First They Came For the Snuff Dippers, and I Did Not Speak Out, For I Was Not a Snuff Dipper

by Scott McLemee on December 10, 2006

In November, voters in Ohio passed Issue 5, which more or less prohibits smoking in public places. There are exceptions, but not many; they are spelled out without much wiggle room. A friend who teaches in a small city there tells me it’s a relief to be able to go out for dinner now in a restaurant that doesn’t smell like old ashtrays. But he also had to write a letter to a local newspaper complaining about the editorializing in their coverage of Issue 5. The headline for a news article read something like “Freedom Abolished in Ohio.”

Well, it turns out that was just the tip of one great big iceberg of crazy. In a letter to the Toledo Blade appearing on Sunday, one John T. Kleeberger, of Metamora, identifies “the ominous parallels” (to use what I believe may be the term of art for such exercises).

In their quest to form a perfect world run by perfect people and rule over all others, corrupt little Nazi German people who could not control their own unhappy lives tried to control the lives others for their own good. But freedom-loving people rose up against them and restored freedom…..My main concern as I get older and near retirement is people will live longer and as Social Security fails, what will be the Smoke Nazis’ final solution to that problem? (via Unfogged)

Gosh, you don’t suppose they would enforce mandatory smoking for the elderly in order to kill them off? That would be evil. But also sort of appropriate, what with being Smoke Nazis and everything.

Absurd as the letter is, it reveals the deep and seemingly inexhaustible pools of self-pity that the the American right can draw on, as fuel.

For nobody reading the letter will believe that the author is actually afraid of the prediction embedded in his rhetorical question. But the question itself is more than a device. It shivers with the delight of pretending to feel threatened. Multiply that frisson by tens of millions of people, and you have a political outlook that is—let’s not say coherent, but effective, at any rate.

It used to be part of the conservative ideological boilerplate that belief in one’s status as victim was something fostered by left-wing academia, identity politics, etc. No more. But the right does not simply appropriate that attitude by reversing the flow of grievances.

Unlike the multiculti version (which at least gives lip service to belief in the possibility of liberation from oppression), the right-wing discourse of victimization revels in the thought that its suffering will continue, and must soon deepen.

Often the implied scenario is religious (how cruel will be the reign of the anti-Christ!) though not necessarily (how cruel will be the reign of Hillary!) Either way, there is a superficial pretense of panic and alarm that barely disguises contentment at wallowing in ressentiment.

Per Max Scheler, who, literally, wrote the book:

Improvements in the conditions criticized cause no satisfaction – they merely cause discontent, for they destroy the growing pleasure afforded by invective and negation. Many modern political parties will be extremely annoyed by a partial satisfaction of their demands or by the constructive participation of their representatives in public life, for such participation mars the delight of oppositionism. It is peculiar to “ressentiment criticism” that it does not seriously desire that it demands be fulfilled. It does not want to cure the evil: the evil is merely a pretext for the criticism.

Scheler was a conservative. No doubt the “modern political parties” he had in mind were socialist/labor parties. He lived long enough to see the emergence of reactionary mass movements wielding the same kind of “ressentiment criticism.” What he couldn’t have anticipated—and what still proves an enigma—is the present situation, in which a movement can hold state power for years, yet whine incessently about its own powerlessness. Can offer itself as the country’s only bastion of strength against a menacing world, while constantly daydreaming aloud about the impending and unstoppable totalitarianism that will soon overtake us all.

It doesn’t do any good to say that this is the politics of irrationality. It works too well, as politics, for that to make any difference. We are about to enter a season in which Republican factions try to work out a composite demonology for the next cycle—something to unify the base in fear/rage. (One exciting possibility is the Latino/Al Qaeda combo, though nobody has quite worked out how gay marriage will work under Sharia law.) The only thing that’s certain is that the new menace will be too powerful to resist. In fact, that is pretty much a requirement for the job.

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{ 82 comments }

1

Kieran Healy 12.10.06 at 7:34 pm

nobody has quite worked out how gay marriage will work under Sharia law.

Actually, as Belle has shown, turning gay and turning muslim are closely related phenomena in some people’s addled minds.

2

Bruce Baugh 12.10.06 at 9:17 pm

I think it’s a mistake to assume that the writer doesn’t believe in the threat he describes. Indeed, I think that a key to the right’s behavior is that they don’t get over any fears. Old ones disproved by the passage of time don’t go away; they only get shelves, ready to be brought out again if circumstances seem to warrant. Deep inside, they are continuing to dread Communist subversion and nuclear attack and the loss of South Korea and the collapse of the Bulge and revolution in response to the Great Depression and damned socialistic interference with natural monopolies and on back to the American Civil War and beyond. This particular bit is a recycling of fears about the Left common in the ’70s – I remember these rants from when warning labels were a subject of debate – and this and that. But in my experience, it’s quite sincere despite being self-inconsistent nonsense.

3

Jeff Rubard 12.10.06 at 9:41 pm

Absurd as the letter is, it reveals the deep and seemingly inexhaustible pools of self-pity that the the American right can draw on, as fuel.

It seems like this issue cuts across a left/right divide. Ritual invokers of Godwin’s law aside, I suspect that most left-of-center people would have a problem with someone saying “Gee, the Nazis really had the right idea” about anything — and in this case it’s happened. Furthermore, was it a heady and concealed dose of libertarianism that drove New Labour to avoid putting the smoking ban into their election platform, or the class considerations they actually cited? (If you look further to the left, the offices of Il Manifesto are reportedly flouting the Italian ban.)

There are probably solid reasons progressives should support most kinds of smoking bans: the health of minors and the working poor, who have fewer ways to avoid harm, should surely be very important. But those reasons are rarely invoked in the me-first health nuttism that the anti-smoking lobby leads with these days, and the growing vigilantism of “middle-class” people against declasse smokers trying to do just about anything is surely not a case of freedom for those who think differently. So you haven’t sold me on the idea that someone, like our letter writer, who opposes the Iraq war with square in hand is a 100% American reactionary.

4

engels 12.10.06 at 9:55 pm

I only wish to point out that the British “decent left” blog, “Harry’s Place” has also staked out a position as vehemently pro-smoking. Bizarre.

