Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Great Indoor Smoking Ban Debate

No sooner do we finish another contentious election season here in South Dakota and it's time to gear up for the legislative session.  It looks like the smoking ban is going to have a prominent place among the issues our legislators will wrestle with during the upcoming session.

The question of banning smoking in all indoor spaces is one of those issues where food and politics collide.  All across South Dakota there are towns where the only place to dine out also happens to pretty much be a bar.  And, as most of us know, anyplace that serves alcohol is exempt from the current South Dakota indoor smoking restrictions.  The same thing is true here in Sioux Falls, as there are plenty of places that serve alcohol and food that allow smoking somewhere inside their establishments.

Not to get too deep into the politics and away from the dining and drinking focus of this blog, but there are a whole lot of new faces that make up the 105 representatives and senators.  The anti-smoking lobbyists and associations, and those united in interest are well aware of that fact and are not going away.  They've been trying to pass much more stringent restrictions on smoking and have publicly announced that they are going to take a run at it again this coming session.

Is it time for the State of South Dakota to get tough on smoking?  The Fork thinks it is.

The Fork reads a few political blogs, watches the news, and is generally familiar with the arguments against a tough smoking ban.  Let's address a few.

"Government shouldn't stick its nose into how people run their own private businesses."  The Fork will be the first to admit that the Fork has held a less than consistent position on the issue of smoking.  In a state where the legislature has never adopted a helmet law and a police officer cannot make a traffic stop because the driver is not wearing a seat belt, it's easy to justify the lack of political will to get tough on smoking by resorting to the statement that it's just not right to have government dictate how private individuals have to run their businesses. After all, tobacco is a legal product.  We don't need any more nanny-state do-gooders cramming their ideas about private responsibility down our throats.

Yeah, well, the Fork ain't buying that anymore.  Government has no problem telling business what to do and how to do it.  We can argue all day about whether government has gone too far into certain areas.  (Partially nationalizing the banking industry comes to mind.)  Nevertheless, anyone who has been paying attention to anything in the last 25-40 years and has the capability of being honest with themselves ought to admit that government intervention is necessary, if not proper, when the free market is not going to take care of certain public health and safety issues.  The Fork understands that, in general, people have good intentions and want to do the right thing.  Nevertheless, the Fork also recognizes the reality that given the choice between doing the right thing, a lot of people will defer to doing what is easiest, cheapest, or best for them at the time.  That's just simple economics.  Face it, if government didn't intercede once in a while, there are certain companies that would be dumping toxic waste without a second thought, cars might be a lot less safer than they are today and segregation might still be the rule in certain places.  When it comes to certain issues, we, as a society, are not content to leave them to private choice especially when public health is concerned.  

"The dangers of smoking have been overstated by people who make their livings combatting tobacco use."  Anyone who thinks smoking is not dangerous to the smoker and anyone in the immediate area is on the same level as people who deny the Holocaust occurred.  Get a grip and watch out for the black helicopters. 

"People who don't want to be in smoky places can vote with their wallets and take their business elsewhere."  That's true, but as pointed out above, the free market isn't going to take care of this issue on its own, at least in anyone's lifetime.  There will always be owners of establishments who will never make the leap to smoke free out of fear that a smoking customer will just go elsewhere.  In addition, anyone who doesn't believe the Fork that there are LOTS of places in South Dakota where the only place for a family to get a bite to eat out is a place where smoking is allowed and present.  It's true.  If you don't believe it, get off the frigging interstate and go see what most of South Dakota looks like.

"If we ban smoking, especially in casinos, people will flock to the tribal casinos because they won't have to follow the law."  This is one the legislators are going to hear from the multiple lobbyists who represent gaming interests in Deadwood.  So, if this is true, the people who come to Deadwood to visit the variety of casinos located in historic buildings on the same streets in the Black Hills town where those characters in the popular HBO series once walked in favor of heading down the road to Oelrichs, Mobridge, Lower Brule or Ft. Thompson to be held captive in one building in the middle of the prairie so they can smoke, drink, and gamble at the same time.  Undoubtedly, this will also include the busloads of Canadians who flock to Deadwood to play slots and shop at Wal-Mart in Spearfish, even when the exchange rate is not in their favor.   All those people who sit and pump coins into a nickel slot machine chain smoking and drinking coffee are going to drive 1oo miles or more so they don't have to step outside for a smoke. Errrrr. Right.  Besides, if indoor smoking now constitutes economic development, that might be the one form of economic development we can do without.

"The Nazi's tried to enact a smoking ban."  No kidding the Fork read this today on South Dakota War College (  So what?  It was 1938.  Here's some other things that were true in that era:  cars didn't have seat belts, a small pox vaccine hadn't been developed, lead paint was used in the rooms of children, and the only people who didn't smoke were anti-social freaks.  Stopping certain practices in light of increased knowledge is kind of smart.  Treating the mentally ill by using lobotomies and blood letting come to mind.

There is probably no greater proof that the world will not come to an immediate and violent end if meaningful comprehensive restrictions on smoking are implemented than to consider what has happened in other locales where smoking bans extend to bars and restaurants.  Been to Minneapolis lately?  Chicago?  Denver?  How about Anchorage?  No kidding, you can't smoke in bars in Anchorage.  You can risk your life fishing for king crab or get chased by a bear or moose on the bike path, but you can't light up in Humpy's.  Visit Wriggleyville before or after a Cubs game, or even in the dead of winter.  No lack of activity in that bar scene because people have to step outside to smoke.  Same in Minneapolis.  Omaha and Des Moines aren't far behind.

One last point.  Smokers lack political clout with the people who elect legislators.  The liquor lobby might be able to scare the crap out of some legislators, but the Fork thinks they'll have a hard time convincing the electorate to reject a ban.   (Insider tip- the tobacco lobby is pretty much dead, but the liquor retailers, video lottery folks, and other gaming interests will carry this torch for them.)  The voters didn't flinch to impose a higher tax on tobacco when the legislature couldn't get the job done.  The Fork would bet the pepper mill and the napkin rings that, if given the choice, the voters would enact the ban.


Anonymous said...

We moved to SD from another state that permitted each city to decide whether to enact a smoking ban in restaurants and bars. The ban started first in some of the more "liberal" cities, but within 5 years, all but about 2 towns had banned smoking.

It was a beautiful thing.

Anonymous said...

The number of people smoking is decreasing. The health effects of second hand smoke are beyond doubt. It is time for the State to move into the 21st century.

Lynne said...

This reminds me of the chapter in David Sedaris book, Engulfed in Flames. David decides to quit smoking after the ban became so widespread he could only stay in hotels that were below 2 stars. Hilarious commentary in that chapter on his efforts to keep smoking while staying in those hotels.

Anybody know how many other states have a ban?