Thursday, May 18, 2006
Anti-Smoking Zealots Want To Make Anchorage "Smoke-Free"
In a surprise move, two Anchorage Municipal Assembly Members proposed banning smoking nearly everywhere, except outdoors and in homes. People most concerned about this move operate bars. Assembly Members Dan Coffey (pictured at left) and Dick Traini are introducing an ordinance and plan to hold public hearings as early as June 6th. They believe they have sufficient support amongst other Assembly Members to pass it, and it could become law as early as August. Click here for the full story from KTUU Channel 2 News in Anchorage.
Health concerns are driving this latest move. Backers of the ban point out that when a cigarette is lit, it releases 4,000 chemicals into the air and roughly four dozen of those chemicals are known carcinogens. But some say lighting cigarettes in a public place is an infringement on non-smokers’ rights. As one public service announcement points out, non-smokers like bartenders and waitresses end up smoking on the job, even if they never light up. “That’s basically what drives it. The health concerns. That’s it,” said Coffey. “And you can look at Helena, Montana and Pueblo, Colorado as two examples where the incidents of heart attack and stroke dropped by, in excess of, 20 percent within weeks of the smoking ban,” said Coffey.
One employer expressed support because of potential long-term civil liability considerations. “I would be worried that an employee that worked for me for 17 years -- and came down with lung cancer -- might blame the corporation for their problem, so I think it’s a good thing,” said Bruce Burnett of T.G.I Friday’s.
However, a number of people oppose it. “And I don’t know why this ordinance is being talked about, because we haven’t had a public outcry of our customers complaining about being in a smoking environment. We haven’t had an outcry from our employees,” said John Pattee, owner of The Gaslight Lounge. Some other bartenders fear a smoking ban might chase customers away. However, in areas where a ban applies equally, the loss of business has been found to be insignificant and evenly spread around.
Analysis: This is the next step in a progressive war of attrition against smokers. First there were increased state tobacco taxes, then the current municipal anti-smoking ordinance banning smoking in all enclosed places except bars. Then came an increase in the municipal tobacco tax, and then another state tobacco tax increase kicked in. So one can understand if smokers feel targeted and persecuted - they are! It reminds me of the progressive campaign launched by Robert Mugabe against white farmers in Zimbabwe, or the progressive campaign launched by Stalin against the kulaks (landed peasants) in Russia during the 1920-30s.
The anti-smoking zealots deliberately use exaggerative terminology to discuss the dangers. Use of phrases like "4,000 chemicals" is classical intellectual bullying designed to intimidate people through statistical inundation. It is hazardous, but so are many other substances we are exposed to. The "antis" also talk about the other "social costs" of smoking, but fail to mention that most smokers help pay a large portion of those costs not only through targeted taxation, but also through higher prices on health and life insurance. Also, how does Mr. Coffey know the 20% reduction in heart attack and stroke in Helena, MT, and Pueblo, CO is attributable only to smoking? The anti-smoking lobby would have an ideological incentive to support this claim simply because is reinforces their ideas.
Another problem is the exclusive use of the stick only. Why didn't the Assembly try the carrot of voluntary compliance before forcing the issue? Businesses who voluntarily became smoke free could have received some positive recognition from the Municipality, either in the form of a nominal reduction in property taxes, or designation as a Chamber of Commerce "Preferred" Business. Instead, the emphasis has been constantly negative. Smokers are treated like pedophiles. Another issue is that a larger percentage of lower-income working-class people smoke, so the anti-smoking campaign also reflects an implicit class bias on the part of the elite. Civil liability questions could be mitigated by serious tort reform designed to cut down on civil lawsuits filed to get compensation for the consequences of irresponsibility.
I would encourage Anchorage smokers to keep up on this issue, and be prepared to give public testimony against this new ordinance during a future Assembly meeting when testimony is solicited. You will have three minutes to give your testimony. I will keep you informed through this blog when the Assembly will solicit public testimony, or you can access the Municipality's website.