"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

No Smoking

Well, Capodice made a comment, and so I figure I'd better register my opinion for everyone. Last night the smoking ban officially went into effect in NYC bars. People are pissed about this, and while I think the ban is of debatable ethical value, I have to admit I enjoy not smelling like an ash tray when I come home. For me the issue is one of aesthetics and not one of health, and on that level I'm pleased at what I've got.

So here's the deal. The legal rationale for this bit of legislation centers around workplace environment laws. It's an accepted medical fact that second-hand smoke is not good for you. There's some debate as to exactly how bad it is, but the round consensus is that there are negative health effects. As such, since people make a living working in bars, it's argued that they need to be smoke-free environments to protect worker safety.

This is kind of a bullshit rationalization. Not because "people who don't want to have second-hand smoke shoulnd't work in bars" -- if you buy that then you'd also have to buy that people who don't want to be sexually harassed shouldn't work for Clarance Thomas -- but because there are other ways of protecting workers from second-hand smoke. Theoretically, they could also issue resporatory protection devices to bar workers, but that doesn't serve the broader social agenda of deterring smoking.

And I suppose that's the crux of the issue: the legal part is a bit of a hack. I tend to support the broader social agenda to curtail smoking, mainly because it annoys me aesthetically and has contributed to the deaths of people I've loved, but I dislike the big-brotherish overtones. So I'm conflicted. On the one hand, people should have the right to smoke. On the other hand, I don't want to have to deal with their smoking when I go to a bar.

The whole "if there were a market for non-smoking bars, then there'd be non-smoking bars" is a red herring. See, because of the extremely addictive nature of nicotine (update: Luke sends me a study backing this up) and the inherant social dynamics of groups, there would never be a market for non-smoking bars in spite of the fact that the a good portion of the bar-going population doesn't smoke. Nicotine addicts are tenacious about their habit -- it's the most addictive drug known to man; look it up -- and are spread fairly thoroughly throughout the population. People tend to go to bars with other people, and more likely than not there will be at least one smoker in many of the groups that make up a bar's clientele on any given evening. So it becomes a question of exclusion. Non-smokers will willingly go to smoking establishments to appease their nicotine-addicted friends. Smokers are notoriously crabby when asked to make the same gesture in return. As such, there will never be a strong market for non-smoking bars.

The whole thing is complex because it's tied up in addiction and emotions and people wanting to be able to hang out with their friends. It's not a simple matter of law. Heretofore non-smokers have been forced to make a sacrifice, and not an inconsiderate one, to to go a bar with their friends. Starting today the tables are turned, and while it's not justice by and stretch of the imagination, it is also not unpleasent to be on the empowered side of the equation.