5

Steve LaBonne 12.10.06 at 10:21 pm

Jeff, stuff it. Not wanting to breathe other people’s poisonous emissions does not make one a “vigilante”. There is no such thing as a “freedom” to force non-smokers to breathe tobacco smoke.

6

kid bitzer 12.10.06 at 10:37 pm

I’m hoping for a sequel in which mr. kleeberger tells us what he really thinks about feminists, too.

7

Christopher M 12.11.06 at 12:53 am

The main thing that bothers me about the smoking bans is their lack of reasonable exceptions. Is there really any reason why, out of the hundreds of bars and restaurants here in Chicago, we shouldn’t allow ten or fifteen to permit smoking? (The smoking licenses could be doled out by lottery, or by competitive bidding, proceeds to go to cancer research…whatever.)

The only reason I can think of is, on purely paternalistic grounds, to make life so unpleasant for smokers that they’re inspired to quit. That strikes me as a bad and illiberal reason, but if it is the reason then the pro-total-ban folks should come out and say so.

8

KCinDC 12.11.06 at 12:57 am

the health of minors and the working poor, who have fewer ways to avoid harm, should surely be very important. But those reasons are rarely invoked in the me-first health nuttism that the anti-smoking lobby leads with these days

Really? Concern about children and especially workers was the main point made in the arguments for the Smoke-Free Workplace Act (which prohibits smoking in restaurants and bars) in Washington, DC, this year. You can speculate about the real motivations of the “health nut” supporters, but the “selfish” reasons were not the ones advanced when the bill was actually being discussed (or named, for that matter).

9

David Moles 12.11.06 at 1:54 am

Is there really any reason why, out of the hundreds of bars and restaurants here in Chicago, we shouldn’t allow ten or fifteen to permit smoking?

I have no problem with that so long as they’re required to provide well-maintained protective gear to their workers and the workers are required to wear it. Otherwise it’s a workplace safety issue.

10

Crystal 12.11.06 at 1:56 am

When California banned smoking back in the ’90’s, I was glad, GLAD I tell you, to be able to go out to my friendly local dive bar, hang out, knock back a few beers, and not come home reeking of stale ashtray. And it’s not just the horrid stench that makes secondhand smoke so bad; it’s the health risk.

When Dana Reeve died of lung cancer, it was pointed out that she never smoked but she did spend several years as a cocktail waitress in a smoky bar. Anti-smoking legislation is meant to protect people like Mrs. Reeve from getting cancer they otherwise may not have succumbed to.

11

Jay Conner 12.11.06 at 2:26 am

But if no one smokes, who will pay the taxes ?

12

David Wright 12.11.06 at 4:34 am

I’m astounded that anyone, even a Marxist intellectual, would try to develop a full blown theory of psyco-political hermenutics out of a letter to the editor of a Toledo newspaper.

The letter is admitly overheated, as are many letters to the editor by writers on both the left and right, but the point it makes is rather banally indisputable. It asserts that smoking bans are yet one more area in which the government now regulates behaviors whoose effects are nearly entirely limited to informed, consenting adults.

Now you can certainly take the position, as many on the left do, that this is a good thing. But it seems extremely difficult to assert that it is not the case.

(Incidentally, ten years ago all my European leftest friends viewed America’s anti-smoking penchant as one of the many neo-fascist, puritanical streaks in the American body politic. They all smoked, and they all got rather heatedly libertarian when discussing anti-smoking regulation. Nowadays most are beginning to toe the American leftist line.)

13

Anatoly 12.11.06 at 4:41 am

Absurd as the letter is, it reveals the deep and seemingly inexhaustible pools of self-pity that the the American right can draw on, as fuel.

You had me until the “right”. Because “the delight of pretending to feel threatened” is something the American left has got a nice addiction to, no less than the right. You know, the left that’s going to be summarily imprisoned in Guantanamo any day now, with their phones collectively tapped, the junta in power shredding the Bill of Rights right in their faces, giggling with evil delight.

It’s a bipartisan thing.

14

David Moles 12.11.06 at 5:00 am

I blame the Puritans.

15

DRR 12.11.06 at 5:15 am

I’m conflicted. I’m a non smoker, who has spent enough time in Bars to sympathize with the plight of the non smoker.

Yet for some reason a lot of the anti-smoking measures rub me the wrong way. There seems to be an almost perverse puritanism driving the whole business, and those within the cause, expound it & confront challengers with the zeal of a guerilla marxist revolutionaries. I support practical & common sense bans, but it seems like certain anti-smoking provisions, especially those in California, go out of their way to break new ground in what ridiculous regulations they can put on smoking. They’ve even extended it to private residencies, pushing landlords to adopt smoke-free policies to where you can’t even smoke in your home.

While non-smokers the majority and their concerns should take priority. The large part of these ridiculous regulations are driven by a small but incredibly dedicated anti-smoking lobby that will not stop until smokers are subject to the same regulatory expulsion that registered sex offenders now face in certain cities in Georgia. Sex offenders can live in Georgia, but the laws about how close they can live toward schools, public buildings, playgrounds & certain residential neighborhoods all but makes it impossible for them to legally live anywhere where they don’t violate these regulations.

In this context, I find the reports about the recent rise in smoking among teens to be a positive development. Strength in Numbers. I may not be with them in lung incapacity, but I proclaim solidarity with their cause.

16

K. Williams 12.11.06 at 5:37 am

There’s a sizeable minority of adults who would like to be able to smoke while they eat and drink. Allowing a certain number of bars and restaurants to have (or buy) smoking licenses would allow those smokers to have a nice time while eating without, in any way, infringing on the right of people like Mr. Labonne to not inhale poisonous fumes. As for workplace safety, the people who would work in those bars would obviously be choosing to do so while knowing that they were going to be working in a smoke-filled environment, and would almost certainly end up getting paid more (as they should be) than people who worked in smoke-free environments. They, too, would be adults making a free decision about where to work. Ultimately, I fail to see how the case for a complete ban on public smoking really is anything other than an oppressive demonstration of puritanical state paternalism.

