When I was younger, Mom was complaining about some new onerous inconvenience they were putting on non-smokers and how eventually they were just going to ban it altogether. I didn’t believe her at the time and to some extent I still don’t. But my skepticism was outsized and she was more right than I knew. The torrent of anti-smoking legislation in the past decade has made me wonder where, precisely, this is all leading. Will Saletan has done a fantastic job of chronicling how much more confident the anti-smoking forces have become in terms of citing smaller and smaller inconveniences as unacceptable and how much ground smokers have lost in trying to convince people that their right to partake in their vices, at some point in the conversation, should be taken into consideration.

With each battle they’ve lost, the other side has gained confidence. After each battle, the non-smoking majority realizes how much more pleasant things are when they aren’t forced to endure second-hand smoke. And smokers themselves often realize the virtues of these regs that allow them to go places with non-smokers that they couldn’t go before. The smoking ban on restaurants and bars has been an incredible success. My friend Web excepted, I don’t know anyone that supported the ban regretting having done so and I know a lot of people (including myself) who opposed it have reconsidered. Add to this a lot of people with the resources and discipline to quit have done so, culling a portion of the most capable and privileged and plugged in from the ranks of the smokers. As smoking becomes considered to be the province of the poor, lazy, hedonistic, and disgusting, the sentiment to push it further and further away from non-smokers becomes less and less objectionable to a majority of the population. Perhaps eventually to the point of vindicating Mom and banning it altogether. Or maybe not.

As Saletan points out, we’re starting to cross a threshold where any inconvenience at all to the non-smoker is sufficient grounds to legislate against the “right to smoke” in some place or under some circumstance. You have non-smoking sections, but smoke drifts. You have no smoking in indoor restaurants, but if non-smokers want to eat on the patio they still have to breathe the air. You push smokers away from the door and they’re still on the sidewalk. You push them away from the sidewalk, and they’re supposed to go… where? Their cars? You can smell cigarette smoke from neighboring vehicles and of course people toss their butts out the window and pollute. Their house? Well, if they smoke indoors they are a hazard to their children and if they smoke outdoors people next door can smell it. It really won’t be long before neighborhoods start associating smoking with lower property values and prevent you from smoking outdoors at all. And anybody smoking anywhere has the potential of increasing health care costs.

We’re further along in all of this than you might think. I absolutely can’t smoke in our rented house. I’m not supposed to smoke on the premises. Sidewalks and parks are not yet prohibited in Cascadia, but it’s happening in more and more places. Convenience stores where you buy the cigarettes don’t appreciate loiters (though if you’re white and/or wearing work clothes, they probably won’t say anything. If you own your own home and don’t have children

When the threshold is that no inconvenience or hardship to non-smokers is acceptable at all, then smoking has to be prohibited outright. The further along we get on this path, the more respect I have for people that just come out and say that. Instead, it sort of becomes this disingenuous conversation that is always prefaced about “While freedom is important…” and ends with “… if somebody else’s freedom is adversely affecting others, it’s taking away their freedom.” While for some anti-smoking arguments it makes a degree of sense, if you applied the more recent arguments to food peanuts and peanut oil would be contraband.

I think that the issue here is that American’s have a great appetite for nanny-statism, but they don’t like that they do. So they end up framing it in some way that they can say that it’s not about telling other people what to do. For many this probably is the case, but for those that speak the loudest in the anti-smoking movement, it often isn’t. And at the rate we’re moving, we’re reaching the point where cigarettes will be legal to buy but not legal to smoke for anyone that isn’t a childless homeowner on their own private lot (or knows somebody of the same).

