Friday, January 15, 2010


Word that the Seattle Parks and Recreation department wants to institute a Code of Conduct that would ban (among other things) smoking in city parks had reignited the debate over a right to be comfortable in one's surroundings and the dangers of second-hand smoke. Sure there were other provisions in the proposal, and there was some discussion of those, but it was smoking that triggered the most online debate - one that's been going on in this area for a while now, having first started when a citizen initiative banned smoking in pretty much every building other than private homes, and within 25 feet of doors, windows and other places where outside air could enter a building.

This is turning into one of those situations where hard cases, and the unpopularity of smokers, seem to be conspiring to make bad law. You'd think, reading some of the anecdotes that people have presented in support of the proposed ban, that second-hand smoke was more dangerous than sky-diving without a parachute. Being the major urban area in a very Blue state, Seattle tends very strongly towards Nanny State solutions to problems, with people being very quick to point out how helpless and needful of protection their fellow citizens (and sometimes they, themselves) are. Sometimes you'd think that the average Seattlite isn't competent to cross the street without a note from their mother. I suspect that this trend towards always looking to government to solve every single potential problem that comes along it going to backfire one day, but it hasn't yet, so on it goes.

1 comment:

Keifus said...

You've picked a topic the libertarians used to really fight about back in the day. Probably they still do. (It's generally easier for most libertarians to talk cogently about laws concerning behavior than about labor or empire.) On one hand, Nanny Stateism, on the other, public smoking might be swingin' the fist within the circumference of my nose.

In public places, this isn't too hard a call, even if you don't invoke second-hand smoke as horrible toxic poison. It's a pretty stinky business for non-smokers, to which they are involuntarily subjected. Similarly, I can't elevate my noise level beyond some point, render beef tallow in my backyard, etc., even if it's probably not making anyone sick, without some dispensation from the public.

On private/public spaces (bars, restaurants), it's a trickier philosophical matter, I guess. Second-hand smoke isn't a severe problem (in any one place!) unless you work or live there as a non-smoker. But if you do, does it violate reasonable levels of workplace safety? It's how they got the private establishments here. I personally think people should be allowed to smoke in a bar, and I never minded people doing it around me too much. But damn, it's not what I'd fight the power for. I do appreciate that in my rare excursions, I can taste my food and not reek when I get home.