Talk:Debate:Should government restrictions on smoking be tightened or rolled back?

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The current legal measures to curtail smokers from using their "drug of choice" in public settings stems from the "second-hand smoke" issue, (which is far from "settled science"). That smoking directly effects smokers is not disputed and there is good reason to restrict smoking based solely on such direct effects: the question then becomes, whether the power of the state should be brought to bear on people who, well aware of the dangers and effects of smoking, choose to smoke regardless.
If the science of second hand smoke is shaky then any laws passed upon such science is equally suspect as the government which passes such laws should only try to maintain the law(s) if the original intent was to save lives from the effects of second-hand smoke. Should the "science" dissipate like...smoke...then the laws "protect" no-one save the power of the state over the individual, which is anathema to Conservatives. Marge 14:25, 22 July 2008 (EDT)

That's a fair point, Margery, but I didn't want to restrict the debate to being only about second-hand smoke, but about any and all aspects of smoking. This offers the broadest range of input, your comments included.
As for second-hand smoke, there seems to be some debate about the degree to which it's harmful, but I'm surprised that there's debate as to whether it is harmful. If I go to home with smokers, my clothes smell like an ashtray after a few hours, so there's no doubt that those particles are getting into my lungs as well. When someone smokes nearby, even outdoors at a cookout, my eyes water and it triggers a cough if the smoke blows my way. What smokers do privately is their business, but I shouldn't have to be impacted by it, and it's the very nature of smoke to travel and affect an area, not an individual.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness works both ways, so just as we accept restrictions on playing music annoyingly loud in open, public spaces, there's nothing un-American about restrictions on a practice like smoking that can be equally annoying in open, public spaces. --DinsdaleP 14:57, 22 July 2008 (EDT)
...but the restrictions have gone considerably beyond that, Dinsdale. While I'm not a smoker, and I can't imagine why anyone would want to do that to their lungs, I object to policies that dictate to property owners what they can and can't do with their property. If the owner of a restaurant, bar, or similar facility wishes to allow smoking, they should have that right; customers who object to second-hand smoke will vote with their wallets. --Benp 15:12, 22 July 2008 (EDT)
That has not proven to be the European experience. Practically all owners of restaurants, bars, etc., have been so afraid to lose customers if they had unilaterally banned smoking that practially none have done so.Dealing with the problem of second-hand smoke effectively has taken legislation to make sure that all restaurateurs are put on an equal footing, so to say. Also, some restrictions and requirements concerning what owners of publicly-accessible properties can do are obviously necessary. Can't have a restaurant without fire exits, either, however much it may annoy the owner to have to install them. --AKjeldsen 15:19, 22 July 2008 (EDT)
That line of logic leads to ever-increasing government mandates on what a business owner can and cannot do. Overeating is also unhealthy; taxpayers in general bear the increased burden of obesity-related health problems. Should restaurant owners be told which foods they can and cannot serve? Before accusations of "slippery slope" are raised, please note that this is actually happening--laws banning fast food for precisely these reasons are currently being considered.
Where do we draw the line? How much power should the government have to insist that I do nothing unhealthy?
As a side thought: the fact that smoking is still permitted in European bars and restaurants and banned in many American bars and restaurants leads to an interesting possibility. I wonder what a study of cancer rates in those areas would show twenty years from now. --Benp 15:32, 22 July 2008 (EDT)
I'd have to do some research, Ben, but I believe that when the complete smoking ban took place in New York City, overall attendance in restaurants and bars actually went up, especially for bars, because they attracted a new base of customers who had been put off by the smoky environments beforehand.
Part of the argument for making all workplaces & restaurants smoke-free, btw, was based on the heath of the workers as opposed to the customers. Documented cases of non-smoking employees of smoke-filled workplaces contracting smoking-related diseases became part of the evidence for the dangers of second-hand smoke. Could an employer hire only smokers to avoid this? Probably, but as New York demonstrated, smoke-free facilities attract more customers over time, and run a lower potential risk of health-related lawsuits (legitimate or not) than those that allow smoking. On the economics alone, then, going smoke-free makes sense. If any causal harm from second-hand smoke could be established, then OSHA regulations on workplace safety kick in, which is what I believe happened. --DinsdaleP 16:04, 22 July 2008 (EDT)

