Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Smoking or Non-Smoking

I have a tendency to route for the underdog. (As do we all. There are no inspirational movies about the big guys winning - fair or not.) This sometimes leads to to take a position in a discussion that I feel is under-represented. For example some of us were recently discussing the new smoking ban in DC, which now covers bars as well. Here's the thing, for me personally, the smoking ban rocks. I don't smoke, I hate smelling like smoke, it grosses me out when my hair smells like smoke, which leads to my pillow smelling like smoke, it's horrible. I also have mild asthma so I'm not supposed to smoke, my lungs are already working too hard, and I'm supposed to limit my exposure to smoke.
But, smoking is legal, and yet legislatively we are treating it as a dirty habit. Sure, there are rules about where you can pee (although you can still do that in bars, just in the designated area) and where you can have sex and where you can drink alcohol but we are slowly making it difficult for people who smoke to do anything. They can smoke at home, that is as long as they live in a detached dwelling. If they are in an attached or multi-family dwelling with old ventilation, they may have to limit their smoking at home. They can't smoke at work (unless they work at a tobacco shop) - so they have to go outside. Which means people are traipsing outside to smoke - lowering productivity and creating a cloud of smoke people entering or leaving the building now have to walk through. People can smoke in their cars, but not on public transportation. People can't smoke when they shop (unless they shop in tobacco shops), when they go out to eat, or go out to drink or dance.
Again, I never smoked when I did any of these things, and it benefits me personally to have these areas be smoke free, and certainly there are people with oxygen tanks and the like who now have a greater number of places they can safely visit. But is it fair? Is it fair to people who engage in a behavior we deem legal to be so restricted that the sidewalk is about the only consistent place they have left to smoke? Are we trying to backhandedly outlaw smoking by making it almost impossible to do so? (I'm not even going to talk about the crazy taxes they pay on their cigarettes.)
And yes, smoking is not the same as other personal behaviors in that the smoke can have a harmful affect on the health of others. So does driving, emissions, drinking alcohol, and all sorts of other things. There are all sorts of risky behaviors that are legislated differently. I remember in history class one of my classmates wanted to know how Prohibition ever got passed. My teacher said that no one wanted to be the legislator for was pro-alcohol and drunkenness. I wonder if that's part of what's happening here. That no one wants to be seen as pro-cigarettes and pro-lung cancer, so these things pass. I'm not convinced these laws aren't better for us, I'm just not sure we have properly examined if they are.

DC Councilmember Carol Schwartz (who rocks) has some interesting thoughts on the issue - a statement from 2005.

Update: I posted this and then learned via DCist that the ban is now being similarly enforced in Congress.