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. :)