17

Aaron_M 12.11.06 at 7:04 am

“perverse puritanism driving the whole business”

For something to be puritan it must first be culturally accepted, it must be view as an option/choice that people can make. We learn in our culture that smoking is one of the available options for individuals while marrying your brother/sister is not an available option. Ironically being prevented from marrying your sister is not viewed as puritan (at least by the vast majority of society) because there is virtually no social acceptance for this choice. Next the activity must have a certain cultural status, e.g. smoking has been/is associated with rebelliousness and thus the opposite of puritanism. And if you are a liberal anything for which you get puritan associations is also something you are intuitively suspicious of on normative grounds. But the puritan association is based in a cultural background and the fact of this cultural background does not self-evidently entail any defensible normative argument that favours permitting smoking or forbidding marrying your sister/brother.

Extensive bans as indicating puritanism?

Imagine a culture where it is culturally accepted to defecate wherever in the public and private space. A total ban on non-toilet defecation could be viewed as puritan, and it could very well be puritan. The reasons for the ban could have nothing to do with public health but rather an increasingly large group of people that feel uncomfortable with the sight of strangers’ fleshy pale behinds. But just because a ban is extensive does not necessarily mean that it is an indefensible limit on individual liberty based in social conservatism. I believe that in most of the countries from which this site gets is commentators it is illegal to poo in any public area and illegal to poo in your own backyard (unless you burry it fairly deep and even then it could be sketchy). Now the risk to public health of a few shitty backyards is not particularly high, but I doubt that many of you view the extensiveness of this ban as based an unjust imposition of puritan standards on the individual.

Smoking bans as puritan social conservatism?

The reasons for banning smoking are fairly straight forward: 1) it is a health risk to the smoker, 2) to those that take in second hand smoke, 3) and the level of social acceptance for smoking has a large effect on the level of actual smoking (i.e. if your parents, friends and co-workers smoke you are much more likely to smoke). Now #2 is so obvious I think it is fairly ridiculous at this stage to argue against a ban on smoking in all public indoor spaces except for smoking rooms that are organised so that employees that need to go into these rooms as part of their work do so only when there is nobody smoking in them. On top of this states are obviously trying to make smoking as unattractive as possible to radically reduce the total number of smokers (i.e. #3). This act of the state does bring forth familiar problems with how to weigh the collective good against individual liberty that should be debated. However, it just seems wrong to view these bans as a trying to use the state’s authority to impose conservative moral standards and the charge of puritanism does little to convince us on what is and is not justifiable.

18

Adam Roberts 12.11.06 at 7:34 am

David W.It asserts that smoking bans are yet one more area in which the government now regulates behaviors whoose effects are nearly entirely limited to informed, consenting adults.

If you were talking about injecting heroin, say, then I would agree wholeheartedly. You can sit at the table injecting and it doesn’t affect me in the least: your decision, up to you, the government ought not to interfere. But if you light up then you compel me to inhale your smoke. I don’t like inhaling smoke.

This would be equivalent to you injecting heroin, and then leaning across to inject me too whether I wanted it or not. Here the libertarian argument falls down. Smoke is a nasty and insidious substance like that; unlike the cleanly separated ampules of other drugs it drifts about. Similarly, if you want to drink wine with your meal in a restaurant you ought to be allowed to, even if the person at the next table is teetotal. Until the day when people go about forcing other people, teetotal or not, to sip up 15% of the contents of their glasses of wine as a matter of course, I’d say legislation in this case would be illiberal.

But it does seem to me that your right to smoke ought to be exactly the same as, no more or less than, my right not to smoke: and if we;re both sitting in the room then either one party gets up and leaves (and at the moment, that party is always the nonsmoker — and will continue to be until cities have a 50:50 distribution of smoking/smoke-free bars — which they don’t), or one party accepts personal inconvenience so that the other can enjoy their freedom. A difficult negotiation. But by no means a clearcut crusading cause for Liberty in the abstract.

19

abb1 12.11.06 at 7:47 am

It can’t be puritanism ’cause it’s the same in Italy (or so I’ve heard).

20

Maurice Meilleur 12.11.06 at 8:10 am

Anatoly (#14),

But the Bush administration (“the junta in power,” if you will) has been shredding the Bill of Rights in our faces, openly, and they have been tapping our phones. If you want to make a case for bipartisan paranoia, maybe you should pick other issues.

21

astrongmaybe 12.11.06 at 8:14 am

I’m with drr on this, and I do think it’s odd that Scott didn’t make clear that obsessive anti-smoking thinking is, in its own way, as psychologically over-determined as the frantic self-victimizing he so rightly skewers. (And I write as a fairly recent, happily ex-smoker.) Check this out (sorry I don’t have an English link, but the content is fairly clear):
http://www.sueddeutsche.de/,wm2/gesundheit/artikel/343/94249/
(A story from today on how, in Belgium, there are now to be gruesome pictures of cigarette-disease, tumors, etc., on cigarette packets.)

These kind of images are good in a way, since they make quite clear that smoking is now entering the realm of the monstrous. Smoking, and increasingly the bodies and selves of smokers become the Monster : a real, but limited fear/risk is puffed up into a kind of vast cultural spook-image, which serves to condense, control and, rather perversely ,at the same time to excite anxieties.

This goes way beyond rational judgments on public choice and public health. There are deep contemporary jitters about purity and the body at play here, as well as a lot of frustrated impotence about contemporary society (the cigarette industry as the whipping boy of the corporate world, etc.). When someone (@17) starts to compare smoking to incest, for God’s sake, we could hardly have this laid out more clearly. It might be worth pausing to think.

22

Idris 12.11.06 at 8:25 am

Abb1 (#19),

Your comment reminds me of my first (and only) visit to Rome. The Rome airport was, like an airport in the US, papered with ‘no smoking’ signs. …with not very much effect. There were smokers everywhere.

I can only imagine the horror and nearly instant arrest that would follow upon my lighting a cigarette in an American airport.

23

eweininger 12.11.06 at 11:04 am

One exciting possibility is the Latino/Al Qaeda combo, though nobody has quite worked out how gay marriage will work under Sharia law.

Something connected with fluoridation, I suspect.

24

Jeff Rubard 12.11.06 at 11:49 am

Not wanting to breathe other people’s poisonous emissions does not make one a “vigilante”. There is no such thing as a “freedom” to force non-smokers to breathe tobacco smoke.