And maybe the would be okay. Frankly, the anti-statism argument against smoking has lost a lot of resonance with me. Smoking simply isn’t like other bad habits in that it literally flies (okay, drifts) right in the face of those that find it unpleasant or are actively harmed by it. It is a lifestyle choice that most who make it want to unmake it. And it is a choice that, when made, is extraordinarily difficult to unmake. Its contribution to culture and society is negligible. Unlike alcohol and unhealthy foods, it is abused by almost everyone that partakes. When used as directed, cigarettes kill. And on and on. You would be surprised how many people I knew on the smokers’ deck at Monmark-Soyokaze who would agree with the proposition that the stuff should be banned. And if I thought our government could pull it off, I’d say the same.

The problem with banning cigarettes is quite simply that we can’t. If we could just get them out of convenience stores we would be making extraordinary progress, but we can’t even do that. We can’t ban cigarettes because people are just not quite comfortable with their nanny-state instincts to sign on. And with both cigarettes and convenience store sales of the same, you have some pretty powerful lobbies against it. And I suppose that some of the disingenuous behavior of the anti-smokers is on the basis that it’s pointless to lobby for the impossible whine you can chip away at it piece by possible piece.

The problem with the Externality-Reduction Approach (a good a name as any), though, is that if you’re fighting it on all battles all the time and you miss out on compromises that could benefit both smokers and non-smokers in living amicably. Even if you have no respect for what the smokers are doing to their own bodies, having respect for smokers can help create a compromise that will ultimately benefit non-smokers.

For instance, if you disregard smokers so much so that you give them unrealistic aims and then view their complaints as “their problem”, you encourage people to disregard the rules altogether. For instance, telling people not to smoke within 30 feet of a main entrance to a public building is quite reasonable. Extending this to all entrances, however, can lead to pushing them out into the scorching sun or rain. Even if you feel that smokers, being as evil as they are, deserve to face the elements, what will happen instead is that they will simply ignore the 30ft rule. If enough of them ignore it, it becomes impossible to enforce it. And if they’re going to break the rule, they might as well smoke five feet from the door.

Alternately, if you require employers that allow smoking on the premises to set up a covered smoking area 30 feet away from any entrance, smokers would be happy to abide by that. My ex-boss Calvin (who belonged to a religion that abhored smoking) set up a little canopy outside the workshop and in my year-and-a-half there, I never saw anybody smoke near any door. Even when the canopy was leaking! You may think to yourself that smokers do not deserve such accommodations, but it was the non-smokers that ultimately benefited.

The ban on smoking in restaurants and bars has proven to be popular, but there may have been a better way of going about it. Until they successfully ban smoking on sidewalks or in commercial districts, one thing the smoking ban has done is push smokers outside the restaurant and onto the sidewalk. Before people could avoid cigarette smoke by not going into establishments that allowed smoking. Now they can’t at all because they have to pass by lines of smokers outside the front door (where, even if there is a 30ft rule, it is ignored because there is no obvious place for them to go). A better approach may have been licensing and regulation. Limit the number of establishments that can allow smoking inside, regulate their HVAC, and disallow it elsewhere. Smokers will gravitate toward and inside establishments that allow smoking and will be off the streets. In the current environment, if smokers have the option of being out of the way, they would love to be so.

In part because smokers fought even reasonable accommodations for non-smokers, there are reasons that non-smokers and anti-smokers view smokers as the enemy. But I think that the tide has turned to such a degree that the animosity is going to cause more harm than good. People who are allowed to buy cigarettes but are not allowed to actually smoke them anywhere will smoke them somewhere. And the more the rules are tilted against smokers, the less they will abide by them. And it doesn’t stop them from being the statists that they swear they are not.

Category: Courthouse

About the Author

18 Responses to Smoking Hot Air

  1. web says:

    I supported the restaurant ban because it’s in my best interest – my reaction to cigs (due to related food allergy) is particularly strong, and it made it impossible for me to go many places (certain bars, bowling alleys, etc) with the certainty that I could remain there. I personally think it’s turned out fantastically; the fear of “lost business” didn’t really happen (since all businesses were in the same boat at once) and non-smokers who previously stayed away from many places appear to have made up any difference.

