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Thursday, October 11, 2007

A workable solution... perhaps

I knew I could count on you to step up and take on the smoking issue intelligently and without rancor.  Thank you!

As promised, I want to respond to some of the points you made and lay out what I think may be a workable - albeit imperfect - solution that I've been mulling over for some time.

First of all, it is a bit pointless to argue over where smoking should or shouldn't be allowed.  Legislation has been drafted and passed on this point, indicating that the public is making its wishes known regarding both sides of the public smoking issue.  Therefore, I have to respectfully disagree with those who try to make a case for exclusively adult gathering places being appropriate venues to allow smoking simply because children won't be there.  The problem is not exposing kids to passive smoke... it is exposing anyone to passive smoke against their will when the law clearly states that it shouldn't happen! 

A waiter/bartender who wants to work should not have to risk lung cancer and skin damage in order to scrape out a living.  Likewise, going out to enjoy one adult vice (drinking) should not mean being forced to endure another (inhaling smoke).  Smoking and drinking are two separate pleasures/vices.  If someone wants to go to a social setting to smoke a cigarette you can't reasonably defend forcing that person to also have a drink, can you?  Yet that is exactly what you are suggesting if you imply that going to a bar for a drink indicates a willingness to smoke, if only passively.

I will qualify this by saying that if a coffee house or pub can provide rooms with powerful ventilation systems that prevent smoke from becoming part of the ambient atmosphere, then special permits should absolutely be issued to allow smoking in such places.  Likewise, if someone thinks there is a profitable business model in 'cigar bar'-type places that cater only to smokers and those who enjoy the cloudy life (sort of modern-day opium dens)... so long as smoking is legal, special permits should exist for them as well.

But otherwise the problem of public smoking boils down to compliance with, and enforcement of, existing laws... not whether or not public smoking should be allowed.  That ship sailed.

So what's the solution?

Obviously, restaurants, bars, malls, coffee houses and other establishments catering to the paying public don't want to risk driving away customers by being heavy handed.  Their livelihood (and that of their employees) depends on providing friendly service to the public, not alienating them with punitive, bossy behavior.   

A frequent - and double-edged - refrain I hear whenever this issue is discussed is how the buying power of a particular group is the the potential deciding factor.  Some argue that if public places would only enforce the smoking laws they would recoup the absence of angry smokers they drive away through increased non-smoking patronage.  Others say exactly the opposite; that non-smokers are there in public spaces anyway and that enforcement will only drive away droves of patrons who smoke.

I think the truth lies somewhere in between. 

There are probably about an equal number of smokers and non-smokers who would dramatically alter their public shopping, drinking and eating habits if the smoking status quo were to shift towards greater enforcement of existing legislation.  Likewise, there are probably equal numbers of smokers and non-smokers who wouldn't change their dining, drinking and shopping habits in the face of greater enforcement, resulting in a financial 'wash' for the mall owners and proprietors of public establishments. 

But there is a non-financial factor that has been largely ignored in this argument that could tip the balance I've just mentioned in favor of greater enforcement.  You see, like other legislation such as those aimed at reducing flagrant parking, speeding and reckless driving, there is money to be made in enforcement.  Big money.

Municipalities who plead poverty when asked to enforce the laws are being deliberately disingenuous.  It would be a very easy matter to negotiate a sharing arrangement whereby the national and municipal government split the fines paid by smokers in much the same way that cigarette taxes now get divvied up between government and health-care pockets. 

Not only would fines more than pay the salaries of enforcement officers (the way 'meter maids' more than cover their own salaries with the tickets they write), but it would also take the onus of enforcement/confrontation off of owners of public spaces, and their employees/security guards. 

The suggestion that many of you made about reporting/suing establishments that allow their patrons to smoke in violation of the law has merit and will certainly force some of them to act.  But it feels wrong to force providers of hospitality to behave in an inhospitable way towards their patrons.  I say let the government be the 'bad guy'.   Many laws designed to ensure public safety/comfort are unpopular and somewhat burdensome, but traffic cops and meter maids who enforce these statutes reduce the incidence of bad/dangerous behavior while providing the government with an ongoing, predictable revenue stream in the form of fines. 

As always, I could be totally full of it, but it seems to me that there are plenty of intelligent, able-bodied people collecting unemployment benefits who could just as easily be walking around malls, and in and out of public gathering places, handing out tickets to those who smoke where they shouldn't.    Hell, they wouldn't even need uniforms... just a badge and a radio.  They would be incognito, like air marshals... or more correctly, 'clean air' marshals. 

It is far better (IMHO) that a waiter, bartender or barista be able to advise a customer not to smoke in order to spare them both a fine.  That way patron and host remain conspiratorially on the same side of the law, yet with the same result; a smoke free environment.

What do you think... a workable solution?

Posted by David Bogner on October 11, 2007 | Permalink


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Of course it would be far better to make the government the "bad guy," putting proprietors and customers on the same side of the law. But if that doesn't happen -- and so far it hasn't -- then people who want the law enforced have to take matters into their own hands, legally of course, using methods such as lawsuits and boycotts.

Posted by: Rahel | Oct 11, 2007 1:20:00 PM

The one place that I can think of that has done a reasonable job of handling smoking is Vegas. Many of the casinos have installed excellent ventilation systems that do a decent job of cleaning up the air.

All things considered I'd still prefer to see smoking go away.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 11, 2007 4:05:14 PM

Tayere Trepp (and others),

I have written a post commenting on the issue.

And yes, this is a blatant attempt to lure innocent little non-smokers into a den of utter depravity.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Oct 12, 2007 3:51:23 AM

Trep - it works for me.

It's kinda like the carding thing here in the States. In the old days, many storekeepers probably felt like jerks for withholding beers & smokes from minors. Now, they have the perfect excuse - "The Man". They can say, "Hey, if I'm caught selling to you JD's, I'm in the cell next to yours." Same here with the smoking police - "I don't want to get fined." You may be on to something.

Posted by: psachya | Oct 12, 2007 8:33:00 AM

JPost article about this:


Posted by: Dan | Oct 12, 2007 3:47:11 PM

What, Dovid, no comment at all on my verbose reactivat to your "ban-the-smokers-and-sell-their-firstborn" screed?

Not a peep? Not even a puff?
Camel got your tongue?

By the way, it strikes me that the Israeli climate would be perfect for growing a nice small-leaf Oriental, rich with fragrant resins. The soil in the hill country is probably perfect too.

Even the Golan. Imagine a nice pipe blend based on Syrian Latakia (40%), Turkish Smyrna (10%), a melange of Virginias (25%), some Perique (5%), and a leavening of "Shaar-e Golan (20%). Ooooh, my my waters already. Make it so, Cap'n.

Heh heh heh.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Oct 15, 2007 6:57:37 PM


Check that out...

Posted by: Avigayil | Oct 16, 2007 2:30:44 PM

I was just in NY over the weekend, and last night was hanging out in the Village, listening to music in some bars. I can't tell you how sweet it was to not only be able to enjoy myself without breathing clouds of smoke, but have the added perk that I didn't need to rush into the shower as soon as I got home, to wash out the smell of smoke from my hair. I hate going to bed smelling like smoke.

It's so annoying to hear the same excuses from many towns/cities business owners complaining that if there is a smoking ban, then they would lose a lot of business, because customers will just go elsewhere. If New York has the balls to do it, then these other cities/counties should look at NY as a great example how people aren't running to Connecticut and NJ because they can find bars/restaurants where they can smoke.

Posted by: Jaime | Oct 21, 2007 11:21:59 PM

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