All entries for Wednesday 20 July 2005

July 20, 2005

The rights of non–smokers

I came across this post from Reason magazine on smoking regulations in a number of US states.

The putative logic of these laws is to protect bar and restaurant workers. In reality, this is something of a fig leaf: The primary support for smoking bans seems to come from folks who don't like having to dry clean their clothes after a night out, and who are therefore asserting their God-given right to visit any bar or restaurant they like on their own terms, owners and other customers be damned.

But the anti-smoking movement's official spokespeople still seem to have the minimal decency required to be ashamed of such a naked appeal to self-interest. Instead, they've been forced to resort to the argument that workers who don't mind smoke must be protected from making stupid choices about their own bodies, while those who do mind it must be protected from the hassle of either making a trade-off or seeking a more congenial job over the course of the many years it takes for environmental tobacco smoke to increase health risks. To the extent that it does, that isóthe data on the precise degree of risk involved is notoriously ambiguous.

Iíll leave the issue of employees aside to talk about visitors to smoky buildings. I was wondering if thereís a solid reason why a business should be considered different to oneís home. Few would argue against oneís right to smoke at home. You bought the property and should be free to create whatever environment within it you deem desirable. If that involves paining the walls pink, playing pop music incessantly or smoking, then so be it. It follows that voluntary visitors to the house canít enforce changes. If pink walls, pop music or smoke are undesirable, one has the option of not entering the building in the first place.

Businesses, like a typical home have a named, private owner. Though a business generally wants as many visitors as possible, like a typical home, all visits are voluntary and thus subject to the environmental preferences of the owner. Trips to a pub, club or restaurant may be enjoyable but the chasm between this and saying such things are a right is substantial. Visits to pubs and restaurants arenít enforced. One has the option of:

  • Choosing not to visit
  • Visiting a non-smoking organisation providing a similar service
  • Purchasing raw goods and consuming them at home
  • Sticking funds in a piggy bank

Despite the small set of alternatives above, people continue to visit smoky environments day in, day out. Thereís little doubt that passive smoking carries risks but people clearly donít consider the cumulative risk substantial enough to warrant staying at home. Why then should this group dictate terms to the rest a pub or restaurantís visitors? Why should this group dictate terms to the owner of the pub or restaurant? Where did this Ďrightí to a smoke free environment come from? Itís not as if non-smokers would accept such dictatorship in their own homes.

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