discomfort (2006-29)

Cough, Wheeze

Political smokescreens and the smoking-section apocalypse

by Steve Dupree

OK, I admit it. I am going into full-on hypocrite mode now. I can see it, and I expect that even without my admitting it, you will be able to see it too. I would not do it if I could see some way around it, but I can’t, so deal with it.

I was derisive and derogatory (and very, very correct) in my reactions to Dr. Bill “Playing Senator” Frist’s long-distance diagnosis of Ms. Teri Schaivo’s condition. To be fair to me, I did not impugn the ability or intent of every physician who has republican political leanings, but I have and continue to counsel others to be extremely wary of anything a republican tells them. I suggest that it is best to get independent corroboration. I still think that is really good advice and will not be at all offended if many choose to take that attitude in their dealings with politicians of all stripes.

Yet, I must admit the glee with which I greeted the news that the Bush-appointed Surgeon General had issued a report that there was no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. I was immediately reminded of the jab one comic made that “a non-smoking section in a restaurant was like having a non-pissing section in a swimming pool.” 

Oddly enough, on the auspicious event of me agreeing with a republican (or at least a republican appointee), I have not broken out in hives. Nor have any credible reports been received of significant glaciation in Hades been received. Unfortunately, I suspect that due to the nature of the addiction, there was also no collective, audible “well duh!” such as should have greeted revelations this obvious. 

However, in my best opinion, it is cause for great hope that in the not too terribly distant future, we will see the cessation of smoking in all publicly accessible buildings and workspaces. As a former smoker, I actually do understand that this will present quite the hardship to some. On the other hand, as a non-smoker who has frequently had to abdicate his right to breathe clean air, I certainly think it is time that the other side be inconvenienced for a change.

I have a theory on how all of this will play out to cause the eventual banning of smoking from all the places I might normally go. Due to the popularity of smoking around here and the long history of politicians to only take stances that will get them re-elected regardless of the moral ramifications, I very much doubt that the coming ban on smoking in public places will be politically driven.

The scenario I envision is that a server in a restaurant, or an employee in another industry, who happens to be a lifelong non-smoker will get a sickness that is very typical of those smokers get. I doubt that it matters much whether it is a specific kind of lung cancer or breathing dysfunction. This employee will then file suit against the business, the industry, the state, and the tobacco industry for a sum of money that seems huge to me here on the sidelines, but would seem like a piddling fee if I was having to trade it for my life. 

The opinion of the Surgeon General will be one of the foundations upon which the case is built. The afflicted employee will win the suit. Now, in a tobacco-friendly place like here (Tenn.), the individual could very well lose on appeal. That will have little effect on the reaction that will come from the insurance companies who cover such businesses, and they are the entities that will drive the ban. I imagine that the results will be nearly immediate, and businesses that allow smoking on premise will not be able to purchase insurance. Typically, a business that cannot get insurance is known by the technical term, “defunct.”

If I am right and it happens that way, it will be irony on a scale that I rarely get to point out and rub people’s faces into. A republican appointee provides the argument for a business unfriendly lawsuit, and any insurance company that does not want to pay out money (which would be every damn insurance company) will refuse to provide insurance to companies that expose them to that particular risk. It should be very interesting to watch all of the folk who profess to worship the free-market economy attempt to verbally justify their anger.

Bar/restaurant revenues are not down significantly, if at all, in places where smoking in public has been banned, so please do not bother responding with that argument. People still want to eat and still want to drink and still want to socialize even when cigarettes are not allowed. As far as the personal rights of the smoker, even most of the liberals I know, including me, would not turn in a smoker for smoking if they figured out a way to keep all the smoke inside themselves. It is when it ends up on and in us non-smokers that we bitch, so unless you know of a way to keep it all to yourself, don’t bother with that argument, either.

Thinking about it, you may want to go ahead and buy some stock in Copenhagen and Red Man. The true addicts will get their fix somehow.