    On SoTech campus, there’s now a regulation (with force of Colosse city law backing it up) that people may not smoke within 30 feet of a building entrance.

    On the whole, from what I can tell, smokers ignore this rule. They smoke inside the buildings, they smoke right by the doors. When asked to please put out their cig or go to the proper areas, they get roundly offended (even when smoking RIGHT NEXT TO the no-smoking signs) and make a big scene hoping to cow the objector into slinking away. It’s really incredibly rude and annoying.

  2. trumwill says:

    Last we talked about it, you rescinded your support of the smoking ban. Have your views shifted?

    I think the solution to the 30ft view is to give smokers a convenient, covered, out-of-the-way place to smoke. I agree that ignoring the rules is rude and annoying, but a lot of it could be avoided if the anti-smokers would give a little ground. Make it unrealistically inconvenient to smoke according to the rules, people will start ignoring the rules. It’s not all that different from speed limits in that regard. Some smokers are just a-holes. But some smokers would really prefer not to be.

  3. web says:

    I said there were limits to my views (as in, I do not necessarily think that a total-total ban of smoking would be good)… I do think that the ban in regard to restaurants and other semi-public facilities (bars, etc) has been beneficial overall, and I am personally glad for it.

    Given that we do not have a “covered” area near the buildings set up just for smokers, it is a little more understandable when there is crazy rain or other weather and they set up shop near doors or covered breezeways… though they also tend to gather there en masse rather than spreading out in the campus greenspace, and so the entrances get extra-noxious at that point.

    I also think that the ban on flavored cigarettes signed by Obama this past year was rather inane. Restrictions on sales to minors? Yes, I’m for that – they’re not mentally competent (legally speaking) to choose to pick up a habit like that. Restrictions to try to at least keep the worst of the health problems down or make them less physically addictive, I could see – tobacco companies have added all sorts of crap that wouldn’t be in plain rolled-leaf cigs over the years, and I’d love to see them made to remove a lot of that, partly because it would make it far easier for people to quit and partly because a lot of it is pure garbage that actually makes cigs more deadly. But banning the choice of adding in, for instance, shredded clove as a flavor? I think at a certain point that crossed a line into silliness.

  4. trumwill says:

    That was not the impression I got from what you wrote. But if your views are somewhere short of absolute and are conflicted on the subject… well, join the club. It’s a complicated topic.

    Smokers are social beings and beings of habit. Give us a place where we can smoke rain or shine, we’ll gravitate towards there. Even the a-holes who completely disregard non-smokers would simply because that’s where the other smokers hang out. Unfortunately, where we smoke when it rains and where it’s scorchingly hot is where we will smoke the rest of the time, too. So even saying something like “only smoke here when it’s raining” wouldn’t work. I really believe the solution is to give smokers a corrall.

    Agreed on Obama’s law. If he really wants to do something about youth smoking, he could simply stop convenience stores from selling it. Making it less convenient to buy a smoke would go a surprisingly long way. But the convenience store lobby and the tobacco lobby would never allow such a drastic but effective measure. So we’re left with something half-hearted and utterly ineffective.

  5. web says:


    I’m convinced that the “no flavored cigarettes” law is what you would consider (even moreso than the restrictings on where people can smoke) the beginning of banning all cigarettes. The justification, however dubious, of the law was that flavored cigarettes “encourage” kids to smoke. This is somewhat silly in the same sense of the idea that the candy-stick or bubblegum “cigarettes” that were sold when I was a kid “encouraged” us to smoke… mostly they encouraged us to suck on a candy stick and pretend we were action movie stars (and those action movie stars were a LOT more convincing that smoking was “cool” than any candy stick in a pink package ever could be, at least when it comes to heterosexual males).

