Friday, April 14, 2006

Public Health vs. Smokers' Rights?

Soooooo..... It has come to this. After some comments on the last post regarding smoking, I will address this peculiar little issue.

Due to what I call the "situationality" of the issue, I really have no problem with smoking in bars and some restaurants.

Yep. There ya go.

Situationality? Sure. There's situations where otherwise incongruous points of view collide. Example: Howard Dean (whose campaign I labored for mightily back in 2003-4) is a big supporter of gun rights. Situationally. That is to say, the possession of firearms by farmers in Vermont and adolescents in NYC is quite different. The church I attended in Ohio had a few "log cabin Republicans." These were otherwise intelligent, educated folks who voted Republican. OK, the latter description includes my dad...did I mention the Log Cabin folks are GAY? Yup. But, for situational issues, they prefer to side with the party that one would otherwise assume they would not.

So. The anti-public smoking camp says that they are merely looking out for the health of all those poor wretches who are forced to wait tables and sling beers in (*gasp! koff!*) smoke-filled environs. Shouldn't we be protecting them from second-hand smoke as we protect dental assistants from excess radiation? Perhaps, but I have yet to meet such a restaurant/bar employee who isn't a smoker themselves. For heaven's sake, -I- had barely even picked up a cigarette 'til I started waiting tables back in the day. Then you discover you get an extra break to participate in a vice. How much sense does that make? I mean, could you be waiting tables, and then say, "Yo, Jim - Cover my section; I'm gonna run out back and masterbate and pick my nose for five minutes." Yet smokers get breaks when they like.

Thus, I don't buy the "save the employees" argument. I also don't buy the "let's protect the public who wants to dine without gross smoke by their food." If I'm dropping $25 for an entree and $12 for a glass of wine, you better believe I don't want smokers around. If I'm paying $5 for a truck-stop breakfast or I'm just drinking beer and grubbing pub fare, I don't care.
And even if I did - Guess what? There are plenty of smokeless alternatives to go to. I DO recognize this is not the case for dart league, although most players are courteous enough that if someone says, Hey, can you not smoke within 10 feet of me, they'll comply.

Now, New Hampshire (whose House passed and Senate rejected a smoking ban in restaurants) is the Live Free or Die state. I'd be more indulgent of a paternalistic "let's make everyone quit" philosophy if they started...oh, I don't know... Making people wear seatbelts! or motorcycle helmets for cryin' out loud.... How likely are you to die being exposed to second-hand smoke? Possibly more likely than otherwise, sure, but when you compare that to how likely you are to die by not wearing helmets/seatbelts..... Until you've seen those charming photos of ER patients who are scraped off the road or out of their cars you really don't appreciate that.

My feeling is that until we can prevent people from consuming sugary drinks and eating fatty meals, trying to legislate less smoking is foolish. Concentrate on preventing it in high school and providing smokers with resources and support to cut back or quit.

Have at it. :)


WindowShopper said...

The only problem...and I admit that it is my that there is no smoke-free replica of my favorite bar. So I'm left deciding between going to the bar a like and smelling like an ashtray or going to some other bar that is not as cool. Surely this argument opens itself to the notion that perhaps the fact that the bar allows smoking is what makes it cool, but I'd say no to that. It's cool because I know the people that hang out there and they serve really good imported beer. So what's my point? Well, if I have to have a point, I guess it would be....drumroll, please ..... why can't Portsmouth get some better smoke-free bars?

hankwillisdds said...

I, too, would be in favor of smoke-free "cool" bars/pubs. My favorite pub, Eichardts, is smoke free. They serve incredible food and a wide assortment of Northwest micro/nano/pico-brews. Sorry, no imported beer, there's more than enough high quality Northwest breweries to go around. And yes, I sure am happy to walk out at the end of the night and not have to shower and launder my clothes.

Allow me a moment of devil's advocacy. Nate, you can't argue the fact that tobacco is one of the biggest/worst things to impact public health. What if we attempt to reduce the smoking population by making it less convenient for them to light up? Just a question.

Dr Nate said...

hank - of course tobacco is bad. But why stop at making tobacco inconvenient? Why not put a giant shubbery maze (a la Harry Potter) in front of every McDonald's and reduce coronary artery disease? That would make getting burgers and fries that much harder AND those seeking them would at LEAST get a bit of a workout before they score their fix.

Let's segregate high schoolers male and female (i don't know WHAT to do w/ any homosexuals, but ignore that wrinkle for now) and therein cut down on the interactions that result in STD epidemics.

As it stands, the right wing's strategy for getting rid of abortion is basically making it as inconvenient as possible thereby being able to say, "Well, it's still LEGAL and available...." those with money and resources, which, I hate to say, are usually those who are slightly better at contraception to start with....

I would agree that both abortion and cigarettes are undesirable consequences of a broken society, but I would contend that our efforts should focus on fixing the underlying problems. Prisons make it less convenient for criminals to commit crimes, but preventing the need for them would be better.

As it stands, I think 80% or so of bars in New Hampshire are smoke-free.... The tide is turning and in our lifetimes perhaps only a few "old-timers" will still be smoking regularly, but taking away the right to do it in a social setting or their choice only makes it "cooler." Think about how much milage skateboarding gets out of the "rebelliousness" of it all.

Janice said...

Hey! Have you seen Thank You for Smoking? Good movie. The book is even funnier -- definitely worth checking out. It's all about spin....

hankwillisdds said...

How do yuo suggest fixing the underlying problems of our broken society? (I might call it the underlying problem of our broken human nature...)

WindowShopper said...

So many people are so messed up in so many different ways, that I believe it to be impossible to actually cure what ails us, but if I were to try, I would start by agressively trying find another civilization in the universe. That way, instead of fighting about our differences, we could unite and fight about our differences from something completely new.

Don Wallick said...

Well, Nate, this one sure got the comments rolling. Here are a couple more:

(1) Legislation, when properly conceived and executed, helps us as a society negotiate the conflict that arises when our personal rights and freedoms are in conflict. You are allowed to own a gun if you choose to, but you are not allowed to shoot me with it (assuming I am not attacking you at the time). I am allowed to burn a flag in protest if I choose to, but I am not allowed to burn your flag without your consent. If you choose to smoke, you are free to do that. This wave of anti-smoking legislation has come as the result of those of us who do not feel we should have to breathe others' smoke saying, "If they want to smoke, fine, but I should not be forced to breathe it." There are many wrinkles that complicate the matter, but at its simplest level that's the issue. Conversely, what people choose to eat at McDonald's is their personal choice. No one is forcing them to eat a Big Mac. One could go to McD's and order a salad -- a healthy choice (except for the nasty, gluey dressing, but that's another issue). Thus, no legislation is necessary.

(2) Columbus recently celebrated its first year of a smoking ban in most places with public access. Many of the suburbs here have followed suit, or have similar legilsation in the works. There was much hue and cry about how much business bars would lose and how "big brother" was dictating personal actions. Guess what? None of the bars that were worried about it have had to close and it's really been no big deal. Smokers just go outside to smoke, so they don't inflict the smoke on everyone else.

(3) Completely unrelated -- Did you hear the NPR piece yesterday on mercury-containing amalgam fillings vs. composite fillings? It's probably on their website. Also, the Dispatch had an article on a new machine that creates a crown in just a couple of hours so patients don't have to come back repeatedly to get one made and fitted. You can probably find that on the Dispatch website.