It's a weak rationale, Dinsdale--particularly in a country where people still work as coal miners. Prolonged exposure to gasoline fumes has also been linked to a number of health issues--where is the outcry and the demand that those who work at service stations be protected from the health risks?
All of this comes down to the government's tremendous hypocrisy on this issue. They will never outlaw smoking, because smoking is too lucrative; the government is hooked on the tax revenues that come from it.
As for the issue of whether smoke-free restaurants attract more customers, I don't doubt it for a second. I myself chose to patronize non-smoking restaurants well before the blanket ban. A restaurant with nice decor will also attract more customers than one with shabby decor, and a restaurant with pleasant background music will attract more customers than one where customers are routinely serenaded by a drunken glockenspiel player. Whether or not a given measure increases business, though, is not the point--the point is that it should be the business owner's decision, not the government's.
The difference with coal mining and pumping gas is that those hazards are intrinsic to the process, while smoking is not. When you make elective choices to add unnecessary risks to a workplace setting , you increase your liability. --DinsdaleP 16:34, 22 July 2008 (EDT)
...and if the risk is one that is known beforehand, then I say the worker's informed decision to work there should negate that "liability." Nobody is forced to take employment at an establishment that allows smoking. Yes, I know the immediate response: "Some people don't have many choices on where they work." Again, we're back to coal miners, who also generally work the mines because of limited employment opportunities.
I have no problem with reasonable guidelines to ensure workplace safety. The key word here is "reasonable." Ensuring that the building has fire escapes is reasonable; demanding that all keyboards be replaced with ergonomically-designed models to reduce the terrible risks of being injured at a 9-to-5 desk job is not. No job in the world is without some form of risk, and piling mandate after mandate on employers in order to "baby-proof" the workplace simply results in a lot of small businesses that can't stay afloat. --Benp 12:55, 23 July 2008 (EDT)


I'm for simplicity, fewer regulations, and increased freedoms as well, Ben. I've witnessed first-hand how some people expect employers to accommodate every ridiculous request for "ergonomic safeguards" that are nothing more than unnecessary creature comforts (free coffee in the office being the obvious exception ;-) ).

Where smoking is concerned, it just seems that maintaining a smoke-free environment as the default makes the most sense. Non-smokers can shop, eat and work comfortably, and smokers can step outside for a break when they need to. (Ironically, in my office some of the non-smokers complain that the smokers are getting extra paid time off by being allowed to take breaks, where non-smokers are not).

Also, a German firm tried to start an airline in 2006 that would allow smoking and it never launched due to low interest. It's a good example of people voting with their wallets to take a few-hour break from smoking to save money. --DinsdaleP 13:25, 23 July 2008 (EDT)

Thanks for the example--it's pretty much why I think there don't need to be more restrictions, and why a rollback wouldn't be a bad thing. Businesses have already had the chance to see that being smoke-free doesn't hurt them financially; why would most of them revert at this point? Keep in mind that smoking also results in more costs to the business in terms of maintenance.
I honestly think the marketplace will work to keep most businesses smoke-free at this point (as your example of the airline illustrates.) More government intervention just doesn't seem to be warranted or necessary. --Benp 15:56, 23 July 2008 (EDT)
I think that the use of restrictions serves two purposes. First, it levels the playing field in promoting change, which is why there's smoking in European establishments - no one wants to go first and lose smokers to other competitors. Second, it's often necessary to drive change in the public interest in the face of resistance to voluntary adoption. We impose pollution and health-inspection restrictions on companies instead of relying on free markets to deal with the polluters and makers of tainted food, for example.--DinsdaleP 17:06, 23 July 2008 (EDT)
...but, again, I think there's a significant difference: when you buy tainted meat or drink water that's been polluted by a factory upstream, you don't know what you're getting. Yes, a free market would eventually correct those things, but it would purely suck to be the people who got poisoned in the meantime. Walking into a restaurant with a smoking section is another matter entirely; you know what you're getting up-front. You can make the decision to stay or to walk back out. --Benp 17:30, 23 July 2008 (EDT)