    I’m convinced that the next step will come by restricting them further – perhaps requiring that establishments selling cigarettes not allow minors into the store, similar to how minors are not allowed into bars/clubs where alcohol is served. It might stop there (and cigarettes turn into a much smaller industry), it might end with government bans, or it may end simply by the financial nonviability of such establishments.

    Of course, the odd side out is the fact that cigars haven’t been touched… but cigars are (a) a lot less noxious, (b) mostly less processed, and (c) such a smaller industry (currently) that they may simply have been overlooked. There also aren’t many people that abuse cigars the way they abuse cigarettes, simply because of the relative per-pack expense.

  6. trumwill says:

    If it’s a step in that direction, it’s a really weak one. Absurdly weak, in my opinion. To really make headway, they have got to go after the retailers. I’m frankly not sure this gets us any closer to that.

    for a variety of reasons, cigars seem to be less of an issue. Cost is one factor, and maybe the others are too. But I think another huge factor is convenience. A cigarette takes between 3-8 minutes to smoke. It’s easy to sneak out and catch one. Cigars take longer and simply are not associated with “grabbing a quick smoke.”

    Both of which are good reasons to make cigarettes less convenient overall. That just has to be balanced with making the rules such that smokers are just going to ignore them altogether.

  7. web says:

    To really make headway, they have got to go after the retailers.

    And eliminating half of the products from the shelf doesn’t do that? If nothing else, it’s made it more difficult for them to move product.

    for a variety of reasons, cigars seem to be less of an issue. Cost is one factor, and maybe the others are too. But I think another huge factor is convenience. A cigarette takes between 3-8 minutes to smoke. It’s easy to sneak out and catch one. Cigars take longer and simply are not associated with “grabbing a quick smoke.”

    I feel like that’s another reason cigars aren’t as readily “abused” as well. The idea that cigars are a “rich man’s” thing is somewhat fading (there are ‘cheap’ cigars sold in convenience stores, though upscale stores and importers still do well with them too), but the usage factor doesn’t lend them to crazy usage. I’ve never heard someone referred to as a “two pack a day” cigar smoker, for instance.

    Of course, who knows? Fail enough cigarette makers, and cigar making may become much of a smaller niche market. I’m not sure how many farms sell part of their harvest to cigar makers as a side from their main business (selling to the tobacco factories) after all…

  8. john says:

    I’ll bet the vast majority of people don’t want to see men kissing in public, either. Especially while we’re eating. Let’s start passing some draconian laws against that, too.

  9. trumwill says:

    And eliminating half of the products from the shelf doesn’t do that? If nothing else, it’s made it more difficult for them to move product.

    The products banned are small-fry. If they’d bagged menthol, that would have been a success. I think the anti-advertising aspect of the bill is likely to have more impact. Moving cigarettes further, further, further away from the public eye is helpful.

    Economic status surely plays into it, but the biggest thing cigars have going for them is respectability. On Boston Legal, Denny Crane and Alan Shore would close out most episodes smoking a cigar and drinking a scotch. Doing such a thing with cigarettes is unthinkable.

    Let’s start passing some draconian laws against that, too.

    You can close your eyes to that. You can’t close your nose to cigarette smoke.

  10. john says:

    Don’t be disingenuous, TW. You know that it’s a perfectly valid analogy, you just don’t like the implications. Well, I don’t like the implications either but it seems to be exactly the road we’re going down. First they came for the smokers, etc…

  11. Sheila Tone says:

    Eric Cartman to Rob Reiner: “Smoking gives so many people just a little bit of joy. And you want to take that away. That’s SO COOL!”

  12. web says:

    Here at HC, we generally try to avoid bringing in godwin-style analogies and topics that are simply never going to be politely discussed, john. We don’t always succeed, but we try.

  13. trumwill says:

    Sheila, the smoking episode of South Park is one of the best ever. Truly. While a lot of shows like to pat themselves on the back for being transgressive and going against the grain, I can think of few that have really done so as regularly as South Park.

