Saturday, September 09, 2006

About the Proposed Smoking Ban in Pittsburgh...

There's been a lot of talk about the proposed smoking ban in Pittsburgh. Like any other issue that gets a lot of play in the local media, the idea has led to all sorts of speculations and half-informed discussion. There was a "controversial" hearing about the proposal last Tuesday.

Now I understand the urge to protect the general health of our citizenry. Never mind that a large percentage of this same citizenry lacks adequate health insurance, and the government seems perfectly unwilling to do anything about that. Never mind that corporations are allotted pollution credits to spew carcinogens into our breathing space. Never mind the effect of the area's coal-fired power plants. Never mind that our automobiles emit way more carbon monoxide than all the cigarettes smoked at any any given time. This is serious, and our leaders care about us.

There is one particularly problematic aspect of the ban that especially bothers me, and it hasn't garnered the amount of discussion I believe it deserves. The ban would extend to any business that does not receive at least 85% of its profits from the sale of tobacco products. OK, that's fair... that makes sense- but here's the kicker- the Associated Press notes, "The bill would also ban smoking within 15 feet of any building's entrance or exit, on subway platforms, in pool halls and bowling alleys. The ban would even extend to food cart vendors. "

Within 15 feet of any building's entrance or exit. Hmm... let's see... if I am on the South Side on a weekend night, with its stream of drunk suburbanites crowding the walk, and I want to smoke a cigarette- not only do I have to exit whatever establishment I am patronizing, but I have to find a spot that's fifteen feet away from any building's entrance/exit. The next time you take a trip to the South Side, or virtually anywhere else in the city where people go (or live)... try to find this mythical neverland of non-development. You'll be searching for a 30 foot swath of abandoned lot. Certainly, our municipal leaders aren't encouraging us to smoke in the middle of the street?! That surely can't be their conception of protecting us? And what about my front porch? Is it 15 feet away from my neighbor's front door? I don't believe it is. I'm going to have to put my house up for sale if I want to continue smoking, since I respect my wife's preference for "clean air", and therefore don't smoke in my house.

And while I'm on the subject... what about smoking indoors?? Do I have to retreat to the furthest reaches of my basement or attic to ensure that I am not within fifteen feet from my front or side doors? Because that is literally what this law proposes. Am I going to have to get into my car and drive to the hinterlands to find a spot of grass or gravel where I can smoke? Of course I will be trespassing (and loitering) if I do that, and therefore in violation of a wholly different law.

Why not just drop all pretenses? Outlaw tobacco products today. Quit jerking us around. Obviously what we are in need of is complete prohibition. And while we are it, we should address the environmental pollution of cellphones, because there is some evidence that they radiate waves that can be harmful to human health. That's not to mention the public health risks presented by all those SUV-driving soccer moms that use their transit time to catch up on their gossip and talk to their friends about last night's episode of Desperate Housewives. While we are on the subject, surely we can find evidence that automobile emissions are similarly destructive to our well-being. We also need to ensure that manufacturing doesn't compound the problem with its pollutants.

Hell, I might even be able to make the case that your drunk-assed public presence is a potential nuisance to my comfort and health. We need to outlaw the consumption of alcohol. What about billboards? Don't they clutter our public spaces, and impose their own brand of mental pollution? And then we need to address my neighbor's choice of house paint... it's ugly and makes me hurt when I have to look at it... and what about that fat dude with the shirt that's two sizes too small, and the lowriders exposing his ass-crack?! Can't someone protect me from the anguish that cause me? Hummers, SUVs, strip malls...

Look... I understand that I should quit smoking cigarettes. They are clearly not in my best interest. But y'see... my smoke breaks help me resolve some of the tension that the rampant hypocrisy and righteousness of our society engenders in me. I'm not againt a ban in public and commercial businesses... but can't we find even a wee bit of a compromise? Must we frame every public issue in extreme shades of black and white?


Blogger Anthony said...

Bravo! Well said.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Dagrims said...

Although not a smoker, I remain fully convinced that the rights of smokers have been pretty well trampled over the past ten years. The 15-foot rule you describe is ridiculous.

12:52 AM  
Anonymous jefg said...

Even assuming they passed the law without knowing the potential technical consequences, and would likely respond that they would not enforce the law as strictly as you suggest, it still appears to be a very poorly written law. Having watched enough laws put into place by legislators who did not know what they were even voting on, why am I not surprised? They need to think filtered, lest the whole thing go up in the smoke of the courts.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

So many of our laws seem to be reactionary and/or grounded in hysteria. I too wish we could rely on our politicians to take a rational and reasoned approach. There's simply too much pandering to demographics nowadays.

10:17 PM  

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