Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em


Up front I want to admit my bias.  I come from a family of smokers.  Some are casual-after-dinner-watching-the-news-with-a-glass-of-wine kind of smokers. And others are soot-embedded-into-the-felt-roof-above-the-driver’s-side-window-of-their-Ford-Dynasty kind of smokers. Because of this rich and fascinating culture from whence I was spawned, I have an acute sense of the unjust when it comes to smokers’ rights.

I am aware that smoking is bad for your health.  I do not intend to argue otherwise.  I do think that the government control over bars and restaurants smoking establishment status is unfair.  Also, given what we now know about the effects of second-hand smoking, I do not suggest we go back to the days when restaurants were divided into smoking and non-smoking sections.  I’m addressing establishments in their entirety.

Put simply, I think bar and restaurant owners should have the right to choose if they want to be a smoking establishment or not.  Lets take Illinois for example.  In 2008 the Smoke Free Illinois Act was enacted.  This banned smoking in all enclosed work spaces.  Casinos, bars, and restaurants are now smoke free statewide.  How can that be fair? Shouldn’t the owner have the right to choose?  If a restaurant has to apply for a liquor license, why couldn’t the government implement a smoking license?

I see no difference between the government dictating smoking/non-smoking status and them deciding what type of food is to be served– “I’m not in the mood for a smoking restaurant tonight.  Let’s go someplace else.”  If smoking restaurants fail because no one wants to go there, then let them fail.  Both patrons and owners should have the freedom of choice.  The smoking laws infringe on the concept of free enterprise.

To take the argument a step further– if the government is really trying to improve public health with these smoking bans, then why not make cigarettes illegal all together?  My guess is the fat tax they collect on every carton of Marlboro Reds that my Uncle Fred buys  is just too good to pass up.

On another note: I find it hilarious that some state ordinances allow smoking in establishments where more than 70% of their annual gross sales in alcoholic beverages for consumption by guests on the premises.  I can practically hear the higher ups justifying this rule with the rationalization– “this will be really popular for those people that only smoke when they’re drunk.”

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7 thoughts on “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

  1. I really like the parallel you made to applying for a liquor license. Even if these restaurants/bars had to limit patrons to state minimum smoking requirement age, this seems like a feasible possibility.

  2. You made a really good point about the motives of this law. If the goal is to protect the health of the public, it would make more sense to ban cigarettes all together. Sumptuary taxes seem suspicious, and conflict of interest is almost inevitable. The government claims their agenda is to discourage the use of potentially harmful goods like tobacco and alcohol. The truth is that the taxes do little to prevent usage, and instead the government rakes in money. I did some research, and found a NY Times article that explained how corrupt the relationship between big tobacco companies and the US government really is. Annually, the US government brings in $7 billion in tobacco tax money. Additionally, local and state governments can tax tobacco, with New York City and New York state taxes combining to $4.25 per pack.

    What is even more disturbing is that the government benefits even further from Big Tobacco, through the settlement money it receives every year. Through 25 years, the government is set to receive $250 billion from the big three tobacco companies, as long as they remain in business. While not directly, the government is making a sizable amount of money off tobacco.

    So as you pointed out Meg, the government very much wants tobacco to remain successful, but passing laws like the one you talked about helps the government remain in good standing.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/31/weekinreview/31saul.html?_r=0

    Very interesting article. It also has a reference to HBO’s “The Wire” …..Wald

  3. I think the idea of letting the restaurants fail is very indicative of the fundamentals of capitalism. You make a business decision and either it works or it doesn’t. The functions of the market would either allow the business to succeed or fail. Let the owners and the customers decide what is best for them. People should have enough common sense to understand the effects of smoking and avoid or participate accordingly. Good post Meg, it was the cat’s pajamas!

  4. We do not let any business and its customers decide what is best in all cases. An employer may say “we will pay you to work in a dangerous environment.” And the employee says “Sure, I don’t mind. Pay me $X to work around ALKJSLKAS dangerous conditions.” So Mike’s premise that “the free market” works to resolve certain tensions is not really what happens, it seems to me.

  5. I have to say I actually disagree with this! I love the fact that smoking is not available in restaurants anymore. I find it almost dirty and rather disgusting when I walk into a restaurant to have a nice sit down dinner when the place reeks of smoke. I think that families and children shouldn’t feel uncomfortable going into an establishment for a meal (for sanitary and comfort reasons) due to the amount of smoke. I think that is a health issue and that this aspect of the law is just. I do believe however, that smoking in bars and casinos is a different story. I think that the law shouldn’t ban smoking from bars and casinos and that this is unjust. I think it goes with the territory, if you have to be 18 or 21 to enter, than you can legally smoke and a person shouldn’t be told that they can’t. This should be simply up to the owner like Meg suggests.

  6. I love what you said about the reasoning behind the law. If — as the government seems to suggest — the law is put in place solely for the health of American citizens, then why hasn’t the government enacted a stricter law regarding tobacco. I really like your idea about a smoking license as well. Like Courtney, I am also not a huge fan of smoking. To be honest, when this law was put into place in Ohio, I was thrilled that I wouldn’t have to smell cigarettes while eating at certain restaurants. Despite my opinion, however, I find it difficult to support the idea of restaurants not having any control over whether or not they allow a completely legal activity to occur among people of age.

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