Al Swift 2¢ Worth

Rescuing DC’s Non-Smokers –– the right way

Smoking bans are clearly very popular these days. Certainly those who brave winter weather to satisfy their craving for nicotine are not too happy. But all the non-smokers seem to appreciate that they do not have to smell or inhale somebody else’s smoke. And those old enough to remember when the world was dominated by smokers rather relish the comeuppance of those who, in the past, arrogantly exhaled smoke in all directions. They left a trail of ashes and filthy heaps of butts in overflowing trays in their wake as they puffed their way through breakfast, lunch, dinner and all activities in between. I think – as they observe the little shivering bands of huddled exiles on their smoke breaks –most non-smokers would happily quote Henry Higgins in his exasperated dismissal of Liza Doolittle: “Let the hellcat freeze.”

Oh yes, smoking bans are popular all right. California and New York City have very tough bans and neither the agonized whining nor the dyspeptic grumbling of smokers seem to encourage any reversal of the polices.

DC is about to join the club, though possibly with a bit more discernment than most such bans.

At this point I must state that I am a cigar smoker. We are not, as a group, particularly welcome in most public places. Even Congress – the home of the backslapping, cigar-smoking politician – has banned smoking in most places. I used to smoke cigars in hearings. Can’t do that any more.

But, because we are a generally reviled group, we tend to gather in little places called cigar bars where no one who hates them has to be associated with “stogies.” (Yes, alas, that’s what they call these handcrafted, carefully selected, tasty delights.)

The DC City Council seems poised to make an exception for Cigar Bars to their ban on smoking in public places. As one council member said, after noting the infinitesimal number of jobs provided by the few successful cigar bars, “If people want to get together in a social situation and breath each others smoke, I guess we should let them.”

There is no question that government has the responsibility to protect public health. Smokers intrude on non-smokers and the evidence of the dangers of second-hand smoke is solidifying.

However, there is a big different between protecting non-smokers from smokers on the one hand and, on the other, protecting smokers from themselves. That distinction raises some very difficult philosophical issues about proper boundaries of governmental action in a democracy.

From my very biased point of view, the DC Council is thinking seriously about doing this right. New York, California, others –- take note.

Posted on Monday, August 15th, 2011
By: csh
Posted in: 2005
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