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March 29, 2005

I think I support smoking bans

Big kerfuffle over at Pandagon regarding a proposed smoking ban for Austin bars and restaurants... Judging by the number of comments, smoking is more controversial than torture and euthanasia combined! So, I figured I should weigh in.

I'm a qualified supporter of smoking bans. As a utilitarian New Yorker, I think our state's ban has been a good thing. The devastating economic forecasts didn't materialize. I have nothing against smoky bars, but I'm amazed at how much more pleasant nightlife became without the smoke. If nothing else, New Yorkers have probably saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in dry cleaning since bars and clubs became smoke-free.

I think adults should be allowed to use whatever substances they want. And, in general, business owners should be allowed to run their establishments as they see fit. However, this leeway doesn't extend to practices that jeopardize their employees' health and safety.

The hospitality industry should be subject to the same air quality standards as other sectors. If smoking establishments typically violate workplace exposure limits, then employers should be required to ban smoking. (Maybe employers should be required either to ban smoking or invest in ventilation equipment to bring air quality up to code. However, for bars and restaurants a ventilation option would unfairly disadvantage smaller businesses. If ventilation were an option, big establishments would buy the equipment and siphon customers from smaller competitors who couldn't afford the machines. So, all things considered, if smoking establishments are dangerous to employees, an across-the-board ban is probably the more equitable option.)

Here's where it gets complicated. Do smoking establishments typically violate OSHA air quality standards? Note that OSHA hasn't set any limit on tobacco smoke, per se. But the Agency does set permissible exposure limits (PEL) and short-term exposure limits (SEL) for many of the carcinogens found in smoke.

However, if this old OSHA document is any indication, indoor smoking isn't usually sufficient to violate air quality standards:

It is rare, however, that an overexposure occurs simply as a result of indoor air contaminants generated solely by smoking of cigarettes.

I thought I'd throw this one out to the collective hivemind: Does smoking in bars and restaurants typically expose employees to risks that would be considered unacceptable in other industries? If not, do smoking bans apply an unfairly high standard to hospitality employers vs. those in other industries.

So, what do you think?


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» No Smoking! from Grammar.police
While I'm as sympathetic as the next Austinite to Amanda's impassioned pleas to spare Austin from the curtain of smoking bans closing on the nation, except, well, I'm not as sympathetic as the next Austinite. I should be. Not only... [Read More]

» No Smoking! from Grammar.police
While I'm as sympathetic as the next Austinite to Amanda's impassioned pleas to spare Austin from the curtain of smoking bans closing on the nation, except, well, I'm not as sympathetic as the next Austinite. I should be. Not only... [Read More]

» No Smoking! from Grammar.police
While I'm as sympathetic as the next Austinite to Amanda's impassioned pleas to spare Austin from the curtain of smoking bans closing on the nation, except, well, I'm not as sympathetic as the next Austinite. I should be. Not only... [Read More]

» At Last! Something We Can All Disagree On! from What Do I Know?
Tired of the lockstep agreement in the left-wing blogosphere? So am I. That's why I was glad to see my homeys have grown disagreeable. Amanda at Pandagon weighs in against the ban on smoking proposed in Austin, as does Norbizness. [Read More]


A log snoggle.
You've got to remember that OSHA enforcement is a joke. Smoking ban enforcement, as far as I know, is not. So are you talking about exposure standards de jure, or exposure standards de facto?

De jure--if city council will enforce what OSHA can't or won't, I'm happy to let the city pick up the slack. Maybe OSHA standards aren't strict enough. The Agency has been subject to some pretty intense lobbying in a hostile political climate. I wouldn't be surprised if the best public health science supported even more stringent standards than are currently on the books.

I think adults should be allowed to use whatever substances they want.

But consider who bears the cost of the subsequent ill health.

I'm not sure about OSHA, but this is one of the best pieces of evidence in favor of smoking bans that I've seen.

Maybe it should be the dry-cleaners who fight these bans tooth and nail, not the bar owners.

As a physician and public health scientist I support smoking bans on those grounds. But there are some additional questions here that bear some mention. There are two kinds of people in bars and restaurants: employees and patrons. Those two groups have been dealt with differently in the regulatory arena, with much more lax standards (from the public health point of view) for the former than the latter. Thus the EPA's standard for tricholoroethylene in water is 5 parts per billion (5 micrograms/liter) while OSHA's standard for TCE in air in the workplace is more than three orders of magnitude higher (factor of more than a thousand). The difference relates to the supposed "volunatariness" of the employer-employee relationship (a bogus distinction, in my mind).