You know, I’m not very fond of large SUVs. And as a hard-core pedestrian, their poor handling and the mindset of their drivers pose a non-negligible risk to my health all the time — a risk my walking does not reciprocally raise for them. Yet their drivers are, in fact, exercising a freedom they have: and this, a situation where the exercise of liberty potentially has negative consequences for others, is (of course) common as anything. It’s not actionable, so they go right on ahead.

Only an exceedingly healthy sense of entitlement militates against comprehending this general standard for what other people are actually free to do in a liberal democracy: but my contention is, pertaining to the original topic, that such a sense of entitlement is not especially leftist, nor is the lack of it especially rightist. But when you talk about the unacceptability of poisonous fumes, I suspect you don’t have in mind consciousness-raising charity bike races to Superfund sites but something a little more confrontational: and, justified or not, that sounds a lot like taking matters into your own hands.

25

David Moles 12.11.06 at 11:50 am

True, Maurice, but they haven’t shot Stephen Colbert.

26

Ray 12.11.06 at 11:55 am

If you work in a factory, where the air is poisonous and will shorten your lifespan, you are entitled to have protective clothing, or for the source of the poison to be eliminated. “Get another job” is not an acceptable answer.
If you work in a bar or a restaurant, the air is poisonous.
(I never had a problem, personally, with smoky bars or restaurants, even when I stopped smoking, but my exposure was limited, and optional.)

27

Steve LaBonne 12.11.06 at 12:10 pm

Only an exceeedingly healthy sense of entitlement causes anyone to hallucinate that there is a “right” to deliberately emit noxious fumes where others are unable to avoid breathing them. Your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.

28

Steve LaBonne 12.11.06 at 12:18 pm

And by the way, nobody outside your fevered imagination is hinting in any way at vigilantism; the appropriate remedy is, of course, precisely the passing of laws such as the newly adopted one in Ohio.

29

bi 12.11.06 at 12:21 pm

Jeff Rubard:

Heck, why not ban SUVs outright? :) Even if you don’t do that, you have to admit that there are things like pedestrian crossings, where upon certain conditions a vehicle is legally required to let pedestrians cross a road. Is there a proposal for something similar for smokers and non-smokers? Maybe there’ll be a “smoking” light which shows “SMOKE” for a certain period of time, after which it turns to “DON’T SMOKE” and all smokers must immediately stop?

Finally, whether it was “actionable” or not is besides the point. Isn’t the whole point of the legislative process is to decide what will be actionable and what won’t be?

And moving from “ought” to “is”, I understand the US does have emission standards for automobile exhaust, so the right to drive SUVs isn’t totally unrestricted. So whichever way one tilts it, your analogy doesn’t hold water.

30

jeff 12.11.06 at 12:24 pm

When asked by an outraged woman why I lit up a cigarette while queing up outside the cinema, I told her, politely, that it was self-defense against the noxious perfume she’d bathed in that day.

31

Jeff Rubard 12.11.06 at 12:28 pm

Mr. Labonne, you continue to conveniently conflate two lines of reasoning which you could, given my previous statements, distinguish. “Where others are unable to avoid breathing them”: I initially said that progressives should support most smoking bans, and that statement obviously covers most applications of your criterion. Most, but not all; and your seemingly perverse misreading can only make sense if you want to leave room for arguing in favor of anti-smoking’s “final frontier”, restrictions on outdoor smoking.

If you were to argue the two cases separately, you would have trouble with this second case, where the evidence-based public health arguments accrued to date do not hold: no obvious “fist-swinging” is going on, as the practice of smoking outdoors is not known to cause dangerous levels of pollutants to build up in an area (there is after all a lot of outdoors to go around). Of course, it is to many people still an obnoxious practice, and the “gut feeling” that any smoke is too much is an easy one to give in to, if you are so inclined.

But in terms of justifying the public enforcement of this sentiment in toto, I suspect it is much easier to slur the issues together than severally assess them based either on the traditions of American law or the interests of the masses, this last item being Mr. McLemee’s stated point of reference (which you are furiously eliding, presumably due to your “radical centrism” — representing the vanguard of the hegemonic class, some might say.)

32

Michael Sullivan 12.11.06 at 12:32 pm

It is frankly absurd to suggest that the smoking bans of recent years are entirely motivated by a deep concern for the well-being of cocktail waitresses and others who work in traditionally smokey environments.

The anti-smoking lobby has worked tirelessly to create such bans since long before either the “second hand smoke to servers” issue or really the second hand smoke issue at all were commonly advanced arguments, and before the clinical evidence was that supports them existed. California’s restaurant smoking ban predates by years the first time I ever heard anyone piously express their concern for the plight of waiters.

Now, it may well be that these newer arguments are what have pushed the recent wave of smoking bans over the top from a simmering pot of advocacy by the anti-smoking lobby into actual law supported by the voters. But, watching the trajectory of American laws as they relate to smoking, and the advocacy that supported those laws, it seems clear that there is a dedicated base of people who are throwing arguments at the issue until one sticks.

Out of curiosity, how many people here who have expressed their support for the workplace hazard issue can cite a reference to the degree of health hazard caused by working at a smoking-ok bar?

I think that you can also draw a fairly clear line that begins somewhere around the initial call to label cigarette packages as harmful and heads straight through the NYC trans-fat ban, and the trans-fat ban poses no such environmental hazard as does second-hand smoke. Now, some of the laws engendered by these arguments may be wholly in the good (I like the warnings on cigarette packages, and am ambivalent about the public smoking bans), while others are fairly clearly inane (the trans-fat issue, and I also roll my eyes at some of the advertising restrictions on cigarettes), but it seems disingenuous to pick out some particular law and hold it out as though it did not owe its existence to the work of a core of people who are quite dedicated to keeping you — yes you, the competent adult — from smoking, eating poorly, or risking your own life in any way.

33

Russell Arben Fox 12.11.06 at 1:22 pm

Adam,

Smoke is a nasty and insidious substance like that; unlike the cleanly separated ampules of other drugs it drifts about. Similarly, if you want to drink wine with your meal in a restaurant you ought to be allowed to, even if the person at the next table is teetotal.

The drugs in alcohol also “drift about”: specifically, they get into the brain, which then tells the body within which it resides to leave the restaurant and drive home, and which point it runs a red light and smashes into my car. There’s drift for you.