  14. web says:


    I agree about the smoking episode of South Park. Of course, one thing about South Park is that they always try to be “equal opportunity” offenders. If one side is portrayed badly, they generally have plenty to say about the other as well…

  15. Bob says:

    The fact that these ban lobbyists want to intrude on small neighborhood “shot and beer” bars and private vets clubs is making many average people reel against them. They obvioulsy never enter any local bars, as the many small neighborhpood bars in my area of Chicago ignoring the ban have had no complaints in the nearly two years the ban has been in effect. Some of the bars that comply had to remove their landline phones when smokers outside see a problen down the street and run in to use the bar phone to call 911, resulting in the BAR getting written up for the problem that had nothing to do with the bar.

  16. trumwill says:

    The fact that these ban lobbyists want to intrude on small neighborhood “shot and beer” bars and private vets clubs is making many average people reel against them.

    I’m not sure that’s true as smoke bans have never been more popular and I have yet to see a new step that hasn’t had public support. But I really think that now that bars have realized that they don’t have to allow smoking to be profitable that you can allow some bars to allow smoking without all of them lining up and demand that they be allowed to allow smoking, too.

    Unfortunately, I think that supporting smokers having a place to smoke has become like pot legalization and various other things. Even if people actually support the issue, nobody wants to be seen supporting The Bad People.

  17. web says:

    Oddly enough, Will, crossing the border to Koroa is like stepping back into a time machine and seeing how bad it really was. Gambling establishments and cigs available everywhere (even in vending machines), indoor smoking everywhere… visiting Koroa’s a nightmare compared to being in Colosse.

  18. trumwill says:

    Gambling establishments are a refuge of addicts. So it’s no big surprise that they would be hold out. Same goes for places that cater primarily to gamblers. Bars are a lesser variation of this. The fact that neither generally allow kids also helps them justify allowing smoking. One of the stronger arguments against smoking bans is that children don’t get to avoid where they go the same way that a non-smoking adult can choose non-smoking establishments. The last issue for casinos in particular (though not bars) is that they by their nature tend to be large establishments so that they can hold the wide variation of gaming. So it’s harder for someone to start a niche casino for non-gamblers.

    Koroa hasn’t had the cultural shift yet*. I think it is important that restaurants and the like are forced to undergo a period of smoke free so that people get used to it and that venues are forced to invest in patios and smoking areas that would otherwise make becoming a non-smoking establishment a risky/costly venture. A lot of bars really were afraid that smoking bans would kill their business (and in some cases it did and in others it didn’t simply because they have a handy smoking patio). Similarly, I know a lot of smokers that thought that smoking bans would make make a lot of outings cease to be worthwhile, but once they were in place came to appreciate it because they could bring more of their non-smoking friends along.

    One thing I think a lot of smokers fail to realize is how really disturbing cigarette smoke is to non-smokers. They tend to think of non-smokers as whiners. Suddenly having non-smokers willing to go with them to bars changes that perspective somewhat.

    My guess is that if Colosse were to lift its smoking ban, a lot of bars would turn back over, but almost no restaurants would. And a lot of bars would find a niche as non-smoking establishments. But I wouldn’t even propose a lift. What I would prefer try is to make it so that places that allow smoking cannot allow anyone under the age of 21 (so almost all restaurants, bowling alleys, and arcades would ban it as would most casinos). Or, if that proves an insufficient disincentive, then limit the number of smoking establishments with licensure.

    I think that there’s room for compromise if that’s what we want. But I’m also open to the argument that smoking is not a legitimate activity and so few concessions should be made. However, concessions that help keep smokers away from non-smokers, like covered corrals away from entrances, benefit everyone.

    * – Koroa overwhelmingly defeated a smoke ban this year. Possibly the result of a scare campaign by the casinos, but I also think an issue of southern attitude. A lot of southern states are particularly resistant to such laws. I think the western states used to, as well, but then a lot of Californians started moving into them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.