Thursday, September 23, 2004

What is Louisiana smoking?

For the Sept. 29 Vermilion, a local-flavored column that I think anyone can appreciate no matter where they live:

People in Louisiana, for all of their positive qualities, are really fond of passing profoundly stupid laws. This goes back centuries, of course, and continues unabated into today. And while Lafayette fares better than some of its more uptight cousins above the Mason-Alexandria line, Cajun Country still has its moments of legislative idiocy.

I had to cringe, for example, at the recent ruling that no more bars could open downtown. Apparently, the rationale was that the preponderance of nightclubs was bringing out unsavory crowds. Look, I lived downtown for 19 years, when Jefferson Street looked like an H-bomb had struck it. The area was desolate, decaying and dangerous. Now its night life thrives and brings out the crowds with energy to spare and money to spend. But that offended some churches, so downtown growth has been stifled.

And don’t forget Amendment One, in which Louisianians voted nearly 80-20 against civil unions because we “suthinas” not only can’t repress our fear and prejudice, but actively praise it in our state law. Man, if the state was trying to keep people here to live and work, couldn’t they at least have given us something to brag about? “Louisiana: It’s like a whole other planet.” As much as I love my native state, my threshold of apology for it has finally hit bedrock.

So you can probably understand my shock when a Lafayette advocacy group proposed a law that I liked—or, I should say, didn’t want immediately to smack with a baseball bat. The Coalition for a Healthy Acadiana Regional Grassroots Effort (CHARGE) has requested an ordinance to make Lafayette the first smokeless city in Louisiana.

The ban would prevent smoking in public facilities including campuses, auditoriums, government buildings and busses. At last, a smart Louisiana law! The Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government has yet to consider it, though President Joey Durel has promised that it will. And before you smokers get too pissed, note that bars, hotel rooms, casinos, tobacco shops and alcohol-selling restaurants will not be covered by the ban. That’s not so bad, is it? You can exhale with relief now, just as long as you don’t do it downwind.

Maybe I'm biased because I don't smoke. Whether it was the stifling dead-ashtray odor of my house or simply watching my parents and relatives smoke, something ruined it for me very early on. Is there anything less cool than what your parents do? Thanks, mom and dad! You truly are the anti-drug.

The smoking debate is a peculiar one because of its political complexities. On one hand, you have (or should have) the right to ingest whatever you choose. On the other hand, you have the diabolical tobacco industry and its greed, lies and political clout. On the third hand, people have the right to breathe smoke-free air. So where is the line (or triangle) drawn?

It’s a tricky issue, and one that transcends liberal and conservative politics. Hippies and holy rollers alike smoke in huge numbers; I once even saw a priest, fully decked in Vatican-esque apparel, sneaking one in the cemetery after a funeral service. Nicotine addiction knows no labels.

So I admit I’m not huge on the issue of “smokers’ rights.” Last I checked, one person’s rights end with the infringement of another’s, and that’s what smoking in an enclosed space can do. And unlike in a club, where people step in with the understanding that there might be smoking going on (though New York City has successfully banned that also), people deserve to right to a smoke-free school or other public environment. It’s as fundamental as, well, the right to light up. Outside.

11 comments:

Flamingo Jones said...

We've had a similar law for a few years now, and it really is a good thing. Any business where alcohol sales constitute at least 50% of their revenue is exempt. Also, after the first six months of the law being in effect, if any businesses could prove they suffered a significant decrease in sales due to the smoking ban, they could file for exemption. It's worked out well for everyone, in the long run.

Michael said...

Be careful what you ask for, Ian: you may get it. The university I work for (and attend) totally banned smoking in all of its buildings four or five years ago. Prior to that, it had been allowed in offices and certain designated areas only.

Yes, it's lovely to be able to walk in halls and sit in classrooms (and offices) that do not reek like filthy ashtrays. But the downside is that you have to hold your breath once you get within 20 feet of the door of virtually any campus building, because there will be a crowd of smokers outside calming their nicotine fits in between classes or on smoke breaks. The Campus Security and Environmental Quality Committee has been asked to consider making a ruling that smokers must move a certain number of feet away from the doors to buildings, because the smoke still wafts in every time anyone goes in or out, and because people shouldn't have to hold their breaths just to walk into a building owned by the state. I don't know if the rule will fly, or if it does where they're going to put the smokers--but I've spoken to the professional staff's representative on the committee and expressed my support for it. I wish they could force the building owners in Chicago to do the same--just try walking along any Chicago street these days without encountering a knot of smokers clustered around a doorway, puffing on their cancer sticks.

Ian McGibboney said...

Michael, I actually thought about that and almost mentioned it in the column. Many smokers I know, however, are better off huddled there; otherwise, they'd flaunt their cigarettes everywhere. Anyway, the smoking ban is pretty much the rule at my school. You just have to know where to enter and where to avoid. As a hyper-sensitive smoke person, even I encounter few problems. At least it's a start.

RightMakesRight said...

This is really interesting. So, it's wrong to tell people that they can't open bars downtown but it's ok to tell them that their right to free assembly (one of the Top Ten Rights!) can be limited in their own place of business? If an owner wants to allow smoking in their establishment, what's wrong with that - it's private property. How about an ordinance requiring a posted sign outside declaring if a place is smoking or non? I would personally keep driving to find a non-smoking place, and the market would solve the problem for us - there would be enough places to suit the needs of customers. I thought libs were all about freedom of choice and not imposing values! Just because I HATE the smell of cigs doesn't mean I can make someone else not smoke.

RMR

Michael said...

RMR--By the same token, a private property owner shouldn't have to keep her property in good repair if she doesn't want to spend the money. Nor should she have to provide food that's free from things not fit for human consumption, water that's not contaminated with deadly bacteria, or insist that her employees wash their hands after using the bathroom.