I won’t lift a finger to fight smoking bans; I’m happy to see them, and if progressives want to dance around coming up with correctly liberal reasons why they are justified, more power to them–in the end it just means more distance between progressives and the “liberaltarian” option, and the more distance there the better, I say. However, if I was designing any of these campaigns, I’d have to ask why Big Tobacco, as nasty and deserving-of-restriction an industry as it is, has had its products so vociferously attacked, while Big Alcohol has gotten off so easily.

34

bi 12.11.06 at 1:35 pm

Jeff Rubard, can you at least address the fact that your analogy was total hogwash, before slinging phrases like “gut feeling” at other people?

Michael Sullivan: oh, so 2nd-hand smoke is a social construct created by evil librulz! w00t.

35

Steve LaBonne 12.11.06 at 1:37 pm

Russell- another very poor analogy, I’m afraid. The indirect mind / body effects of alcohol on others are incidental and far from inevitable (you can certainly have a couple of glasses of wine at dinner without becoming either belligerent or a menace on the road). Whereas the emission of toxic smoke is the very purpose of cigarettes and cigars, and the assault of this smoke on the respiratory systems of bystanders is not avoidable.

Why does this really quite straightforward subject (easily understood to be such by a convincing majority of the Ohio electorate) bring out so much abject silliness from otherwise intelligent people?

36

perianwyr 12.11.06 at 1:50 pm

Oh, and the effects of alcohol are quantifiable, well-understood, and already illegal beyond a certain point. A pure liberty issue this is not.

37

Jeff Rubard 12.11.06 at 1:54 pm

We don’t ban SUVs outright, because some people really like them a lot, which in the minds of elected legislators outweighs the documented risks SUV drivers pose to others. So far the hogwash is fairly antiseptic; analogous reasoning has traditionally motivated the same legislators w.r.t. smoking policy, the result being the same sort of light regulation. As to the extent to which enlightened contemporary legislators have the ability to make smoking an actionable matter in further ways, I am actually not in possession of the relevant information (the circumstances concerning the rise and fall of early-20th-century bans on cigarettes in many states). But the question I had raised, and which Mr. Labonne was responding to, was private individuals’ “smoking-cessation outreach”, the nature and permissibility of which is related to the laws as they currently stand.

38

Enquiring mind (not burdened by Freud) 12.11.06 at 1:55 pm

One curious and, I think, poorly studied aspect of all of this is that lawmakers apparently no longer smoke compulsively. if they did, I imagine none of this legislation would have got very far. Time was, a cigar was the very symbol of patrician power, so when did the infamous “smoke-filled rooms” become sparkly-clean?

39

Michael Sullivan 12.11.06 at 1:58 pm

31/bi:

No, of course second hand smoke is real. And, to be clear, I am not making the argument that “some people support a law for the ‘wrong’ reasons, thus we should oppose the law.” That would be inane — there has never been a government action in the world that has not had supporters with the “wrong” reasons.

Let’s give an example from the other side of the fence. Many of the libertarian economic reforms that I favor draw supporters not from the principled ranks of those who believe in the power of markets to enrich all members of society, and the principles of economic non-coercion, but rather from people who have no ideological commitment besides “I want my own taxes to be as low as possible.”

That’s fine, and their support does not add to or subtract from the principled arguments. But if one of you progressive liberals noted that lots of the supporters of tax reform are self-interested, my appropriate response is not wide eyed false ingenuousness and pretending that such people do not exist or that their support is irrelevent.

That’s what bothers me here: the people advocating workplace safety have a legitimate argument (perhaps not a correct one, but certainly one that has merits). But they wouldn’t even have the opportunity to make their arguments if it weren’t for the decades-long efforts of activists who clearly have an ideological opposition to smoking that greatly exceeds a commitment to workplace safety. And yet when someone brings up the far-reaching goals of your perhaps-temporary allies, it’s all, “What? No, I have no idea what you’re talking about, this is solely and completely about workplace safety.”

I think that you’d rather disarm people like me or perhaps Mr. Rubard if you straightforwardly said, “Yes, an important element of the coalition that pushes these laws are, frankly, health nannies. Their support notwithstanding, I’ve looked at the evidence for this law, and I think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t plan to translate my current support for restaurant/bar smoking bans into blind credulousness about the next public health crusade.”

40

Steve LaBonne 12.11.06 at 2:02 pm

But the question I had raised, and which Mr. Labonne was responding to, was private individuals’ “smoking-cessation outreach”, the nature and permissibility of which is related to the laws as they currently stand.

I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. I have been addressing, and am only addressing, laws like the new one in Ohio banning smoking in most indoor public locations.

41

Russell Arben Fox 12.11.06 at 2:19 pm

Steve,

Another very poor analogy, I’m afraid. The indirect mind / body effects of alcohol on others are incidental and far from inevitable (you can certainly have a couple of glasses of wine at dinner without becoming either belligerent or a menace on the road). Whereas the emission of toxic smoke is the very purpose of cigarettes and cigars, and the assault of this smoke on the respiratory systems of bystanders is not avoidable.

I agree it’s a strained analogy, and I don’t expect anyone to be convinced by it. (I wouldn’t be myself.) However, while a weak analogy, it is not a categorically flawed one: if (and this is a big “if,” I admit) your reasoning for supporting smoking bans is solely a matter of the harm which “the assault of smoke on bystanders” causes, then one ought not pretend (and I am not accusing you of doing this, by the way; I’m just tossing it out here) that there is an obvious border which distinguishes efforts to limit tobacco use from other, similarly collectively concerned efforts. In short, if anything, I want supporters of smoking bans–one of whom is me–to recognize that banning smoking isn’t necessarily some special exception to the libertarian norm that requires extensive justification, but rather one of many entirely legitimate actions of social improvement that a society of good liberals ought to feel free to take. (And I still stand by my curiosity that there has been such a strong effort amongst certain groups of people to ban cigarette advertising in order to discourage youth smoking, with so little similar interest being displayed in regards to beer advertising and its influence on youth drinking.)

42

Jeff Rubard 12.11.06 at 2:32 pm

I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. I have been addressing, and am only addressing, laws like the new one in Ohio banning smoking in most indoor public locations.

