D.C. Smoking Ban Almost Law

Well, Mayor WIlliams has decided to niether sign nor veto the smoking ban. In most jurisdictions, this would mean that the law would take effect. However, the District’s second-class citizens lack real self-government, and so now there is a 30-day review period during which Congress may decided to disallow the measure from becoming law.

But this isn’t a post about our city’s citizen’s lack of fundamental rights, it’s a post about the smoking ban.

So let’s clear up one thing first: I hate smoking. My dad died of lung cancer when I was a teenager, most likely attributable to his use of tobbacco fifteen years prior, so there is nothing positive about cigarettes.

However, I am totally against the smoking ban. It is not the place of the government to simply ban in privately owned establishments what has been a long-standing social practice.

Ostensibly, the ban is being put into place as a public health measure protecting workers who are exposed to second-hand smoke through the course of their jobs. Think about wait staff at a restaurant - many of them may not smoke, but they may suffer from the same health problems as smokers due to their constant exposure. That’s a worthy goal for legislation.

Except that almost every person for the ban with whom I’ve spoken wants it because they simply don’t like smoking. They want to eat smoke-free, and they want to go to smoke-free bars. Is it right to limit others’ personal freedom simply because we don’t like how they choose to exercise it?

I’m not going to lie. I will certainly enjoy the smoke-free restaurants and bars, but an outright ban is not the right solution. What is the right solution? Well, let’s take an amusing quote from the Post article I linked:

Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called Williams’s decision a “historic victory for the public’s right to breathe clean air in the nation’s capital,” saying it “adds to the growing momentum to enact such laws across the country and around the world.”

This line of rhetoric is simply ridiculous. In fact, the DC smoking ban leaves public property as the only remaining place where smokers can induldge, other than their own homes. This ban, as before, still exposes me to smoke when I walk down the sidewalk behind a smoker. I still have to breath in their smoke when they light up on the Metro escalators legally (because we’ve passed the “No Smoking” signs). I’m still forced to endure their cancer cloud when I’m in the park, and worse, the smokers are free to continue littering butts up and down the street.

But this post isn’t about the callousness of smokers with regard to their discarded butts, it’s a post about the smoking ban.

When I walk into a smokey bar, it is my own choice - weighing the benefits against the costs - to do so. When I walk down the street behind a chimney, I am not given that option. I would fully support a public smoking ban, but not the current private smoking ban.

There are better ways to discourage smoking while still allowing personal freedom. Instead of a smoking ban, we should require employers to compensate workers in smokey environments with hazard pay. Thus, it becomes a personal and business decision for all parties involved. If a business owners decides his club’s ambiance requires a smokey haze, or even if they just feel it’s their fundamental right, then they can still exercise that right. Furthermore, workers will then be given the option to weigh the risks of present and future disease against the benefit of additional money.

To be sure, it is still not a perfect solution. In such a scenario, the low-income will be naturally driven to the more dangerous, higher-paying jobs; and while such a disparity in distribution of mortal risk between the rich and the poor has been a common theme throughout American history, it may not be something we should encourage with such an idea.

But this post isn’t about universal health care, it’s a post about the smoking ban.