Friday, March 10, 2006

Ban Smoking Statewide

As a single guy living alone, I tend to eat out a lot. My favorite culinary venues are in Indianapolis and Greenwood.

Until a couple of weeks ago, the question I was asked almost every time I ate out was, “Do you want smoking or non-smoking?” What a relief it is not to have to answer that question anymore. The long-awaited smoking bans took effect this month.

A growing number of Indiana communities have passed ordinances prohibiting smoking in public buildings, including restaurants. Bloomington led the way several years ago. Since then, Indianapolis, Greenwood, Columbus, Fort Wayne, Carmel, and Shelbyville are among those communities that have passed smoking bans.

Smoking bans are supported by a large majority of citizens, even many smokers. Smokers view it as another excuse to quit the nasty habit.

Some see smoking bans as just one more example of government’s encroachment on a person’s privacy. Normally, I would agree with such sentiments. I oppose the seatbelt laws for the same reason.

However, choosing not to wear seatbelts endangers only the person making the choice not to wear them. Laws requiring seatbelts restrict a person’s right to choose to take the risk. If smoking affected only the smoker, I would oppose smoking bans, too.

But secondhand smoke is not only annoying to the non-smoker, it is dangerous. Smokers have the right to smoke, but they do not have the right to smoke in public places where their bad habit adversely affects those around them.

The anti-smoking ordinances in place in Indianapolis and Greenwood go a long way toward protecting children and non-smokers from secondhand cigarette smoke. But in all honesty they do not go far enough.

In Indianapolis, for example, bowling alleys are exempt from enforcing the ban. There are lots of children at bowling alleys, since bowling is a family game.

The smoking ban also does not apply to outdoor venues. That might seem to make sense because there is always fresh air blowing in when you’re outdoors.

But I’ve attended outdoor concerts and other events where people were freely smoking all around me, or up-wind from me. It wasn’t much different from being in an enclosed space.

Initially, the proposed smoking ban in Indianapolis included outdoor venues. But the original bill was in danger of dying unless the changes were made. The compromise was a good one, but it is unfortunate that compromises have to be made when it comes to the protection of public health.

Other communities that are considering anti-smoking ordinances, such as Franklin, should take that into consideration. The issue is not about a person’s right to smoke. It is only about where they have that right. If it is a public space, even an outdoor one, nobody should have the right to smoke there.

And, although a hodgepodge of varied anti-smoking ordinances around the state is better than not having any smoking bans at all, a statewide unified ban would be far better.

The Indiana General Assembly is not considering a statewide smoking ban this session. It’s too late for such a bill to be introduced this year.

But next year, with the start of a new General Assembly, it would be a perfect time to introduce legislation that would ban cigarette smoking in all public places statewide.

There is very little likelihood that small towns with mostly Mom-and-Pop restaurants would consider adopting anti-smoking ordinances. A state law would cover such small towns and rural areas.

Once upon a time, and not too long ago, smoking was even allowed in patient rooms in hospitals. It was allowed on airline flights. In fact, there were few places one could go to escape the vile stench of cigarette smoke.

Today, the indoor air is much cleaner. But in a few years, it could be we will look back on today’s smoking climate and wonder why we even allowed it in public at all, even outside.


Ade Brown said...

"Until a couple of weeks ago, the question I was asked almost every time I ate out was, “Do you want smoking or non-smoking?” What a relief it is not to have to answer that question anymore."

How fortunate for you. But what gives your side of the argument the right to take that choice away from everyone?

I do not share your assertion that passive smoking is harmful. The evidence on this subject has been grossly distorted through a well-funded [Big Pharma] propagandisement of people who don't realise how the statistical projections work. This matter may be debated, except that the ban brigade are unwilling. It is almost a criminal offence to question their orthodoxy.

So why not keep the choice? Smoking and non-smoking?

Jerry Wilson said...

Even if I granted the assertion that passive smoking isn't harmful (which I don't), secondhand smoke still is very much an annoyance for nonsmokers. If smoking produced no smoke or other foul-smelling gaseous emissions, I wouldn't care, but I can't stand to be in a room with cigarette smoke. Not to mention, it is upsetting to asthmatics. Face it, whether secondhand smoke causes cancer or not, it is a form of air pollution which we can all do without. I loved the line from the movie "Big Trouble," where the hitman went over to the cigar-smoking jerk at the table next to his and told him "There's no law that say I can't fart on your entree, but I don't because it would be rude." The point is, smoking in public is downright rude.