Then you should have read my initial comment more carefully before you so thoughtfully and civilly told me to “stuff it”. I can only operate on the assumption that your reuse of a word like “vigilantism” implies an interest in the word’s reference, even if there is a disagreement about that reference; but if you aren’t willing to do the minimal amount of work necessary to figure out “progressives should support most smoking bans” implies I am a progressive and I support most smoking bans, I intend to expend no more effort debating misprisions with you.

43

Steve LaBonne 12.11.06 at 2:48 pm

Perhaps YOU should have read Scott’s post before commenting, in which case you’d have known that its inspiration was a letter to the editor objecting to the Ohio indoor smoking ban. One again, whatever you’re on about (not that I care), that’s what I’m interested in addressing. And perhaps you’re simply a very sloppy writer, but your comment, while gingerly allowing that there might be some justifcations for smoking bans, certainly appeared to lump much of the support for this one with your ridiculous category of “me-first health nuttism”. (And the feeling about further conversation is certainly mutual.)

44

John Quiggin 12.11.06 at 3:54 pm

I think Mike has the history backwards. The imposition of smoke in the workplace has always been considered more serious than in public places where people gather voluntarily. Smoking in ordinary workplaces was banned first with an exemption for places like bars and restaurants that were considered “special”. Now this exemption is being removed.

45

a 12.11.06 at 4:13 pm

“Only an exceeedingly healthy sense of entitlement causes anyone to hallucinate that there is a “right” to deliberately emit noxious fumes where others are unable to avoid breathing them.”

Yes well we should be banning all cars then shouldn’t we? (Some comments above mentioned SUVs but surely the reasoning applies to cars in general.) Oh I guess they’re *necessary*. So what about air conditioners (powered by coal-burning plants)? Or any number of numerous appliances and gadgets which are wasteful in energy use?

46

djw 12.11.06 at 4:18 pm

With apologies to Russell’s attempt to complicate the liberal/progressive reasoning alliance on this issue, Michael Sullivan’s question about the degree of harm from workplace second-hand smoke is rather easy to answer–OSHA guidelines about air quality. That’s good enough for me. If you think OSHA guidelines are far too stringent in their air quality protections in the workplace, by all means make that argument.

Russell–the liberal and the egalitarian in me is mildly troubled by some of the poorly disguised classism evinced in the smoking ban supporters, as well as the fact that many of them support it for their own primarily aesthetic reasons (this might also help explain the lack of enthusiasm for greater alcohol regulation). These concerns are overwhelmingly outweighed by the strong pro case.

(For the record, although I’m very supportive of indoor smoking bans in general I voted against Seattle’s ban a few years ago, since it included a “within 25 feet of entrances and windows” clause that was utterly impractical and unenforcable, and gave police a blunt instrument to selectively harass establishments they’d otherwise be predisposed to harass.)

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djw 12.11.06 at 4:21 pm

In the interest of avoiding unfortunate and unsupportable categoricals, I should say the classism of *some* (non-trivial numbers of) smoking ban supporters..

48

abb1 12.11.06 at 4:38 pm

This new Ohio law – I wonder if at least some people who voted for it thought that ‘public places’ meant ‘public offices’, like RMVs and town-halls.

So, is it correct that the only reason a limited number of smoking bars (as per #8 above) can’t exist is because of the danger to employees’ health? Are there any other reasons?

49

Jeff Rubard 12.11.06 at 4:46 pm

And, finally, to add a data point for someone who deserves a response (kcindc): the testimony of the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids before the DC city council (available here) barely mentions children (his own provide a “personal” reason for interest in the law, and that’s all). Furthermore, he claims “The only real impact of smoke-free laws is on the health of workers and patrons[italics added] of these establishments, and this impact will occur almost immediately.” Bartender health is mentioned only once, whereas a great deal of time is spent on the benefits to smokers themselves. So the appeal to self-interest is indeed pretty strong across the board (although it may have been reported more generously).

50

Aaron_M 12.11.06 at 5:08 pm

astrongmaybe

“When someone (@17) starts to compare smoking to incest, for God’s sake, we could hardly have this laid out more clearly.”

I said that smoking was socially acceptable and that incest was not. I did compare them but I did not, as you imply, describe them a similar behaviour.

The point of my post was that dismissing a policy because it is “puritan” is just name calling and not an argument at all. But with arguments like the ones you advance, e.g. smoking bans are imposed because of our “contemporary jitters about purity and the body” and due to “a lot of frustrated impotence about contemporary society,” I think we should go back to name calling.

51

Michael 12.11.06 at 5:44 pm

What’s this country coming to???? Pretty soon I won’t be able to defecate on the sidewalk anywhere I want!

SHIT FREE OR DIE!

52

lemuel pitkin 12.11.06 at 7:24 pm

I’m sure this has been mentioned in commetns earlier, but the basis of anti-smoking laws (certainly in New York, and everywhere else I know of) has always been the health of workers. So it makes no sense to allow exemptions for certain businesses.

53

save_the_rustbelt 12.11.06 at 9:06 pm

I am one of the few human being who have ever visited Metamora, Ohio, a small cross roads 25 miles west of Toledo.

If I lived in Metamora, I would smoke, drink, do coke and howl at the moon, as it is a tiny and desolate place. Worse yet it is only a few miles from Michigan.

The Ohio law has no enforcement mechanism, so it off to a slow start. It replaces dozens of local ordinances which have been causing immense confusion (is Hooters in Toledo or the adjacent suburb?).

On a more serious note, with the Surgeon General’s recent report on second hand smoke this becomes a potential nightmare for workers’ compensation systems.

54

djw 12.11.06 at 10:01 pm

So it makes no sense to allow exemptions for certain businesses.

Unless they have no employees. It’s my understanding that bars in California that are run entirely by the owner are allowed to allow smoking.

55

lemuel pitkin 12.11.06 at 10:29 pm

Well, yes. Exception that proves the rule.

56

radek 12.11.06 at 11:33 pm

“When we ran the world we always let you have your non-smoking rooms and sections…”

a very bitter Lemmy Kilmister

57

maidhc 12.12.06 at 1:03 am

Smoking is not banned in bars in California. Smoking is banned indoors in bars. There are bars that have courtyards, or put a few tables and chairs out front on a patio or on the sidewalk, where people are free to smoke without subjecting other patrons and the staff to their second-hand smoke.

