Monday, May 17, 2010

Smoking, "Rights" and Wrongs

Tuesday will see first presentation of the submitted-by-petition no-smoking ordinance. This will be interesting on two counts: we have two new members of Council; and it opens a possibility a lot of signators didn't know existed.

The no-smoke crowd got a lot of attention when their run at the May 8 election failed to make it in time. The signatures got approved (honestly, should have), so now they are on the Nov ballot Or: They get to put a penny in the electoral fusebox and Council approves as put forth, 13 pages of new ordinance that goes a lot further than "Thou shalt not smoke", tobacco cigarettes, left-handed cigarettes, or even possibly BBQ grills!

I speak from some experience, I have successfully sponsored in ten years, two amendments to animal control; Ed the pig, all of four words, and the rooster limit, a short paragraph. Both were discussed and amended before being adopted by Council.

My never-to-be-humble opinion, the anti-smokers have over-reached. Most of what they seek is already in practise; One cannot smoke in any gov't office, school, hospital, any building a person MUST enter.

Council will have two new members, but this is paycheck-to-pickle betting; should Council be favorably inclined, it is not going to adopt this entire thing unamended.

IF Council amends so much as a semicolon, it kicks back to the "initiating committee" and a majority of those 5 people have 20 days to agree or say "See you in November".

When this first came up the local forum was full of comments about smokers' or non-smokers' "rights". I took the point that the issue was primarily property rights. My view, this decision properly belongs to the business owner, the person who pays the taxes, buys the inventory and makes the payroll week to week. That person is best positioned to judge the customers' wishes, and presuming he/she wants to continue to be a business owner, will promptly respond to the customers' preference on any given rule.

Reality, the 13 pages boil down to this: restaurants and especially bars, will have this decision imposed on them and their customers. Matters not a whit to them if owners, employees, and customers ALL prefer to smoke, the smoke-nannies know what's good for us and they want their good intentions codified into ordinance.

Hope you aren't a fan of live music. Since Austin passed a no smoking law, theme song in the East Sixth St. district might be Stevie Ray Vaughn's "The Sky is Crying"; if cash registers had tears they would be crying. Many former employees are not troubled with tolerating second hand smoke, their concern is paying bills while unemployed. The smoking crowd that used to fill the tip jar is fed up with stepping outside and getting hasseled for a public intox charge. Dumb enough to smoke they may be, stupid they ain't. Word gets around, they stay home and listen to the stereo, smoke in their own back yard. Meanwhile the health nuts who passed the law are neglecting to flood into the smoke-free premises and help pay the bills.

A lot of human behavior is unhealthy. A lot of it escaped public attention until we started living long enough for the bad habits to catch up with us. Too much salt is bad for some: me, I put salt on a slice of salt-cured ham and have a BP of 115/78. Fried food, fast food, high fat diet, very bad, cholesterol will kill you. Again, my last test, 170. Smoked for 40 years, recently won a $50 bar bet, stuck my head in a bucket of water and held my breath for 3 minutes.

Yeah, I'm lucky. I will die of something, someday, but it won't be the government's business! When we have bought the last powerchair for some morbidly obese person; when we have airbagged and side-panelled our shrunken, fuel efficient cars to the point we can't cram two people and a week's worth of groceries in them; when we all are dutifully reporting for our thrice-weekly mandatory exercize sessions and the last two fast food joints are struggling to stay open selling lo-cal salads: When that glorious healthy day arrives, maybe a few of us will still be here to look wistfully back on the days when free people were allowed to associate of our own free will with our own kind and enjoy a cigarette or two while listening to some kick-ass blues band.

I have climbed to the mountaintop and I have seen the future, and the free man in me does not like it. William Buckley was right; from time to time we must stand athwart history and shout "STOP!".

An enjoyable digression and rant. My suggestion to Council is reject this for the moment. I further suggest the anti-smokers sit with us and we both come back to Council with an amendment both sides can live with. That would save me the trouble of generating a counter-petition for a more moderated ordinance. Which I am quite willing to do.

City code 8.400 could use some clarification. The practise is no smoking in city buildings, but 8.400 makes exceptions for "fully enclosed offices". I don't know anyone that high in the food chain who does smoke, but that could allow say Mr. Dominguez to shut the door and set out the ashtrays. Other particulars haven't been looked at since '93 and are internally contradictory. This sort of detail could be cleaned up without mandating policy for every tavern in town.

Unlike today's petitioners, I have read City Charter. Several times. I know the timeline; if a counter-petition is our only option, I will have to walk out of Alicia's office with it by end of month. I'll do it, but I would prefer to sit and compromise.

(Added by the Editor: The official notice is on the City Website.)


  1. Let me expand on what Mr. Ryan said. I believe that a non-smoker should be able to avoid smokers and second hand smoke when going about his or her daily routine. No one should be forced to breath other peoples smoke unnecessarily.