If you use an "environmental" standard here there is no argument: smoking ban. If you use only a workplace argument I'd have to see how the argument goes. Maybe someone will want to make it, but then they should also argue why the patrons should not be taken into account.

My own view is that at some future time (say a century from now) people will look back at the tobacco habit and wonder, "What were they thinking?" It's like putting your mouth over a smokestack and inhaling. If someone wants to do that it's OK with me (as long as they aren't in the same insurance risk pool as I am), but don't drag me or my family along for the ride.

IIRC, the smoking ban has become quite popular with businesses after the fact, because it has cut back on employee absenteeism due to illness. Not to mention that the specter of empty bars and clubs never appeared. Some places even had increased business.

An interesting factor here in California that I didn't mention on Pandagon is that some small bars will "rent" you an ashtray for a small fee. The rental fee goes into a kitty to pay the fines if they get caught allowing smoking.

I'd like to hear what policy is about chewing tobacco. You really don't see spittoons actively used anymore, and I see no reason why I couldn't use an ashtray as a place to hock my chewed glop, or even the floor, what the heck.

The point should be clarified in all these cases that it's not tobacco use that's being prohibited, but the method in which it is ingested. I dare say that a lot of folks that support smoking in restaurants would be downright appalled to allowing chewing and spitting. Funny, that.

There should be no smoking ban for any establishment in Texas. People in Texas should be encouraged to smoke very often. Those who don't smoke in Texas must inhale the smoke of those that do.

That's very interesting stuff about the differences between OSHA and EPA standards. But I'm wondering -- how are most smoking bans actually written? The ones I know about are blanket restrictions, so it seems that the idea of some permissible level of pollutant doesn't really apply.

I wonder why smoking isn't treated rather like marijuana use is treated in Holland -- we could have smokin' restaurants and smoke-filled dives and for all the non-smokers, there would be no-smoking allowed eateries and bars. I'm not a smoker and don't like being in smoky places, but these blanket restrictions do seem not quite right to me. From the utilitarian viewpoint, it seems to me you could make at least as good an argument to ban alcohol.

I'm sure this has all been debated already at the original posting venue...

Insofar as employees versus patrons...the lack of smoking on flights in the US was brought about as a result of lawsuits by non-smoking flight attendants. the absence of significant public health data (which there didn't used to be really) its far easier to demonstrate that employees, who are constantly exposed to conditions in the workplace are harmed by something than it is to demonstrate that customers are harmed.

That said, I think there's an idea that "they get paid to be there" so employees can put up with more crap.

Also, I prefer a common sense approach. Smoking kills you, kills those around you and has no redeeming value banning it really shouldn't be a problem.

I love Amanda, but her arguments against a smoking ban in Austin are completely delusional.

If Torontonians can deal with going outside to smoke, without any measurable ill effects on the local music scene, surely Austinites have no cause for complaint?

I mean, fercrissakes, NXNW continues unabated.

Maybe it should be the dry-cleaners who fight these bans tooth and nail, not the bar owners.

I actually had an ex-girlfriend, who smoked, try to convince me that a smoking ban should not be implemented because the dry-cleaners of NYC would go out of business.

I am an ex-smoker, but when I was a smoker I had no real problem with the Air Force base bars that banned smoking. It was hassle, but as you say, it made night life more enjoyable.

When I was relocated back to the states, I was amazed at the difference smoking makes in a bar. And just recently I was in PA, where smoking is still allowed in bars, and it was thoroughly unenjoyable. I had to relocate to the sparsely populated basement bar (and leave my friends upstairs) just to escape the horrid air.

I recently moved to Toronto from Calgary. Toronto's smoking ban is great, but I think Calgary's is even better: sure, in Toronto people have to go outside to smoke, but they congregate around entrances to buildings and bus stops and so you have to walk through a cloud of blue smoke to enter a lot of buildings or catch a bus or train.

In Calgary, the smoking bylaw requires businesses to declare their smoking status, but still allows businesses to be smoker-friendly or to have a separately-ventilated smoking room. People under 18 are prohibited from entering smoking areas; people over 18 make their own choices.

Moreover, the bylaw prohibits smoking within 3 meters of entrances to public buildings and within 1 meter of bus stops etc.

In 2008, all public premises in Calgary are going smoke-free.

Last week I was in a bowling alley for the first time since the smoking ban went into effect here in New York. (Actually, I think it was the first time I was in a bowling alley since Al Smith was governor. Or maybe it was FDR.) Everything was as I remembered. It took me a while to notice the one difference---the air wasn't blue. I missed the blue.