58

astrongmaybe 12.12.06 at 2:41 am

52/Aaron, you think aloud about smoking and how it might best understood as a social phenomenon, and the two things that first spring to mind are a) screwing your sister and b) shitting on the sidewalk. In other words, the two biggest social taboos that exist – incest and public defecation. And you really, honestly believe that you’re just rationally weighing up the options, thinking like a free man… Go find the yellow pages and call the 24-hour emergency anthropologist.

As for anti-tobaccoism and impotence: has it never crept across your mind that a lot of things are said about the cigarette industry (manipulate people into buying things they don’t need, preying on delusions, cynical, uncaring, must be stopped, controlled and if necessary broken up) by people who would never dream of making the same critique of large companies as a whole. A small segment of capitalist activity is isolated and treated as if we had power over these companies, because we, by and large, don’t or don’t want to have power over them as a whole. Absence of power is impotence.

59

MQ 12.12.06 at 3:07 am

Re comment 59: it is important to understand that the weather is very nice in many areas of California and most nights you can enjoy a cigarette while eating outdoors.

60

abb1 12.12.06 at 3:23 am

The Ohio law has an exception for non-profit private clubs without employees and for family-operated workplace with no public access, but not for a family-operated bar/restaurant. It sounds like they do indeed want to prevent customers from inhaling smoke even where the health of workers is not an issue.

61

Ray 12.12.06 at 5:22 am

Michael Sullivan thinks I should have to say “I don’t plan to translate my current support for restaurant/bar smoking bans into blind credulousness about the next public health crusade.” How about you don’t blindly assume that I am blindly credulous?

62

bleat my little smoke-nazi bleat 12.12.06 at 5:50 am

Go stand at a busy corner sometime. If you don’t think that each vehicle passing by is spewing 10 packs per minute, I would ask you to allow me to thrust your sparkly cleen urbane fucking nose right up against the exhaust pipe of any one of them whilst we rev the engine up to oh say 2500 rpm.

We’ll time how long it takes for you to die.

Then to be fair your heir can put me in a room and try to cigarette smoke me to death.

We’ll time how long it takes for that to happen.

A reporter in Calgary Alberta (Canadian neocon Mecca) once followed a good hunch and went straight to the horse’s mouth for the most expert word on smoking: he walked around the business district until he spotted a homeless guy picking butts out of the outdoor ashtrays. For a pack of smokes, a lunch and some bucks (as I recall) the homeless guy agreed to be interviewed.

The reporter may have been embellishing, but the guy spoke with the authority of a tenured professor. It’s true that he (reporter) could’ve lucked upon an incoherent mentally ill outcast, but also it’s not excessively unusual that he lucked upon someone who was lucid and thoughtful.

Basically, the guy’s point was that for 500 years tobacco helped build this sparkly cleen urbane fucking shithouse whereby myriads of unskilled and incompetent instapundits now have lamentably huge amounts of leisure time to flog their pet crusades with nausea-inducing tirelessness. Right-wing politicians of all parties love to jump on this bandwagon because it’s a 100% control of the individual issue. Call the smoke-nazis their enablers.

What do you call an imbecile at a smoke-nazi crusade meeting?

The one who drives home from it.

Smoke-nazi? College Republican? Where the hell is the difference?

63

John M 12.12.06 at 7:24 am

“I’m sure this has been mentioned in commetns earlier, but the basis of anti-smoking laws (certainly in New York, and everywhere else I know of) has always been the health of workers. So it makes no sense to allow exemptions for certain businesses.”

This is obvious nonsense. The same logic would force a ban on loud music in for-profit venues. If worker health is the issue then the law only need make it compulsory for employers to offer adequate protection (as they do where music is played above a certain level).

64

Ray 12.12.06 at 9:36 am

Right, gas masks for all bar and restaurant workers. There are absolutely no problems with that brilliant idea.

65

Aaron_M 12.12.06 at 9:46 am

John m:

Is your claim that New York has missed the obvious option of letting employees in restaurants and bars wear gas masks? I suspect that so few restaurant and bar owners would actually use such an option that there is not point in working out the legislation and that the cost/benefit of regulation and enforcement are not even close to making this a reasonable option.

Again the real issue here is not whether the state is justified in banning smoking in public places where the health of others are at risk, but to what degree the state is justified, if at all, in other policies designed to discourage smoking more generally. The tax level is for this reason a much more interesting issue than bans in public places. Is it OK for the tax level on smoking to surpass the social cost of smoking?

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John M 12.12.06 at 10:41 am

“Right, gas masks for all bar and restaurant workers. There are absolutely no problems with that brilliant idea.”

A gas mark wouldn’t be required, of course, just a face mask of some kind. Just as pneumatic drill operators are allowed the option of wearing ear protection. Why does this strike you as beyiond the pale? If restaurants or pubs found it onerous they could elect to change their smoking policy, but that policy should be none of the business of government.

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Aaron_M 12.12.06 at 10:53 am

“A gas mark wouldn’t be required, of course, just a face mask of some kind.”

Are you talking about a piece of paper over the face?!!! I guess you also think that the filters make smoking cigarettes safe.

68

Aaron_M 12.12.06 at 11:05 am

“Just as pneumatic drill operators are allowed the option of wearing ear protection.”

I think what your post really is about is that a smoke free environment should be the choice of the employee and not forced upon all employers as a labour standard. So employees can have the option to work in a smoky bar with a gas mask or not at all, and the bar owner has the option to allow smoking or not. But bar owners have a strong economic incentive to allow smoking and little incentive to improve the working conditions of employees. Thus they also have an incentive to insist that employees not wear a mask (who wants to be served by someone in a mask), i.e. make this part of the conditions of employment. The employees are not skilled and easily replaceable and given conditions with enough unemployment a threat to replace an employee rather than meet possible ultimatums from employees for improved working conditions is credible. The employee, especially the unskilled worker, is in a much weaker bargaining position than the employer. This problem of unequal bargaining positions is why the state imposes labour standards. Following your logic all laws setting standards for safety conditions in the work place are unnecessary.

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John M 12.12.06 at 11:18 am

“The employees are not skilled and easily replaceable and given conditions with enough unemployment a threat to replace an employee rather than meet possible ultimatums from employees for improved working conditions is credible.”

