Saturday, August 14, 2010

Smoking Bans Puritan or Liberal?

"The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to
deny rights-- Judge Vaughn Walker

The two quotes above express very different perspectives. They are not exclusive of each other but they are different. I wonder which of these we base our smoking bans on.

Well smoke does reach my nose and goes even pass my nose. So Judge Holmes limits of licentiousness definitely apply. I myself am a non smoker who suffers frequent infections when exposed to a lot of cigarette smoke. So I benefit greatly from the trend to restrict the rights of smokers. (I am sure some of you balk at that phrase 'restrict the rights' but that is most certainly what we are doing.

Does moral disapproval come into play? We liberals are generally well educated and we value our health so we know that everyone should stop smoking.Sanctimony, disapproval and censure are valuable tools in any society but should that go one step further to using police powers when the state may not have a clear interest?

This began with non smoking sections in restaurants and I was thrilled. That is freedom to associate. It was a choice to not inhale someone else's smoke. Were smokers inconvenienced? Yes, they were they now experienced longer waits but in balance the market had spoken and the smokers inconvenience was minimal. Of course things progressed. There became non smoking restaurants which was great. Non smokers could vote in the market place about their preference.

Then it became policy at nearly every work place that no one could smoke. No matter what the weather smokers were forced to huddle in groups near the doors. The doorways reaked and non smokers complained and smokers were moved away from the shelter of the doorways. I attended UMSL in the 80's and I thought the professors hot boxing cigarettes in the wind and cold was demeaning. Later UMSL prohibited smoking anywhere on campus and then smoking in a car on the campus.

Returning students at Washington University will discover that there is now no where on campus where they may smoke.Orange paint lines on the sidewalk delineate where University property ends and the city begins. The diverse student body from Europe, South America and Asia is going to be very unhappy. Assistance will be provided to the staff but only in the form of counseling nothing medical to address their addiction. A Washington University staffer told me she is paying $1500 a month for prescription drugs. (I am unsure as to whether smoking cessation will be offered to students)

In my mind we have crossed far past my nose and into pure persecution of a minority.

Perhaps I am incorrect and this is based entirely on health out comes. After all all liberals support prohibition of alcohol and marijuana. It is fair to say that marijuana smoking is illegal on campus but why can I buy a beer? I believe it can be demonstrated that alcohol is detrimental to ones health. My guess is that the political alliance has not yet formed to persecute drinkers.

Soon bars and restaurants in St. Louis will be forced to be non smoking. Clearly this is a violation of the owners Fifth Amendment property rights but it is justified on health concerns. The protection is said to be for the employees but even employees will no longer be able to smoke on the job. In fact these smokers will go outside and their will be a corresponding loss of man hours. The rights of the employers and the employees have both been subordinated to the right of the vocal political majority.

In answer to my question this is a puritanical movement which has aligned the religious right and sanctimonious liberals. A powerful pairing.

This is not a legal argument. I do not even possess the tools to make a legal argument.However as a liberal I believe my actions are open to self review. Like any adherent of any philosophy I believe I must question my consistency. I have and now I am asking you all to contemplate your own consistency.I also ask that you please explain why my conclusion is incorrect.


  1. I would have to disagree with you. Smoking, in and of itself should not be banned; that is a personal choice to harm your own body. However, there is clear proof that second hand smoke is harmful to those around you. Thus, when someone smokes in a public place, that smoker is causing direct, albeit delayed, harm to others.

    Those others don't necessarily have the choice to not be around said smokers. In your list above, Washington University students can't easily chose to go to a different school, or enroll in different classes to avoid smokers on campus. Workers at bars can't easily (especially in this economy) chose to find work elsewhere. A smoker, on the other hand, has a choice to light up, or to have started smoking in the first place. This also accepts exceptions for certain locations, i.e. you expect to be around smokers if you apply to work at a cigar bar.

    This is also perfectly consistent with your examples of marijuana and alcohol. Even if marijuana were to be legalized, I expect (and would support) similar restrictions on where it can be used as tobacco faces unless science proves second hand marijuana smoke doesn't cause unwanted health effects. With alcohol, you drinking does not affect me in any way. The only time alcohol consumption becomes a problem to those nearby is when a person becomes drunk and the law does step in there.

    Smokers do face greater hardships as smoking bans expand, but those are hardships they have, at least originally, chosen to accept. I do believe that smoking cessation tools should be made easily and cheaply available by the government and those imposing such bans as a courtesy to the smokers (this would have the added benefit of saving government money on health care long term as well). The bans themselves, as they stand now, still fall completely under Holmes's rubric.

  2. I graduate UMSL in 2008 and smoke about everywhere except inside. I guess they changed their policy?

  3. The quote from Judge Walker is not applicable to this subject. It is not a moral issue - it is a purely a health issue. Life-long non-smokers have gotten cancer from familial and/or workplace second hand smoke.
    It is not a violation of 5TH Amend property rights - if that were so, if that city code would not have been able to make me cover my brick floor of my restaurant with concrete for health reasons, or make me sterilize my dishes with specific degree water, etc.
    When I was a pharmaceutical rep I learned that nicotine was more addicting dram for dram (not just habit forming) than cocaine or heroin.
    BTW NO ONE needs to pay $1500 a month to stop smoking. Please suggest the new electronic "cigarettes" to the WU lady - they contain the nicotine she desires and only emit water vapor.
    Peace Reese
    P.S. Bars and restaurants in Kirkwood are enjoying increased business now that they are non-smoking.

  4. Reese the question of whether the quote was applicable was the entire thrust of the article. There is no question that your arm should not make contact with my nose. There is no question that limits on your smoke entering my lungs are appropriate. The question is when are the limits excessive or unreasonable. I believe when the limits of anthers right goes beyond the need to protect others the limit becomes unconstitutional.

    The court deals with questions of this nature all the time in commercial speech cases. Which is a well limited right.

  5. Smoke from tobacco in a decently ventilated venue is a statistically insignificant health

  6. There have been sixty studies published in the British Medical Journal on second hand smoke. Of the sixty studies only nine showed a positive correlation. One showed a negative correlation and fifty of the sixty showed no correlation. There is no "clear scientific consensus" that SHS is deadly.

    If you take the highest percentage of any of these studies you'll come up with 30%. That is a 30% increased chance of getting ill from second hand smoke. While that sounds scary you shouldn't worry about it. A non-smoker has a 1 - 10,000 chance of getting lung cancer. If you work around or live with a smoker for decades you'll now have a 1.3 - 10,000 chance of getting sick. Even that number should be considered high.

    I also understand why people don't like smoking. The market has done a wonderful job for us. Even without a ban very few restaurants allow smoking in the dining area. Well over half of all restaurants ban it completely and the majority of the rest keep it in the bar only.

    Its pretty simple - if you don't like smoking reward the restaurants and bars that ban it.

  7. For me it's not about whether or not there have been enough studies showing that second hand smoke is detrimental to my health. I think it's a nasty habit that others have chosen to engage in. For the most part, they chose to become addicted; even people in their early 50's were made aware by the media that smoking is addictive.

    Our building doesn't allow smoking within 25 feet of entrances or air intakes. We also have an indoor smoking room, which the smokers say is so nasty smelling they'd rather brave the elements than go in there (even though it supposedly has state of the art smoke eaters).

    I wish they'd ban smoking on our premises. I'm tired of getting on the elevator after a bunch of smokers have been in there and spending several floors worth of time feeling like I'm in a dive bar. I can honestly think of no other voluntary practice that so affects others.

    I'm sorry those people chose to be addicted. But that's not my problem; the smell they leave behind shouldn't be either.