Ade Brown said...


If ciggy smoke is annoying to you, you have the choice available to move away from it and use only non-smoking restaurants/bars etc., of which there is no shortage. But you haven't answered as to why you feel the right to take other peoples' choices away from them.

The forthcoming UK smoking bans, which I am campaigning against, will see hundreds of years' tradition come to an end. Rural pubs will suffer, with trade becoming seasonal [our climate is not condusive to a pavement-culture] and the Irish experience is that many will simply close down and be converted to private residences, thus depriving the whole community of it's hub.

We live in a world of many pollutants, of which tobacco smoke is very much one of the more benign; certainly in the kind of doses it is commonly experienced. Anti-smoking scientist the late Sir Richard Doll, interviewed for BBC Radio 4 a few years before his death: "The effects of someone smoking in my presence are so small they don't really worry me".

As someone who doesn't smoke and clearly detests the smell, I don't expect you to understand the attraction, or even feel much sympathy for the addiction. But I do not see a parallel between farting in your neighbour's entree and enjoying a smoke at one's own table, several feet away. You have the choice available, which I would not seek to take away from you, of specifying a non-smoking [and, indeed, non-farting] area. The difference is that the act of smoking, in an area designated for smoking, is not a deliberate act of provocation. Vegetarians may feel uncomfortable sat next to meat-eaters in a restaurant and may make the choice of patronising a vegetarian-only establishment where there are no odours of charred flesh... does that mean we should ban meat from all restaurants?

Or perhaps we should all just relearn a bit of tolerance.

Jerry Wilson said...

I don't understand why anyone who accepts that smoking is dangerous to the smoker (which I assume you do), could argue that secondhand smoke is any less dangerous. It's not even filtered.

I have 2 major reasons why I believe restaurants should not permit smoking, even if you throw out the claim that secondhand smoke is dangerous.

1st - Even if it isn't dangerous, it is very annoying to nonsmokers, as I've said. And the non-smoking sections of restaurants are a joke. Most restaurants separate the two areas by a 6-foot tall glass partition. Give me a break! The only way it would work is if the non-smoking section is in a separate room with its own ventilation.

2nd - Even under the condition of a separate room, I wouldn't agree to permit smoking unless kids under 18 were not allowed into the smoking room.

As a child, I remember having to ride in the car or sit in a restaurant next to 2 parents who were chain smokers. The discomfort was severe and they were oblivious to it, since they both smoked.

If you want to smoke, do it on your own property. If you want to smoke in a club or restaurant, then there should be "members-only" clubs that are private. Join one of those and smoke to your heart's content.

Ade Brown said...

As I'm sure you're aware, the dangers of smoking are heavily dose-dependent. A report commissioned by the US aviation authorities ahead of their own smoking bans concluded that one hour's close-proximity exposure to ETS results in a toxin-inhalation equivalent to 0.00002 of one cigarette. This kind of doseage, even extrapolated over a lifetime, poses no quantifiable risk to public health, and this has been the conclusion of the majority of reports studying ETS.

Surely the best legislative approach to safeguarding public health and reducing the nuisance-factor in enclosed environments would be a requirement for establishments to meet air-quality standards, which would be enforceable by Environmental Health Inspectors? Venues could then choose to be non-smoking only, according to the demands of their market, or to invest in effective ventilation systems so as to accomodate everyone.

Reading another of your articles, I was very sorry to hear that your father died of emphysema and I fully understand how this sadness has made you hate smoking. In all honesty, had I read this piece first, I would not have commented on this article in the first place as I would have considered it insensitive. But you have debated and I thank you for engaging with a dissenting opinion. Not everyone can.

J Alyn Hurst said...

It seems to me that non smokers are getting away with a lot here. No one asked my opinion. This LAW? was passed by 7 non smokers. We were not given the opportunity to vote on this, it was decided for us. They are not my parents and thus, should not be given the right to decide my fate. If you want to make a law, make it legally. Ask the opinion of the voter (that's me). I will not abide by this law or pay any fines. This is a direct act of discrimination on a specific group.

Jerry Wilson said...

You don't understand a representative democracy very well. The people who voted for the ban, whether they smoke or not, were elected to make such decisions. You can't ask the general public for their approval on every law passed. If you disagree with the law, then don't vote for those representatives next time.