Tuesday, May 15, 2007

# Posted 11:06 AM by Patrick Porter  

BOURGEOIS RESPECTABILITY MARCHES ON: Without much resistance, the state acquires yet another power to make adults' decisions for them.

Of course, we couldn't possibly have a pluralist arrangement where pubs, clubs and bars could decide whether to have a smoking or non-smoking licence.

We wouldn't want a country where adults and bar staff are given the discretion to decide which of those places to relax or work in.

No, that would be trusting too much in individuals and their responsibility. The only thing that matters for the public good is physical health and a long life.
(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

Did we have a 'pluralist' arrangement during the decades of making smoking legal? Of course not. Pretty much all pubs allowed smoking, which gave staff no alternative - either risk your health, or lose your job.

By contrast, requesting smokers to have the common manners and decency to step outside briefly rather than subject fellow drinkers and staff to foul-smelling and dangerous fumes is just far too much of an imposition for the knee-jerk anti-state tendencies of some on the right, isn't it???

I live in Scotland, where the ban has been in place for some years. Going out drinking is just a far, far more pleasant experience now.

I’m gonna have to disagree with you on this issue. I appreciate the no-smoking ban in public places in my own town, and believe that it was a good move on the part of this municipality. By analogy, I would put forward similar arguments for such a move in the UK, and in fact, Hitchens and Hoggart touch upon many of the same angles debated here.

In my view, the folks against such a ban mischaracterize the issue as the state arbitrarily and/or unnecessarily stepping-in to do the thinking for the average Joe and Jane. While I remain somewhat sympathetic to such concerns, I think that they are not warranted here. In fact, I believe that Hitchens misleads readers (and perhaps himself) when he depicts the legislation as constituting a step past what it actually calls for. He writes, “It is no longer about the protection of non-smokers”, but “about state-enforced behaviour-modification”. Needless to say, he provides no support for such a claim.

Instead, Hitchens flippantly dismisses legitimate concerns of non-smokers. He absurdly implies (in para. 4) that other patrons of a restaurant, for example, should simply get up and leave if they do like it when a smoker decides to blaze it up, as if non-smokers actually have that option while in the middle of eating. Hitchens then takes the same type of logic a step further (in para. 5) to argue that if the staff of a particular establishment doesn’t like it, then they should seek employment elsewhere. He’s right; workers’ protection legislation is highly overrated. I mean…those meat packing employees and coal miners of the 1920s knew what they were getting into when they started. Besides, the length of time that cancer takes to kill as opposed to the speed of other poor working conditions changes everything. Sarcasm aside, how realistic is it to expect employees in lower-income jobs, especially in the service industry, to pick employers based on whether they allow smoking, or to walk out if they do? Is it even a choice at all?

Although Hitchens does not bring them up, there’s also the argument that restaurants, bars etc. should have the choice to make their establishments smoke-free or not. If this suggestion weren’t so utterly absurd, it would be laughable. Given the option, as it was here, restaurants, bars, etc. already made it abundantly clear that they’re more likely to choose smoking. Why wouldn’t they? It’s made the most economical sense – to appeal to the broadest amount of patrons (smokers and non-smokers alike) while permitting a “minor” inconvenience.

Rather unconvincingly, Hitchens attempts to graft some overarching theme of arbitrating matters with allusions to quantifying the “unquantifiable” and treating everyone “absolutely the same”. Truly, it’s still unclear, even after a second reading, what Hitchens is trying to say. However, I did recognize that he seems to believe that his relationship with his bartender is of a “personal” nature and that the state is intruding on it. Far be it from me to judge a person by such a relationship, but I would hazard a guess that most people have a cordial consumer-merchant relationship with their bartender instead. And I’m still confused as to how mary-would-ya-wanna is analogous to the matter at hand. Banning smoking in public places is completely different from prohibiting it altogether. (N.B.: I just ignored the allusions to fascism and communism as simply being cliché and completely over-the-top.)

Of course, a ban on smoking in public places (eg, restaurants, bars, etc.) relates to the protection of the non-smokers (workers and patrons alike). Smokers can always go outside to have a puff. Their ability to make bad choices with respect to their health has not been impeded, only their ability to adversely affect the health of others has. Mischaracterizing the issue as one of liberty vis-à-vis the state instead of in relation to one’s colleagues may serve as a useful debate tactic, but it does not stand up well to scrutiny.

"either risk your health, or lose your job."

People don't have to work in pubs. Given that smoking has been eliminated from the vast majority of the hospitality world, and indeed most workplaces, its reasonable to say that workers have choices too.

I don't think its so unreasonable to ask that instead of a blanket ban, we try to allow for some 'diversity', something knee-jerk leftoids claim to believe in.

You are right though that I am suspicious of state power and its potential to be abusive and arbitrary. The 20th century offers some good evidence to support that general stance.

"Going out drinking is just a far, far more pleasant experience now."

great, well as long as you personally are having a better time, that's all that counts.
I do not smoke and think the smell of it is absolutely vile, but I have to agree with Porter -- let pubs/restaurants have a smoking or non-smoking licenses so that people have the right to choose where they go. No one will be subjected to unwanted smoke/health risks, yet citizens will still be treated as adults with the ability to make decisions for themselves -- anything short of this is indeed state-sponsored 'behavior modification'.

p.s. And what about the absurd proposal in the US to give movies that feature people who smoke an 'R' rating!
Do you smoke, Patrick?
You look like a definite heart disease candidate (in the next few years), so I'd either cut down on drinking, eating, or smoking.

Also, what's your stance on seatbelts?