Without smoke in the air diffusing all the neon bowling alleys just aren't as pretty as they were.

But I asked the owner if he'd noticed any drop off in business after the ban and he said no, just the opposite. The other thing he noticed was that scores improved.

His lanes had their first 300 game after the ban.

He might have been kidding.

Lance: the proprietors of bowling alleys are notoriously susceptible to the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, I've noticed.

(Kidding of course)

Nationally, tobacco contributes to about one-third of U.S. cancer, one-quarter of heart disease and about 400,000 premature deaths each year. Tobacco is a known cause of lung, bladder, mouth, pharyngeal, pancreatic, kidney, stomach, laryngeal, and esophageal cancer.
"Secondhand smoke kills as many as 62,000 Americans annually from heart disease." (CalEPA, 1997).
So WHY THE F*CK ARE WE WORRIED ABOUT AIRLINE TERRORISTS WHO HAVE IMPACTED LESS THAN 10,000 including all the people in Oklahoma City, 9/11, and Iraq combined. It's sad, but we really need to spend that 200 Trillion on something worth it.

Actually, one of the unintended consequences of banning smoking has been the tons of smokers clustering on Manhattan sidewalks. Everyday when I go outside and walk to get lunch I feel like I smoke a pack of ciggarettes.

Smokers congregating on sidewalks has been an issue for a long time, since smoking bans in workplaces have been in place for at least 15 years.

Someone on Pandagon brought up the problem of bars who want to go smokefree when other bars don't. I think the problem is that they lose regulars, who can go elsewhere, while not necessarily attracting enough nonsmokers to make up the difference. New bars that open with nonsmoking policies probably don't have that disadvantage.

Also, I bet if you polled actual bar employees and asked them what they preferred, most would choose nonsmoking. About the only employees who would choose smoking are prison guards and mental-health workers, since smoking keeps the populations under control and one more item off the contraband list, and therefore, makes their jobs easier.

Here's where I'll throw out free enterprise as the determining factor. Ruling out second-hand smoke as being any more directly harmful than dozens, if not hundreds, of other serious health-hazardous environmental factors caused by industry rather than individual activity, I'd have to say let commerce decide, not the legal system. As the popularity of smoking wanes, establishments which don't allow it will prosper. I now smoke, though for most of my life I hadn't and I must insist that even as a non-smoker I wholehearted felt something quite perversely odd about being in a jazz or punk club which was smoke-free. I fully support and understand small establishments (restaurants & bars) banning smoking but passing a law forbidding it en toto? to protect my health? Don't save me from myself or the choices I wish to make or the places and the atmospheres I wish to be in. It's insincere and pompous. I smelled the sewers, subways, buses, saw reports on heavy metals in fishes, perchlorate in lettuce, drank the water which I knew didn't taste right, drank alcohol, lived in buildings with lead paint, etc, etc. Point being, are we responsible to legislate health activities when it incurs a choice of being somewhere/doing something that impacts on others around us in a relatively insubstantial (or at least in a limited environmental) way? At those clubs and bars, you're probably also damaging your eardrums, livers and depending on what you're eating and drinking, who knows what else? have to whole heartedly disagree here.

While it's nice that you throw your whole heart into it, you're misguided.

Banning smoking in public places doesn't prevent death-seeking fools from smoking, it just prevents them from sharing it with non-combatants. Who gives a rat's ass if it kills them? Only their insurance carrier.

But imposing your asinine (not to mention odious) personal choices on others isn't an issue of health care, personal choice, or freedom. It's all about being inconsiderate in public.

Next time you see a bunch of smokers on the sidewalk outside an office building, walk past quickly and whisper, "Principal's coming!" out the side of your mouth. Laugh when some of them sheepishly ditch their butts.

Relatively insubstantial?

Well, I guess all of that data about second hand smoke doesn't really amount to much.

Honestly, I find it amazing that we're debating smoking bans in bars and restaurants (when its been banned in other "workplaces" for years). I don't get why there is some presumed "right" to smoke in a place where it is inflicted upon someone else. And I have yet to hear a salient, well resoned argument about why people ought to be allowed to smoke in a public location. All it does is contribute to making people sick. Although, I suppose following that logic would mean Tom Delay doesn't get to wander into public places around town either.

I oppose smoking bans; I think it makes more sense for each establishment to have its own smoking policy. Even from the employee perspective--a LOT of employees smoke, and strongly prefer an establishment where they can smoke when they have a couple minutes.

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