Clearing the air.So, Illinois just passed a state-wide indoor smoking ban. It’s an interesting situation, because it’s a place where various bits of my politics and my self-interest come into a difficult conflict.

I guess I’ll hit the self-interest first: I’m hypersensitive to cigarette smoke. If I’m around people smoking for more than a few minutes, I start to get a pretty nasty headache. Even smelling it on people’s clothes or in cars affects me in rather uncomfortable ways. As such, I tend to avoid places where the smoking is otherwise unavoidable, such as bars, dance clubs, and some restaurants. The ban has removed that danger, and so my recent trip to a bar was actually a moderately enjoyable experience. I didn’t have to venture out into the cold for fresh air even once.

On the other hand, I think businesses ought to be able to decide whether or not they allow smoking on their premises. Some businesses cater to smokers, and I, as a non-smoker, can always decide to take my business elsewhere. For the government to step in and legislate what happens on private property, especially when it may be to the financial detriment of these businesses, seems unnecessary and intrusive.

On the other hand, the employees are the people really at risk in these situations, spending hours in smoke-filled surroundings and suffering the ill effects. While the employees can always quit and get jobs elsewhere, it would be unscrupulous to the point of potential negligence for a business owner not to at least consult his staff in decisions regarding whether or not to allow smoking, when it could seriously affect the employees’ health. This ban takes that decision out of the hands of both employer and staff, leaving even totally voluntary smoking establishments out in the cold.

On the other hand, smoking is not anyone’s goddamn right, and I’m tired of hearing smokers complain that it should be. Yes, you absolutely have every right to stick whatever you want into your body. But your right to spew noxious chemicals ends at my lungs. Since you can’t smoke without exposing those around you to harmful substances, thus infringing on their equal right to choose what goes into their bodies, it’s your problem, and your right to indulge yourself doesn’t trump my right to stay healthy. It’s your right to choose whether or not to smoke, but you don’t get to make that choice for anyone but yourself. Don’t want to go out in the cold? Quit.

Bottom line: I think this was the wrong way to go about the ban. It fuels people’s concerns about the “nanny state,” it’s going to cost businesses some business (though I wonder how much will be balanced out by new customers who wouldn’t have patronized smoke-filled bars and eateries previously), and it denies entrepreneurs their rights to decide what happens on their premises. Granted, we do the same for any number of other health hazards (health inspections, fire hazards, etc.), but I think this situation is slightly different. What I would have liked to see instead would be an opt-in situation, where businesses could get subsidies and/or tax breaks for going smoke-free, with the caveat that employees must be consulted if the business is to remain a smoking establishment (and, potentially, could seek damages if failure to consult resulted in health problems down the line). Businesses that want to keep the smoking clientèle could opt to do so, businesses that want to go smoke-free could have their losses off-set by having lowered taxes, and everyone’s rights are respected to some degree.

But I’m not going to complain too much. After all, I like breathing.

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