"People don't have to work in pubs"

True but a very strange argument in my opinion. Should we allow small business owners to break legislation on working times, mandatory breaks etc on the grounds that workers could always go get a job in the public sector?
Why should any group of workers be exposed to unhealthy substances without having the right to demand that this be minimised as much as possible?

You continue to mention 'diversity' but as your previous correspondent pointed all, ALL pubs and clubs allowed smoking pre-ban. Other than a ban, what tools would you used to encourage diversity and provide a genuine choice for workers and staff? Or would asthmatics and the like just have to suck it up as before? Bear in mind this hasn't been achieved anywhere in the world

"great, well as long as you personally are having a better time, that's all that counts"

Thanks, I think so too, but actually it isn't just me. Evidence from Scotland and Ireland suggests takings are up post-ban, which tells me that people such as asthmatics, families with young children, and people who don't like their clothes to smell like an ashtray are all patronising pubs and hotels considerably more now. I'm happy to require the smokers to accept the minor inconvenience of stepping outside briefly for a fag so that ALL these people can enjoy the premises. Why is that such a monstrous inconvenience for smokers???
Anonymous 11:53,

seatbelts? I think there is a slight difference between people travelling on roads, which most of them often have to do, and people choosing whether to attend (or work in) a place of leisure.

But as Hitch pointed out, thats another example of the moronic reductionism of the ban-smoking-everywhere lobby.

As for your witty personal suggestions, I don't actually smoke, or at least not very often.

But when it comes to drinking and eating, in the wager of life I have gotten more out of them than they will ever take out of me.

If that is a bad decision, it is nevertheless a decision I am entitled to make as a grown-up, not one that the state should be making for me.


I think requiring old people who like a quiet smoke in a pub to step outside in a Scottish winter is actually asking quite a lot.

I can sympathise with smokers who have to put up with endless derision against their habit from people who regularly drink alcohol in public. Which plays a much larger role than smoking in increasing violence, breaking up families and disrupting the peace.

Especially, a UN report has recently concluded, in Scotland, officially the most violent country in the first world.

I would be careful about throwing that particular stone in the glass house.
What on earth are you talking about Patrick? True, A UN report referred to high levels of violent crime in Scotland, particularly my home city of Glasgow, which has the distinction of being the knife crime capital of the developed world (though gun crime is far worse in places like London). But most of these incidents take place between people who know each other, and many are tied up in drug-related or gang-related violence. I can assure you that blade-wielding maniacs do not lurk outside pubs waiting to stab smokers, so there is no need to fear for the old people's welfare on that account. Thus, I'm not entirely sure of the relevance to this discussion, or how apposite your 'glass house' comment is...

And as for drinking - does alcohol cause violence and social problems? yes, which is why we ban drinking on the street where I'm from, for example. This problem would be greatly improved if publicans took a more responsible attitude and refused to serve people who were obviously drunk.

Nonetheless, the crucial difference is this: drunk in moderation, alcohol has absolutely no impact on the lives of others. There is a weight of scientific evidence behind the claim that passive smoking has a serious detrimental effect on health. A recent study by Dundee medical school on Scottish bar workers showed significant improvements in health within a short time of the ban. You can read about it here :

For me, the impact on workers' health is the key argument.

we're just not going to agree, as usual.

your point about the difference between moderate consumption of drink being ok vs. passive smoking is technically true, and I'm not arguing that passive smoking isn't bad for its victims.

but its a bit abstract. we live in a society where whatever the conduct of publicans, alcohol is widely available. the enjoyment of it as a release and form of relaxation is hard-wired into the culture. outside the public houses, alcoholism amongst the under-age is rapidly increasing in the UK, to dangerous levels. and the consequences of its consumption are visited on non-drinking people all the time. you think that violence in Scotland is only marginally related to very high consumption of alcohol? I beg to differ.

you may not be able to drink passively, but you can be on the unpleasant receiving end of alcohol. does that mean we ban its public consumption? in my humble view, no. But without dramatic cultural change, allowing it to be drunk in public means allowing its effects to impact on others.

smoking is now rightfully banned in hospitals, schools, universities, airlines, trains, places of worship, workplaces (other than what we're discussing), and most parts of the public sphere. We are talking about a small fraction of it. Within that small fraction, it would be real nice if we tried to leave it open to some sensible compromises rather than cover-all bans.

If, as you say, increasing numbers of people want to go and carouse without inhaling the noxious, evil, poisonous, revolting, anti-social, despicable, horrible fumes, then surely it will make economic sense for some places to choose non-smoking licences, or have smoking and non-smoking sections.

Maybe this is naive and it won't happen. But maybe we should give that a chance, rather than doing what is at the heart of all of this: a selective and openly self-righteous assault on people's leisure time, a re-iteration of 19th century bourgeois movements to regulate the filthy habits of the workers.

however, there's no point raging on because in my recollection we've never persuade each other.
Hey Patrick, spare us the Ayn Rand bullshit. Didn't you go through grad school or something?
From an economist point of view, government intervention is generally promoted under situations of market failure: where there is an inefficient allocation of resources.

Now, let's assume that the stock of restaurants/bars/pubs represents the "resource" we are concerned about (yes, these places private companies, but as a whole they represent important institutions for society). Right now, these places can choose whether they are smoke-free or not.

In the free market we are likely to (and do) get an under-supply of smoke-free places, because owners are likely to prefer the immediate benefits of allowing the widest possible range of patrons (smoker and non-smoker), who are likely to ignore the minor (smelling of smoke) and delayed (health problems) effects when they choose the place to go. We could thus argue for government intervention.

This is vindicated by the ex-post popularity of the smoking bans in places where it has taken place.
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