the problem with anti-smoking

people that don’t know me that well could find it head-scratchable to hear “anti-smoking adverts make me want to start smoking” come out of my mouth, particularly given my history of asthma. i’ll admit that as a non-smoker it’s nice to be in a public place and not have to deal with a stale smoke haze, particularly when i’m trying to eat. But the ire that gets raised in me when it comes to the concept of anti-smoking laws and general anti-smoking attitudes tends to supercede my own personal comfort because the principle behind it is something i’m strongly against.

This has come up in two recent forms. First, it’s possible that smoking will be banned in bars and casinos in louisiana, a surprising move given the sort of culture i’m living in. Second, i discovered that anti-smoking regulations in Oregon have become even more strict than they have before, moving beyond merely “can’t smoke inside of buildings” to “can’t smoke in outside areas that are mostly enclosed” or something similar, meaning that outside patio areas that have walls (such as the back area of the Espresso Roma in Eugene) is now non-smoking, giving those customers absolutely no place to sit down to have coffee and a cigarette.

To be clear, i think that there’s benefit to having non-smoking restaurants, particularly a family sort of establishment. although the true effects of second-hand smoke is widely debatable, the air quality difference is something that i think could deter proper enjoyment of good food, and i think that exposure to that sort of atmosphere to kids of non-smoking parents is a good thing to avoid. The problem is that the blanket regulation of non-smoking as a state law has now been used as a ‘gateway drug’, a precedent to instill similar regulations in establishments in which that context has less relevance. bars and casinos are 18 and over establishments. Everyone who enters such an establishment is an adult and should be allowed to make their own choices about whatever unhealthy habits they want, beit smoking or drinking or putting their money down on a situation that has unfavorable long term expectation.

There’s an argument out there about how “if i choose to drink, that’s my choice. But if someone else is smoking and i’m breathing it in, that’s not my choice.” I understand the sentiment, but the issue i have with that is that the solution that was put into place as a result of that has gone too far; blanket regulation of non-smoking in enclosed spaces eliminated the concept of individual choice in favor of a faulty sense of rights. Somewhere, the anti-smoking movement decided that they should have the right to go anywhere and not have to smell cigarette smoke, and innately that feels very wrong to me because of how it blatantly disregards the rights of smokers and those that don’t mind and/or like cigarette smoke. Where does the line stop? Will we eventually have non-smoking sidewalks because the anti-smoking movement can come up with some biased research that if a non-smoker happens to breathe in smoke from a passers-by that it will decrease that non-smoker’s lifespan by a day? Will it hit a point where cigarette smokers will have to buy some sort of bubble and any time they want to smoke they have to do it inside the bubble?

To me, a better solution is to find some middle ground. Suppose you left the choice up to an individual establishment whether or not they were going to allow smoking or have a smoking and non-smoking section. Sure, if the top restaurant offered smoking in their establishment, the non-smoker reaction is something like, “but then i can’t or don’t want to eat that signature steak dish.” But that would also be true if you were a vegetarian. Or if the top chef only served spicy food and you didn’t like spicy food. You miss out, whether for health reasons or personal comfort reasons or what not, and that’s life.

Now, the idea of having smoking and non-smoking be a choice of an individual establishment creates some other issues having to do with customer base. Depending on the atmosphere of the community, businesses are going to lean one way or the other in order to be competitive. In a city like new orleans, given two bars of equal quality and repute, the one that chooses to be non-smoking would more profit less and even go out of business, so they’re not going to do that, and as a result of most bars having that attitude, non-smokers would be hard-pressed to find a permanent place where they could go to enjoy a smoke-free atmosphere. Maybe the solution to that would be to have some sort of ‘cigarette license’ in the same way that Oregon distinguishes between a beer license versus a liquor license.

Unfortunately, all of that is useless speculation as the general national aesthetic would never move in a direction that would respect both the rights of smokers and non-smokers simultaneously, and it generally disheartens me because it’s another example of how society can isolate, put the microscope on, and pass judgement on an individual or a group of people based on a label. “oh, she’s a smoker. oh, he’s overweight. oh, she’s sleeping with a few different guys. that’s just wrong. i think we should put them into a box over there far away from me so i don’t have to see them or deal with them or have that be a part of my world.” there’s a fine line between that being an acceptable form of personal bias/judgement call versus becoming the new version of racism. hopefully we can hit a point where societal trends will take the blur of that line into sharper focus than what i feel it is now.

Originally posted on resonate. I prefer any feedback or commentary there.

Mendel Lee

I'm a composer, musician, and music educator residing in New Orleans, LA.

2 thoughts to “the problem with anti-smoking”

  1. The no-smoking laws are there primarily for the benefit of the employees who work in those establishments. You could argue in theory that those employees should just go work for a non-smoking establishment, but in blue collar jobs having such choices is not always an option. It’s a lot easier for a diner to pick a different restaurant than a waiter to find a new job.

  2. i think that a paradigm shift could change that, especially given how more conscious of that our culture has become. Again, i feel okay about non-smoking policies in restaurants, but suppose we went back to a smoking/non-smoking area policy; you could have that option with the employees as well, and have it so that these non-smokers who are concerned about second-hand smoke only wait on the non-smoking section, and the ones who don’t care one way or the other can serve in the smoking section or either section.

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