Tuesday, November 6, 2007

MasterDebates: Smoking Ban

Welcome to the second segment of MasterDebates, an occasional feature on BBS in which I discuss issues of the day with myself. As always, today's masterdebaters are Bellamy Grant and Grant Bellamy. Welcome, gentlemen.

Bellamy Grant: Good to be here, me.
Grant Bellamy: That goes for me, too.

Let's get right to it. Like many other states (and even entire countries), Minnesota is instituting a statewide smoking ban. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Bellamy Grant: It's a good thing. Even some smokers agree with that. Look, we're talking about one of the most diabolical products ever devised. If some people want to use it and commit suicide, I guess that's their right. But we don't live in a vacuum. Any time you smoke a cigarette, it affects other people. That means "public policy" is an appropriate consideration. And a smoking ban is good public policy.

Grant Bellamy: There's something more important than "public policy" here. It's called property rights. There's only one real way to look at this issue, and that's from the bar owner's perspective. A bar owner should be able to decide whether or not people in his or her establishment can engage in a completely legal activity. Period.

Bellamy Grant: I'll admit that that way of thinking sounds logical, but it's not that simple. People who own bars and restaurants can't do absolutely anything they want. They can't knowingly poison one of their patrons. They can't store plutonium. They can't cover the floor with shards of glass.

Grant Bellamy: What's your point?

Bellamy Grant: My point is that bars and restaurants are private businesses, yes, but like any private business, they're regulated, and for good reason.

Grant Bellamy: If they did any of the ridiculous things you're talking about, they would go out of business without the assistance of "regulation."

Bellamy Grant: Sure, those are extreme examples, but there are also OSHA regulations, fire regulations. Surely these are good things, right? People like to know that when they go to a bar or restaurant, their food wasn't handled by someone who didn't wash their hands after using the bathroom, eh? Or are you saying that sanitizing after defecation should be left up to the individual to decide?

Grant Bellamy: Of course not. The bar owner should have that rule.

Bellamy Grant: And what if he doesn't?

Grant Bellamy: Then I won't go there.

Bellamy Grant: How will you know?

Grant Bellamy: I'll ask.

Bellamy Grant: What if he's not obligated to tell you?

Grant Bellamy: Then I won't go to his friggin' bar!

Bellamy Grant: Sure is easier and more efficient if there's a law. Then you don't have to go through all that work.

Grant Bellamy: Okay, fine. Let's say for the sake of argument that OSHA and fire regulations are acceptable. What's the slippery slope on the other end? Again, smoking is a LEGAL activity. Should governments be able to ban legal activities in private business? Should they be able to tell a bar owner what he can charge for a glass of wine?

Bellamy Grant: Sex is a legal activity. It's not legal to have sex in a bar.

Grant Bellamy: Have you ever been to a nightclub on First Avenue?

Bellamy Grant: Point taken.

Grant Bellamy: Look, if our big concern is public health, why not ban bars all together? Why are we addressing tobacco and ignoring alcohol? Is alcohol a healthy substance to consume? If we want to prevent cirrosis of the liver, we should ban alcohol. For that matter, we should ban fast food. You're going to play the "health care costs" card? The mantle of "public health" is far too wide open. If you're going to use it as the linchpin for an argument, then you have to take it all the way. Go back to Prohibition. Force people to work out. Make cigarettes illegal. Close McDonald's. Live in Singapore. Summer in Riyadh.

Bellamy Grant: I think the difference is second-hand smoke. You can point to plenty of things that are unhealthy, but they don't directly damage the health of people around the user like second-hand smoke.

Grant Bellamy: Really? I'd say if you talked to kids and spouses who've been beaten by drunken dads, they might say "second-hand alcohol" is very much a reality. Not to mention people who've been killed by drunk drivers. I'm not positive about this, but I would guess that alcohol consumption directly correlates with all forms of violence, including rape. Sure, you may not be breathing something into your lungs. But I think an abused wife will take a husband who only smokes versus one who drinks.

Bellamy Grant: So you're advocating for banning everything now?

Grant Bellamy: I'm just saying, be consistent. Personally, I'd rather make my own choices, wouldn't you?

Bellamy Grant: Okay, yet another slippery slope argument. So if, as you wish, we let people behave as they want to regardless of its effect on others, why not legalize everything... drugs, prostitution... hey, rocket launchers for everyone!

Grant Bellamy: I'd rather have that than a society that takes away personal freedoms in the name of Puritanical fallacy.

Guys, we're running out of time. Bottom lines.

Bellamy Grant: Bottom line, smoking bans save money, save lives, improve public health and make your children less likely to pick up smoking. Smoking bans good.

Grant Bellamy: Bottom line, smoking bans are regulation run amok. They're random, irrational and violate private property rights. Smoking bans bad.

Great, now let's get a beer.

Bellamy Grant/Grant Bellamy: Agreed.

6 comments:

Scott said...

Nicely done. But I think Grant Bellamy missed soemthing here. Bellamy Grant mentions OSHA... which is a perfect example. You see, we already have air quality workplace and public spaces standards. They're set by OSHA. In other words, this law is unnecessary exactly because we already have legislation to cover the threat. Bottom line: The air quality in a smoke-filled bar is still better than that of your average loading dock, bus station, or any number of other "public" places. Otherwise, OSHA would shut them down. To date, there isn't a single bar, anywhere in the US whose air quality (because of smoking) violates acceptable air quality standards per OSHA regulations.

Ted said...

You have both a pragmatist and a idealist in there, don't you?

aunt christy said...

The smoking ban, at least in NYC, came in because of the health of the bar WORKERS not the public. Can't force someone to work in an unhealthy environment. And, no, the fact that you could quit doesn't mean anything.

You can still get around NYC's ban if you--the proprietor--are the only person working in your smoking bar. There was a place that did this for about a year before the owner stopped from exhaustion even though the patrons were bussing their own tables and helping wash up.

Also--agree with Scott above. Jogging along the FDR is more hazzardous to my health than second-hand bar smoke. Also...be ready to face the problems a ban creates, namely, CROWDS of people now standing on sidewalks blowing smoke into your kid's stroller and keeping anyone living nearby awake in the wee hours with obnoxious conversation and smoke drifting in their living room windows.

Kicking smokers out of bars here improved the quality of life of non-smoking bar patrons but hurt just about everyone else.

After all that, I do think the ban was a good thing in that it helped many people I know stop smoking. When you're forced out into a freezing January night to light up, you pretty much have to face your inner addict.

Bellamy Grant said...

I am both a pragmatist and an idealist.

Grant Bellamy said...

I, on the other hand, am both an idealist and a pragmatist.

The Wordman said...

I feel like I've fallen down the rabbit hole -- and Wonderland is smoke free, too!