All your arguments can be equally applied to the workers in places that play loud music, such as clubs and concert venues. Should loud music also be banned? After all, the damage to health from loud music is more clearly proven than the danmage to health from secondary smoke. I suspect though, that you are content to allow loud music so long as workers are (technically) allowed to wear ear protection.

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Aaron_M 12.12.06 at 11:34 am

First note that most states do have laws against music being too loud in bars on both public and work safety grounds.

Now loud music is more easily avoided than smoking, so maybe it will be sufficient to have laws against discouraging employees from wearing earplugs or maybe employers should be required to encourage earplug usage (i.e. a law that they must provide employees with earplugs). But bartenders may be discouraged from wearing earplugs because they will have hard time doing their job with them, especially in a loud music environment. If this is true then we may need laws requiring earplug use (i.e. to balance up the bartender’s weak bargaining position) or regulation on how load the music can be (the actual approach take).

As for masks, nobody wants them (well virtually nobody) so think up another safety option. I suggest smoking rooms that employees do not work in during opening hours.

71

eweininger 12.12.06 at 1:13 pm

A gas mark wouldn’t be required, of course, just a face mask of some kind.

On the off chance this was serious, I gotta ask–have you ever worn a protective mask? Not the little paper dust masks you use for, say, sanding drywall seams and whatnot, but the ones with the replaceable cartridges that have to be used when you’re dealing with hazardous stuff? Your nose and mouth are covered by very heavy rubber, of course, and the straps have to be secured really tightly in order to eliminate any air flow that doesn’t pass through the cartridges. Nevermind the typical restaraunt shift–they’re hard to tolerate for an hour or two.

72

Sebastian Holsclaw 12.12.06 at 2:54 pm

Does anyone know what this has to do with snuff dipping? Isn’t that smokeless tobbaco usage?

73

novakant 12.12.06 at 9:26 pm

The indirect mind / body effects of alcohol on others are incidental and far from inevitable (you can certainly have a couple of glasses of wine at dinner without becoming either belligerent or a menace on the road).

that’s utter BS, just look up a few statistics on violent assault, rape, domestic violence and you’ll find correlations that ar far from “incidental”; not to speak of the costs to society as a whole for policing, treatment, loss of productivity etc.; the fact that you don’t turn into a belligerent menace doesn’t say anything about the effects of alcohol consumption on society as a whole

P.S. not sure how one can still be under the limit after a couple of glasses of wine, but even small doses of alcohol significantly impair the reaction times of every driver, so while driving under the influence of alcohol you are always more or less consciously increasing the risk of causing bodily harm to yourself and others

74

Steve LaBonne 12.13.06 at 9:27 am

You might have a point if and only if anyone were talking about banning tobacco altogether. I’m against that, just as I’m in favor of legalizing drugs. (But I don’t think anyone should have the right to force me to breathe secondhand marijuana smoke in a public place.)

Indoor public smoking bans are simply regulation, not prohibition- just as there are various kinds of regulations to try to curb the ill effects of alchol. You can’t, for example, operate a motor vehicle with an open container of an alcholic beverage, even if you’re not actually drinking from it.

75

novakant 12.13.06 at 12:13 pm

fine then, let’s only ban alcohol in public places and implement a total drink and drive ban

76

Steve LaBonne 12.13.06 at 12:37 pm

You’d have to show that banning consumption of alcohol in restaurants will significantly impact the incidence of drunken misbehavior- I don’t think you’ll have much luck with that. As to bars, which are a problem, it’s already illegal (and also creates civil liability)to continue serving patrons who have had too much; what’s needed there is enforcement of existing rules. Finally, I would support a much stricter European-style approach on drinking and driving, in fact I think it’s long overdue.

You’ve still done nothing to undermine the case against indoor smoking bans.

77

blueshoe 12.13.06 at 12:55 pm

This is all a free-market struggle in which the insurance and medical lobbies are forcing the tobacco lobby to the mat. The stakes for winning are enormous, and I love that the biggest, baddest sumo in the ring is nicknamed “health nanny.”

78

novakant 12.13.06 at 3:06 pm

you might have noticed that I haven’t been attacking the total indoor smoking ban directly, even though I could do that with good arguments

What I’m criticizing is the inconsistency, the breath-taking hypocrisy and the general soup-nazi attitude of those in favor of a ban (activists and governments alike) when they are citing public health and welfare concerns as the prime reason for supporting such a measure, while they really don’t give damn about such things. Otherwise they (activists and governments alike) would be campaigning against alcohol abuse and advertising that facilitates it, against cars poisoning people in our cities and the industry that promotes it, against unsafe work conditions whatever they are caused by. But alas, they don’t, because that would mean actually rocking the boat a little, or, god forbid, altering their behavior and questioning the general consenus. As it stands, these laws are simply the expression of the majority getting their will over a sizeable minority, leaving no room for any compromise or civil arrangement between the two. That’s not the way things should be done in a democracy.

79

Steve LaBonne 12.13.06 at 3:22 pm

You have to demonstrate the existence of something before you can criticize it.

80

abb1 12.13.06 at 3:54 pm

Novakant, it is possible to opportunistically address your public health and welfare concerns. In fact it might be the best strategy. I agree that they do tend to get carried away, but who’s prefect.

81

Cthomas 12.15.06 at 1:00 pm

Some posters — like Steve Labonne — are saying that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to avoid others’ “poisonous emissions.” Okay, fine–but surely a bit of hysteria is riding along with this quite reasonable argument.

Have you not noticed how, upon the production of a single cigarette in a large, well-ventilated room these days, all sorts of people begin fidgeting and coughing and looking alarmed? This is pure fetish and neurosis — not an actual physiological response.

Also, surely we’ve crossed a line somewhere when it becomes illegal to smoke *anywhere* — even cigar rooms in private clubs in NYC are now illegal. Surely this is insane (says this ex-smoker).

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Steve LaBonne 12.15.06 at 1:38 pm

This is pure fetish and neurosis—not an actual physiological response.

And your evidence for this, and the credentials which you possess to evaluate that evidence?

For your information, there are plenty of asthmatics and sufferers from other respiratory conditions who really do suffer acute discomfort from the low concentrations of smoke you so airily dismiss as negligible. Tell one of them he’s just being hysterical and he might punch you in the nose- and it would serve you right.

But I agree about the private club- I don’t quite understand why the courts uphold such laws.

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