Friday, April 10, 2009

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, From a Long Way Away

When I left the college last night, I smelled something burning; I wondered if it was nearby, as the smell was quite strong. (I was hoping it wasn't in the fairly new neighborhood adjacent to campus, or even the cattle farm across the street.) But when I got in the car and turned on the radio, I discovered that what I was smelling was the smoke from the devastating wildfires that hit several counties west of Ft. Worth yesterday. If it was that strong where I was, over 100 miles away, I can only imagine what it was like in the area itself.

My heart goes out to the people who had to evacuate, and especially to the family of the former Channel 8 reporter and his wife who lost their lives in one of the fires.

Meanwhile, in an ironic twist, there was probably more smoke outside in Dallas than there was inside today; a new smoke-free workplace law took effect today in many Dallas establishments, including bars.

I said last week that I'm not a fan of smoking, and laws to control secondhand smoke don't bother me all that much. The new law has a loophole for businesses with enclosed patios, and those which have such amenities may well gain business. I've never had a problem with places that have separate smoking sections, but this has always seemed hard to do in bars (and as I said in the earlier post, it's hard to be an employee at such a place--a bartender, server, or, yes, a musician--and not feel the ill effects of all the smoke).

Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd favors uniform smoking laws for the entire state, so that places like restaurants and bars don't lose business to the competition who's a block away and just happens to be in a neighboring suburb that doesn't have such a law. She also notes that a lot of restaurants spent quite a bit of money a few years ago to install ventilation systems that allowed them to have a separate smoking area, and now a lot of those same places are out all that money, because the new laws have put the kibosh on the smoking area altogether. I agree that it would be good for the laws to be consistent and for them to not change every couple of years, unless the government is planning on reimbursing the businesses for their previous expenses (yeah, and then I woke up).

There's only one unanswered question here, and it comes from my own head: Why is it that I--someone who wants as little government involvement in personal matters as possible--am OK with these smoking bans? Is it simply because I'm so violently allergic to secondhand smoke? Or is it a simple matter of "your right to smoke ends where my nose begins?" I'll have to ponder this one for a while; feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.

1 comment:

John Althouse Cohen said...

I used to be against restaurant-and-bar smoking bans, though I've never been a smoker or a libertarian. But I've come to accept them. You're certainly right that secondhand smoke at least complicates, if not refutes, the libertarian argument against them. But what really tipped my opinion was seeing a diavlog on where the liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias was talking about his struggle to quit smoking. He said he welcomed the ban, and it actually motivated him to increase his efforts to quit since, after all, a smoking ban makes smoking less fun and more of a hassle. The idea that honest smokers would grudgingly welcome the ban because they benefitted from the paternalism (along with non-smokers, of course) was convincing to me. But I'm fairly utilitarian and open to government regulation -- you might find that argument abhorrent on libertarian grounds, even if the policy would maximize overall well-being. But it's something to consider.