There are plenty of studies that show secondhand smoke is a serious health risk to those who are exposed to it. In fact, they get more problems from breathing secondhand smoke than the smoker gets from sucking on the cancer stick in the first place.

When you've invented a cigarette that limits its toxic (and filthy) products to the person who's actually making the choice to smoke it, then you'll have a reasonable argument. Until then, you're SOL.

Ian McGibboney said...

RMR, reread the second sentence of the last paragraph to understand where I'm coming from on the rights issue. Michael made some good points on the fact that business are required to uphold standards or face fines or termination. The smoke ban is not unlike the ban on drunks in the workplace. While alcohol is legal, and arguably has more effect of some people than ohters, we still have areas where its consumption is simply not allowed. This is done to ensure that no one is a disturbance and that others are safe from danger.

I have to go with veteran pot-smoker George Carlin: "Regarding secondhand smoke: if you were sitting at a restaurant and every couple of minutes the person next to you threw some anthrax germs in the air, you wouldn't like that either."

RightMakesRight said...

Sorry, but health standards for food preparation and storage and cleanliness go back for decades, if not hundreds of years in some examples, and total smoking bans are relatively new - which puts the burden of proof on the supporters of the ban, not me. Also, the risk to the population is a little higher with food poisoning. The question is a balance between, let's be honest, the dislike of the smell of cigs (primary motivation for much of this) and the risk of second hand smoke (the debatable justification) and the values of freedom of choice, private property rights, freedom of association. It may feel good to say that second hand smoke is worse than actual smoking, but this has not been proven (and frankly doesn't make a lot of sense), especially as a hazard for a person who only breathes it for a few hours in a ventilated restaurant. Why can't a guy open "Mike's Cigar Bar" for those who want bourbon and a cigar? If you don't like it, don't go in. Which gets to the heart of the matter - if everyone wanted no-smoking restaurants, why are the other places still in business? The answer is that some people want to smoke at a restaurant. My opinion, and this is open to opinion, is that we should let people make a choice rather than passing more nanny-like legislation telling people how to live their lives. I'll pick freedom of choice (a liberal value, I thought) over Big Brother taking care of me any day.

RMR

Ian McGibboney said...

"Sorry, but health standards for food preparation and storage and cleanliness go back for decades, if not hundreds of years in some examples, and total smoking bans are relatively new - which puts the burden of proof on the supporters of the ban, not me."

Um, why? What is the relation between the age of standards and how merit they have? Does this mean we can never again pass any new regulations?

"The question is a balance between, let's be honest, the dislike of the smell of cigs (primary motivation for much of this) and the risk of second hand smoke (the debatable justification)..."

Speculation.

"...and the values of freedom of choice, private property rights, freedom of association."

Didn't I say that one person's rights end with the infringement of another's? I mean, I can CHOOSE to steal from someone else, but that isn't freedom, is it?

"It may feel good to say that second hand smoke is worse than actual smoking, but this has not been proven (and frankly doesn't make a lot of sense)..."

Most reliable studies show that secondhand smoke is actually WORSE than simply smoking it. The only ones that don't are funded by tobacco companies. Look it up. And if you still don't believe that, I have a hacking cough I'd like you to hear.

"Why can't a guy open 'Mike's Cigar Bar' for those who want bourbon and a cigar? If you don't like it, don't go in."

Well, if you read my column, you'd know that places like those are exempt from the ban. And, as Flamingo noted, some places that ARE under the ban can often apply for exemptions.

"Which gets to the heart of the matter - if everyone wanted no-smoking restaurants, why are the other places still in business? The answer is that some people want to smoke at a restaurant."

And SOME don't like the fact that others smoke while they're trying to eat. Why does one "some" count and not the other? And the reason we have non-smoking sections in the first place is because smoking got so bad in most restaurants that the non-smokers had to designate their own area. It's not a market thing, it's a survival thing. I can only take so much free-market talk when it comes to health. Why is that that the non-smokers should be the ones to have to defer to smokers? Let's turn around your logic: smokers CHOOSE to smoke while non-smokers choose not to. Don't you think that the non-smokers, who have chosen not to take up a destructive habit, should have the right to breathe clean air? I do. I think the burden should be on the smokers.

"We should let people make a choice rather than passing more nanny-like legislation telling people how to live their lives. I'll pick freedom of choice (a liberal value, I thought) over Big Brother taking care of me any day."

This isn't Big Brother, and it's not the government baby-sitting me. This is a HEALTH regulation, an example of the government ensuring safe standards. I'm not waffling as a liberal; after all, we're the ones who support tough standards for businesses and products. We're all about safety. This ban is the latest step in that.

RightMakesRight said...

Ian,

The fact that non-smoking sections exist shows that the market can and will solve this problem without new excessive regulation. Like I said, however, this is an issue that reasonable people can disagree on, as it deals with a health issue. What it comes down to is a difference in values (political, not moral, obviously) - something we probably will never agree on! Anyway, it's cool to debate without it getting personal, which is why I link to your site.

Best,

RMR

Ian McGibboney said...

RMR,

Thanks for that, and keep it up.

The Cole-Man said...

First, let me say that I'm not talking about restaurants. I agree with not smoking in them, because you only go in for a short time, and children are present. I can wait until I leave to smoke.
But bars are different. You go in and stay for awhile. The laws should not say that ALL bars must ban smoking, as the latest attempt in Louisiana tried to do. Non-smokers can easily open their own establishments where smoking is banned. Instead, they want to force everyone to stop smoking so that they can go to bars where smoking is prevalent.
Allowing smoking and non-smoking bars would solve that problem. The question of personal liberty as well as health would be resolved.