Wichita smoking ban delay draws fire

Interesting things going on in Wichita these days which illustrate some inconsistencies in the anti-smoking movement.

First, to clarify my own position, I am old enough to have experienced life when there were few smoking restrictions. I much prefer how things are now in general. I enjoy being free of the smell of stale smoke in my clothing and when some places (including hospital television rooms) were so thick with blue smoke you could hardly see. This is much better.

But I do not hate being around smoking in public and even find it pleasant to a degree (almost nostalgic at times). I miss pipes terribly. They, the sweetest smelling smoke, ranked right up there with the smell of campfires and barbecues. And though I do not like really smoky bars, I prefer an atmosphere that is inclusive rather than exclusive.

Second hand smoking is not something that I have concerns about. I don’t like people smoking in my house because of the lingering smell, not because I think it will harm me. That being said, I enjoy the clean air around me, the non smoking in enclosed spaces, and feel overall this is an improvement. However, it is plain wrong that smoking has been curtailed on patios, public parks, various open air spaces, and that businesses cannot determine whether they should be smoke free.

Wichita plays into this because Kansas has a state law that bans indoor smoking with the exception of tobacco shops, already established private clubs, special rooms in adult care facilities and casinos. The only one of those exceptions that doesn’t make sense to me is casinos.

Everyone in tobacco shops is expressly there to voluntarily engage in tobacco-related activities so making those smoke free is absurd. If you have your own club you should have the right to make any rules that don’t harm others even if they are silly (people who disagree don’t need to join; I would not join a smoking club but these days, if anyone needs private clubs, it is smokers). With adult care facilities, the damage is probably already done and it is a poor sport that denies an eighty year old what might be one of their few remaining pleasures added to the fact that this is one population that has a harder time going somewhere else to smoke. But casinos are the one place where there is no special group. Maybe the reasoning is that gambling is degenerate and anyone doing it enters a state in which protection from other dangers is unwarranted. (But of course we all know that exemptions tend to come from lobbying and not from any reasoning in the traditional sense).

So then in the city of Wichita, a restraining order has been enacted impeding the state law which was going to take effect next week in the city. The restraint was on the grounds that in the city the state exemptions would not be applicable and therefore the law was more stringent on the local than the state level. Currently smoking is allowed in Wichita restaurants.

Now, I am not arguing so much against Wichita going smoke free though I would prefer that to be up to the discretion of the business owners. I like a smoke free restaurant but I do not like an alcohol free restaurant (the point is that I prefer to have the choice). And tavern and eatery owners should be able to decide which market they would like cater to.

What I find interesting in this affair are the comments of local activists in response to the restraining order. A representative from the local Lung Association said “It creates an uneven playing field for businesses, makes enforcement difficult, and does not protect the health of all people in Wichita.”

I won’t argue the last point because it is true however the first and second are intriguing for different reasons. The first because all along anti-tobacco groups have argued that there is no negative economic impact to going non smoking, and have gone so far as to censure research that examines that aspect (see Michael Marlowe’s Reflections of a Nonsmoking Scholar). The second point is amusing in that just like earlier arguments against e-smoking just because some people cannot tell the difference, they argue against the co-existence of smoking and nonsmoking areas because officials or complainers will have to check with the owners on the rules of the establishment before they can levy fines and hurl accusations.

– Paul L. Bergen

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