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Published:November 3rd, 2005 07:33 EST
Non-Smoking Section

Non-Smoking Section

By Sean Stubblefield

Anti-Smoking legislation, such as Initiative 901 currently under consideration in Washington state " which proposes to ban smoking in all public places, including the private ones like restaurants, seems to be becoming more contemplated, and common. Such law could represent a new developing national trend. And that`s fine by me, as long as The People are able to choose, whether by prerogative or by voting (which I-901 provides for). Conversely, Washington D.C. is pursuing legislation that would be voted on by the city council, not residents. About a dozen states " such as California and New York-- have already enacted some degree of smoking ban in various city public areas.

Er, I mean private areas.

Wait. There is still a distinction between public and private, right?

Opponents assert that the smoking ban is a matter of personal choice and individual freedom, because the ban interferes with the rights of allegedly free " citizens on private property. Those against the ban say it is no different than the government ordering you not to smoke or allow guests to smoke in or outside your home. Permitting or forbidding smoking in restaurants or offices should rightly be determined by the owners of these places. I`m pretty sure there`s something about this in the United States Constitution.  

Not specifically, but generally " much like the separation of state and federal jurisdiction. Free choice is an important element in a free society such as America is meant to be. If people want to smoke in public " or is it private?, then they can go to places that allow smoking. If they don`t want to be in or around cigarette smoke in public " or private, then they have the choice of not going to places that allow smoking, and going somewhere else. But do they still " or will they much longer-- have the freedom to make that choice? The rights of smokers and non-smokers to not infringe on each other conflict, and is an imposition becoming increasingly incendiary, if you`ll please excuse the pun. Is there a fair resolution?

Through the supply and demand mechanism of a free market, so long as such an economy exists, if a business wants to cater to and sustain a particular clientele or employee, then that is (or should be) their right, their business, and they`ll conduct their affairs however they think this can be accomplished. Give them what they want and they will appear at your door. This will necessarily and logically attract some people while simultaneously repelling others. The only question is how to determine and balance the ratio that best serves you and the people you intend to attract. You will, of course, arrange things to increase the chances so that more people in your target demographic will come than not.

If non-smoking is good for business, then that acts as a mandate from the masses that this is what the majority wants. But if there is actually such a widespread public interest in advocating non-smoking over smoking, then does the government have a responsibility to give the people what they want and induct it into law?

Never mind, for a moment, the possible detrimental economic repercussions to businesses that restrict their customers and employees from smoking on or near the premises. On the plus side, maybe it will eventually encourage more people to stop smoking. What`s at stake here, most importantly, is an individual`s right to choose.

Proponents of the legislation claim this is an issue of public health because cigarettes are proven harmful to anyone in the proximity of the toxic smoke of cigarettes. But according to this logic, maybe we should also ban alcohol and fast food as being hazardous to our health, while we`re at it. Fast food like what you get at McDonald`s is well documented to be unhealthy, as are snack food (or junk food) like chips, donuts, icecream, candy and pie. Yet we still have the choice and liberty to consume these things as we can afford it.

Prohibition worked so well " even for Capone.

And the drug war has virtually wiped out narcotics, in the sense of not even close.

People should stop smoking; it would be best for everyone.

Think about it. What is smoking? You suck in smoke. Through a burning straw filled with poisonous tobacco. On purpose! That`s gross, if you`re being honest. Especially considering the side effects of damaged and tarnished lungs which causes diminished breathing capacity, yellow stained teeth, bad breath and stinking clothes, plus the risk of cancer and a potentially shortened lifespan. Put that way, how is this not a ridiculous and nasty habit?

However, be that as it may, smoking or non-smoking is " and should be " a strictly personal choice. Like abortion. If people want to muck up their innards with cigarette smoke or whatever, knowing full well they are doing so, then let them.

Although smoking is disgusting, unattractive and silly to me, I am strongly opposed to government meddling in our private and consensual affairs " even regarding those activities that may hurt no one but ourselves (like sex, suicide or smoking). I am pro-choice. Individuals should be empowered and enabled to make their own choices and accept the consequences. Everyone who chooses to smoke is aware, by now, that cigarettes are bad for you; they are informed of the negative side effects.

Restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, bowling alleys, workplaces " these are all private property, just as your home or vehicle are. What you do here is your own concern, as long as you aren`t violating the civil rights of others. Just like it is the owner`s concern whether or not he or she prefers to have smoking and/ or non-smoking sections in their building. A free people tend to resent unsolicited government interference in personal matters, and rightly so. These are not public buildings sanctioned or managed by the government; indeed, they are privately owned and operated by individuals. It is not, therefore, the government`s place to regulate private business. They haven`t the right.

Or do they?

They already routinely do regulate businesses, and have long done so, through implementing mandatory public health and safety codes on private property. All in the name of protecting the citizenry from negligent and unscrupulous practices. 

Smoking is admittedly and notoriously a health hazard. So how and why is this any different or more imposing than regulations dictating standards of cleanliness, food handling, maintenance and fire safety for private establishments? Should it be different? Is the government right to institute such orders? Where do you draw the line? Certainly, a line must be drawn.

Could be that, like most things, this dispute isn`t so easily black and white as we often assume. With all this in mind, I`m not so sure anymore. But I`m inclined to go with my intuition and stick with my initial position of individual choice. The government should stay out of it, unless there is some consensus between the good of the many and the good of the one, which affirms that the majority rules in favor of the smoking ban.

Why don`t we simply vote on this, as I-901 makes possible, and let the individual, through the masses, decide?