I don't smoke. I've never smoked. Not a puff, at least not directly. I have, however, ingested enough second-hand
smoke to, in the opinion of a leading respiratory physician, do some serious damage to my nostrils. But I, myself, have never smoked.
I've never smoked for pretty much the same reason I've never taken a ball peen hammer and hit myself repeatedly over the head.
Both seem like enormously unappealing, self-destructive things to do to one's self. Logically, of course, I know that so many intelligent
people have smoked and/or continue to smoke that it must have some positive reward but I just don't understand it. Actually, most of the
smokers I know seem to regret they ever started.
Anyway, the point is that I don't smoke and I hate being around smoke. When people around me insist that they have the right to
smoke around me, I used to insist that — in that case — I had the same right to vomit on them.
One time, years ago, I actually did. I have a hunch that, thereafter, that smoker was a little more prudent about where he lit
All of this said, I find myself in this curious conundrum: I more or less agree with those who oppose a ban on smoking in certain
public places, such as restaurants. Yesterday watching Crossfire, I found myself in general accord with Robert Novak and those who are
arguing against New York's pending law that would forbid all smoking in eateries. I don't want to be sitting in the Carnegie Deli, partaking of
a side of Marlboro aroma along with my corned beef sandwich...but I feel the greater damage may lie in allowing government to get this deep into what
could and should be a market-determined decision.
I think the law should be not that smoking is banned in restaurants (as it is in many cities) but that those that did allow it would
have to post a conspicuous "Smoking Allowed" sign out front and perhaps mention it in all advertising larger than a certain size. Folks who
smoke could go to these places. Folks like me could avoid them. Eventually, as business thrived or suffered, restaurants would configure
their policies to serve the public in proper proportion. Surveys suggest that anywhere from 20% to 30% of Americans enjoy (if enjoyment, it be)
the occasional smoke. I suspect that if what I propose were to be enacted, most neighborhoods would wind up with 10% to 15% "Smoking
Restaurants." The reason the percentage would be lower would be because (a) even many smokers prefer not to eat around it and (b)
when a non-smoker and a smoker dined together, it would have to be at a non-smoking establishment.
Now, I already know some of the objections and will attempt to answer them here...
It's unfair to waiters and other employees to make them inhale all that second-hand smoke.
Absolutely. And I am not suggesting that a restaurant that is now non-smoking should be allowed to suddenly let everyone light up
Marlboros. I think the default would be non-smoking and that an establishment would have to give its patrons and employees ample notice before
allowing it. Since waiting tables is largely a transitory existence, that would give employees time to find employment elsewhere. It's
like if a vegan restaurant were to decide to start serving Prime Rib. The staff in such places is usually anti-meat, and they have every right
to be anti-meat. They just shouldn't be able to prevent the owner from changing his cuisine.
This kind of thing has been tried with "smoking airlines" and other establishments that went bust, and even a non-smoking casino in
Las Vegas that went bankrupt.
The casino was already in deep financial trouble before they tried that policy and the airlines that have tried it have been marginal,
as well. But even if every business that permits smoking goes broke and no "smoking" businesses remain, fine. Let that be determined by
market demand, not by government oversight.
Restaurants in some cities tried having smoking areas and it didn't work. The smoke kept drifting into the non-smoking
That's not what I'm suggesting at all. A restaurant would have to be one or the other and could not try splitting one business
into two so they could have it both ways. Hotels, let's note, seem to be doing okay with smoking rooms and non-smoking rooms on separate
floors...and occasionally they convert one into the other, depending on what their customers seem to demand. Why couldn't restaurants be one or
If your favorite restaurant went smoking, you wouldn't be able to go to it.
True. It would cease to be my favorite restaurant. It would also cease if it purged its menu of everything but cole slaw.
But so what? They have the right to do that and I can find another favorite restaurant. Should the government step in and insist they
keep my favorite items on the menu?
But this is different. This is about protecting the health of people.
Which people? Non-smokers? I'm all for protecting their health, especially since I am one. But if we have
clearly-labelled smoking restaurants and they go in, isn't that the same as if they go to a hotel and ask for a smoking room? Should we be
protecting them from that? As for protecting the health of smokers, what difference does it make if they can smoke in a restaurant when they
can go outside and smoke, smoke at home, smoke in their cars, etc.?
As I keep saying, I hate smoke. But I think it's important to be consistent to one's principles and one of mine is that people
have the right to do whatever they want to themselves as long as it doesn't harm others. I think you have the right to ingest alcohol or drugs,
so long as you don't go out and drive. I think you have the right to kill yourself. And I certainly think you have the right to smoke so
we shouldn't enact unnecessary laws to make you a social pariah, especially when folks like me can avoid the smoke with minimal effort. I
really feel strongly about this.
On the other hand, any time I find myself agreeing with Robert Novak, I figure my opinion is at least a little suspect.