that claim can be made?

  24. Damn

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