My Quiet Life My Quiet Life

no butts about it

Tim responded to my post opposing the smoking ban. Here is a rebuttal of sorts. ReBUTTal. Get it?

If I were the proprietor of a restaurant or some other public establishment, does it not make sense for me to want my business to appeal to the widest possible number of people? Certainly it does.

Actually, no. Restaurants (any businesses, actually) want to make the widest profit margins they can. This may or may not mean appealing to the widest number of people, but of course usually it does not. If it were, every restaurant would serve every kind of food at every price range, and offer every possible sort of atmosphere, etc. Restaurants will diversify their offerings to the extent that it no longer increases profits (economically speaking, they’ve reached the point of diminishing returns from their diversification).

This is the economic phenomenon of compartmentalization and specialization. The Hermitage Cafe has no non-smoking section, and I assure you, any non-smoking section they could accomodate to any worthwhile degree would not be worth the cost it would take.

I am unsure what percentage of the U.S. population are smokers, but I would hazard an educated guess that smokers represent the minority of us (at least I sincerely hope so).

This hardly matters. By this logic, the end result would be that restaurants would only cater to majority preferences, which makes no sense. Wherever there’s a majority, there’s a minority looking to spend money. The ignored minority is the seed of many a profitable business.

On another note, how many of you have dined at restaurants that putatively offered smoking and non-smoking sections, only to discover that only a half-height partition separated you and your party from someone suckin’ on a Marlboro? Not cool.

The quality of the isolation of non-smoking sections is irrelevant. The people that patronize such establishments obviously find the non-smoking section “good enough”, even if it’s not hermetically sealed. This is a false dilemma that ignores the third, much more likely option: that as people’s tastes increasingly stray away from smoking (as well they should), businesses will find it increasingly viable to decide to ban smoking in their establishment. Conversely, others would rush to fill the niche of the neglected minority (which, as I argue previously, Hermitage Cafe has essentially already done).

I have just as much of a right to enjoy my company and myself in this restaurant as you do, dear smoker.

This is debatable on its face, but I’ll wait for that until your later definition of the word “public”.

We share this space. It seems to be both selfish and unduly inconsiderate for you to expect me to alter my social preferences in order to accommodate your habit.

Your choice of words here is loaded: what is the difference between “social preference” and “habit”? Surely, cigarettes are addictive, but socially-speaking, they are both behaviours. You’re heaping exaltation onto your “social preference” because it happens to be the one that you prefer, despite being the minority.

The fact that I live downtown provides me abundant examples of similar social negotiations: The Luis Palau festival recently flooded the entire downtown area with Christians. Personally I found their “habit” of praising a fictional entity in the sky to be a little creepy and annoying, but I am not about to campaign to ban it.

Similarly, the Harleys that swarm downtown like locusts on steroids at their conventions are quite irritating. They are loud, ostentatious and pointless (loud pipes save lives is a load of crap). They are bad for my hearing and they keep me up at night. But, again, I am not about to campaign to ban it.

Why? I live downtown. I chose to come here. I’d be an idiot not to expect things to be louder. If I wanted to live in a homogenous, gated community free of the distractions I find displeasing, I would live in the suburbs. But I don’t. I made the decision, and I have to live with the consequences of living with other people who (in this case) have not only as much a right, but also an established practice, to do what they do. I would never be so arrogant as to move downtown and suddenly decide that everything had to change to suit me. How is that any different?

Here are some definitions of the adjective public at Merriam-Webster Online:
exposed to general view; open
of, relating to, or being in the service of the community or nation
accessible to or shared by all members of the community

The dictionary definition is completely irrelevant here. Legal matters are defined in terms that rarely have any simplistic basis in a conversational lexicon – in fact, the legislation in question does define “public space” specifically, making a Merriam-Webster unnecessary:

“Public place” means an enclosed area of any place to which the public is invited or in which the public is permitted, including airports, banks, common areas of multifamily housing facilities (i.e., apartment buildings and condominiums), entertainment venues, health care facilities, hotel and motel common areas, laundromats, public transportation facilities, reception areas, restaurants, retail food establishments, retail service establishments, retail stores, schools, shopping malls, sports facilities, theaters, and waiting rooms.

In this case, dictionaries aren’t our reference – our ever-evolving canon is. Your definitions of “public” are necessary, but not sufficient, to provide a working legal basis for deciding what behaviour we leave to the establishment-owner to permit or not. And as we can see above, the definition in the law includes a wide variety of establishments that are considered private in many other contexts. Certainly there is already behaviour that a business owner can choose to allow or not allow: sleeping in the establishment, eating or drinking in the establishment, taking off one’s clothes for money in the establishment (albeit with a pre-existing heavy dose of morality-legislation here). Indeed, a business owner has a near infinite variety of choices that are left to his own discretion. Why is it that suddenly when it comes to smoking, the establishment is suddenly a “public space”?

The public health issue is the wildcard here. I won’t go as far as Blake in attempting to debate the health consequences of second-hand smoke. It sucks whether or not you get lung cancer. But let’s be clear here: secondhand smoke is not some insidious, invisible threat. It’s not radiation seeping unseen from the ground. It’s not asbestos, silently scarring your lungs. Nor is it the same as food quality/poisoning issues which warrant public regulation. You don’t see salmonella before you eat it. But you can see smoke. It’s smoke. You see it. You get up. You leave. You become the neglected market which potential business-owners will swoop to pick up. You have your choice, the smokers have theirs.

Does it not strike a bizarre chord that the reality of this legislation will just mean an increase in establishments that jump through legal hoops to avoid the law? Declaring their place “private”, increasing patio space which will now be crowded with smokers. Not to mention the dreaded “doorway” effect, wherein nary a building is without the smokers clinging to the front, stinking up the place like some sort of foul barnacle. It’s a legal mess that is difficult to enforce. It’s a bad idea.