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New Smoking Prohibition

2008-07-07

Category: politics

As of July first of this year, Iowa has had a new smoking ban. This law prohibits smoking in pretty much all work places within the state. There are a few exceptions, but not as many as some people wanted. The goal is to protect workers who are unlikely to find other employment but for some reason cannot wear gas masks as part of the job. The really fun part, though, is listening to those who oppose the bill.

It seems that the primary argument used by the pro-smoking crowd is that that there is a "right" that allows them to smoke. They further state that since the right allows them to smoke in general then there cannot be such arbitrary limitations on this allowance as presented in the current ban. The state is, in effect, trampling on these people's rights.

First of all, I think the concept of "rights" gets way too abused. As a civilization, we agree to play nice and we create the idea of rights and establish them through agreement. When it comes down to it, we are just animals and, without our cognizance of higher ideals we would just go around clubbing each other. Still, just saying that you have a "right" does not make it so.

Of course, my usual position is that the individual does not have to prove that he or she has the right to do something; it is the state that must prove that it has the right to prohibit such doings. By this I mean that the state, that collective to which we all supposedly belong, should not make rules without an extremely good reason. One of the main good reasons for the state acting is that it is preventing harm of one party by another party.

In the matter of smoking in such public places, I believe the state has made its case about protecting one party from the acts of another. Smoke tends to annoy me so there is no reason for me to be subjected to another person's addiction. When you add in the strength of the science to suggest that the smoke is actually harmful, the issue becomes stronger. For restaurant and bar workers, exposure to the collective smoke of many patrons can add up to quite a bit. Still, the smokers complain of their lost "right".

Here's an example that may make it clearer. Imagine that I move into the house next to yours. Also imagine that I like to play my Banjo-Bagpipes-Bjork techno-remixes at all hours of the day and night at the maximum volume setting of my equipment. This volume makes the "music" audible to the house on the other side of yours. When you complain, I state that I have the "right" to listen to whatever music I want. You would probably make the argument that I don't have the right to send that "music" into your space where it disturbs you. This is the basis of our noise ordinances. The loud music has now crossed that line of one party causing harm to another and the state should intervene.

This same principle comes to play in the case of the smoking prohibitions. The law does not prevent nicotine junkies from wearing a patch delivery system to get their fix. This is because the patch doesn't go out into the space of other people. Smoking itself is prohibited because the smoke leaves the space of the junkie and afflicts the space of other people. It meets the guideline of preventing one party from harming another.

The law was done with the concerns of smokers in mind. The government announced the law with plenty of warning, so everyone knew it was coming. Furthermore, we've provided many free programs available to assist smokers in overcoming their addiction. As stated above, there are also exceptions to the law that allow smokers in some work places. Of course, as with any addiction, one of the first steps is admitting that you're a junkie loser.

In the long run, the law will be a good one. Iowa was down to about twenty per cent smokers anyway, so not that many people will be upset. Our economy will not be affected in any notable way, other than removing the lost productivity of smoking-related illnesses and the incessant smoking breaks taken by addiction-addled employees. Now, we just need to do something about excessive perfume.


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