    At the same time, I believe that smokers should be able to enjoy recreation and relaxation in a business where smoking is allowed by the choice of the owner and customers as long as non-smokers have enough notice of smoking that they can avoid the hazard of that business.

    Entrance signs would probably be enough that a customer can make his own choice.

    Lets make this simple, get rid of several pages of redefinitions, and have something that in the end respects everybodies rights. It can be done. We need to do it right.

    Jim Turner, nonsmoker, blogger, and webmaster of

  2. Be very clear about what we (the citizens) are trying to accomplish. Is it really a discussion about rights? Does the smoker or non-smoker have more rights? That debate can go forever. Would not making certain choices advance our city, thus producing an offspring of new opportunities? I simply see a higher purpose here.

    (Your new councilperson who has decided to be more accessable than the previous council members),
    Paul Alexander

  3. It's not about who has more rights. That's a false choice. All parties rights can and should be respected and protected.

    Sacrificing rights in the hopes of some ephemeral opportunities is a Faustian choice at best. The real opportunity is for government to operate within its proper limits. Anything else smells of expediency and opportunism.

  4. In cities where smoking has been banned from restaurants, taverns, bars, lounges, etc. these businesses have experienced an increase in customers.

    Tobacco smoking has been in the decline for over 15 years.

    In New Your city a pack of cigarettes cost $12.00 because of the “sin takes” imposed on the product by the city and state.

  5. Anon, I would sure like to know where you get your information. That doesn't jive with anything I have seen. Best I have seen from the smoke nanny side is that it doesn't really hurt.

    The impact on restaurants is not too bad as most people with manners already don't smoke there. Counting lost "lounge" business, impact 5 to 10% down at first, might recover long term.

    Bars are an entirely different matter. No figures I have seen show an increase in bar business. Most show a 10% to 50% drop in business with small, neighborhood bars taking the biggest hit. Significant closures during the first year of enforcement are common.

    I agree that smoking has been in decline for most of my life (somewhat more than 15 years). Not a reason to passively give up freedoms.

  6. First things first; Paul (Peanut): "Would not making certain choices advance our city, thus producing an offspring of new opportunities? I simply see a higher purpose here."

    Paul, understand, I really like that you listen, and your enthusiasm is nearly contagious, but as to the quote above could you possibly render it into English? Does this translate into a yes or no vote? And for exactly what? Petitioners have already substatially changed language from that which they had while gathering signatures.

    Stating "higher purpose": we had non-smokers claiming property rights as the higher purpose, and at least one smoker speaking for the petitioners.

    At some point soon, we will have locked-in language and a "yes" or "no" vote called for. Ballot language will also have to be defined, and it won't be "higher purpose".

  7. JWT. my information comes from friends and family who live in cities where smoking bans have been in effect for a number of years. These people are happy to frequent restaurants and bars they were denied access to because of the use of tobacco products. They were denied access because the business owners refused to provide a tobacco free environment despite knowing that scientific evidence proved tobacco smoking and second hand tobacco smoke was harmful to human health.

    In theses cities doom and gloom was predicated by those who put forth the same outdated “free market” theories as you. In every instance those who believed as you do were proven to be wrong.

    The major changes in these cities was the reduction of hearth attacks, strokes and other tobacco related illness.

    I repeat “From the San Angelo City’s code of ordinances to the San Angelo City’s planning ordinances the city government regulates how private businesses owners operate their business. To say that the regulation of tobacco products in privately owned city businesses is different is to deny reality.”

    To say that the banning of tobacco smoking in public places is the denial of a freedom or the denial of a right is ridiculous and grasping at straws. The smoking of tobacco products is not guaranteed in the US constitution but the right to the protect of one’s body, well being and health is.

  8. First off the fact is your friends and family were never denied access to facilities that allowed smoking. They exercised their free choice not to frequent them.

    Additionally, the right to protect ones body, well being and health is no more listed in the constitution than is the right to smoke. Same goes for many other rights we take for granted. Those are covered by the 10th amendment if at all.

    There is a difference between regulations (which the city of San Angelo already does to a limited degree with section 8.400 of the code) and a overreaching ban. These bans don't stop smoking, they just move it around.

    This is not mostly an economic issue, but as I posted on the other article, there are studies on both sides showing the impacts on businesses and revenue. To say the "gloom and doom theories" were proved wrong selectively ignores the wide variation in studies out there. For example consider this: "A 2004 study conducted by Ridgewood Economic Associates found that the New York bar and tavern industry suffered 2000 jobs lost at a total loss of $37 million to the state economy. Adding in related businesses raised these totals to 2650 jobs and $71.5 million in lost economic output. Other studies have found similar economic losses in places ranging from California to Maryland to Ontario, Canada."

    And like I said, doesn't matter to me if there is zero economic impact. The proposed ordinance is overreaching and is wrong on many levels.