Saturday, December 07, 2002

It appears that the local anti-smoking forces have rounded up a mob, passed out torches, loosed the hounds, and are now leading a crusade up to Castle Frankenstein to dispatch that most monstrous of modern-day evils, Smoking in Public. If this the monster is put to the torch by the local “Pleasure Posse” they would also be killing freedom of choice.

Let me make one thing clear: prolonged cigarette smoking is injurious and leads to disease. But most levels of exposure to public second-hand smoke are negligible, posing no more health risks than other air pollutants that we accept in public environments (auto/bus exhausts, construction activities, exhausts from restaurant grills, rotting garbage, etc). Part of the problem is the anti-smoking crowd’s tendency to fuzz-over the details of first-hand and second-hand smoke.

The principal fact that anti-smokers refuse to acknowledge is that smoking is a legal activity that many of their fellow citizens, misguided as they are, partake in for their pleasure, and that they have the freedom to do so. A large part of a smoker’s enjoyment at a bar or restaurant is...smoking. Proprietors of bars and restaurants have the freedom to choose to what degree they will accommodate this activity by their patrons, and in turn we are all free to choose whether to patronize an establishment based on what is offered by the proprietor. Non-smokers do not have the right to deny smoking patrons their freedom to enjoy smoking at an establishment if it was the intent of the owner of the establishment to provide for it. For example, there are some bars and restaurants in which “cigar bars” are an integral part of their motif, and it is nonsensical to insist that smokers be confined to a small “tobacco ghetto” of such an establishment’s seating. Similarly, requiring the remaining seating to be completely free of second-hand smoke is snake-pit of subjectivity. Shall we also insist on a section that is completely devoid of noxious, headache-inducing perfumes?

It seems that some of the locals are “embarrassed” to take friends from California (or from other enlightened regions of America) to our local restaurants where actual smoking is taking place. I certainly hope they didn’t take their friends to any local bingo parlors, either. I would also suggest they steer their friends clear of some other local aesthetic embarrassments. These would include the off-campus housing neighborhoods of the University of Michigan, where many students landscape their yards with whiskey bottles and the trees are adorned with underwear and condoms. And certainly avoid any mention of the local "Hash Bash", where for nearly three decades Ann Arborites have annually celebrated the destructive drug culture and their right to engage in illegal and health-threatening activities in public spaces.
If our civic institutions would like to strike a blow for public health, this event seems a more reasonable target.

If not the iron fist of prosecution by the state, what recourse do non-smokers have to express their discontent at smoking in restaurants, bars, and other public establishments? Well, for starters, how about freedom of choice: if one is a committed non-smoker, patronize or work for establishments that support your smoke-free needs, do not patronize or work for those that do otherwise, and we’ll let the market sort it out. If the market decides not to support public smoking, the anti-smoking crowd will have prevailed, fair and square.