Put This in Your Pipe (and Smoke it Outside)

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Back in early
2005 I took a six-day trip back to Ohio and ended up in "C-Bus,"
our illustrious capital city, for a night of craziness with my cousins.
Upon entering what looked to be a rather large club filled with
half-naked girls (underachievers if you ask me), I pulled out a
pack of weird Japanese cigarettes to show off and make myself comfortable
with.

Big mistake.
Columbus had just banned smoking in all "public" areas,
and I was now the cancerous elephant in the room. "Whoa, buddy!
You can't smoke that in here!" said the bartender as he tapped
a little plastic "No Smoking" sign.

Now, I knew
something was weird when I walked in the place, but I couldn't put
my finger on it. Maybe it was the obnoxious "music" with
lyrics describing various lewd and probably fun sexual acts that
distracted me, but it just didn't feel like a real place, more like
a movie set. More than anything, I just hate to be told what to
do, so I vented to a friend and got this gut-buster in reply:

"I love
it, man! I really hate it when girls smoke."

Ha! It may
have been the dollar drafts talking, but now he won't even know
if a girl is a smoker until they're arm-in-arm, drunkenly ambling
back home for a night of lyric-writing on the couch. At that point
I doubt he'll care too much about any of her nasty habits.

Now, nearly
two years later, I check out the Dayton Daily News election
results (on what might be the worst newspaper website ever) to find
that Ohio has just banned smoking in all "public" (there's
that word again) places. This, of course, includes my hometown of
Dayton, which has, apparently, only banned new jobs from the city
limits and has a mayor that likes to wear funny hats.

Geez, Ohio!
I go away for a few years and you go and ban smoking on me? Just
like that? No call? No memo? If I'd known before the election that
you were getting so fed up with other people's business I may have
taken the effort to register to vote, gripe a bit via email, and
then not send in my absentee ballot out
of principle
.

It turns out
that there were actually TWO initiatives on the ballot, both encouraging
government force. Issue 4 was backed by "Big" tobacco
companies through smokelessohio.com
(now offline) who wanted to overturn all local Ohio bans, allow
smoking in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, bingo halls, etc,
and require an amendment to the Ohio constitution for any future
smoking ban. Issue 5 (the winner!), broadcasting from smokefreeohio.com,
was an all-out ban on smoking in "public" (Argh!) places.
Both played themselves off of each other, yet were blood-brothers
in Big Government all the way.

Being the kind
of guy I am, I spent the next few hours perusing the various Pro/Con
websites for the anti-smoking initiatives, and was brought down
from shock to simple sadness. Not one of the opponents to the ban
ever mentioned freedom or property rights. Instead, they came up
with such lame defenses as:

  • Banning
    smoking will drive business away from bars/restaurants.
  • Smoking
    is dangerous, but so are other things like driving cars and rock-climbing.
  • We already
    have smoking sections, so what's the problem?

First of all,
banning smoking will most certainly not lower the business
of any bar or restaurant that doesn't cater to a niche market of
smokers, such as the Dublin Pub
in Dayton that has (had?) a rather nice cigar selection. If anything,
it might even bring in more people who usually avoid bars
because they don't want to go home smelling like dad after poker
night. There's definitely a huge market of smoke-haters out there
who have money to spend.

Also, yes,
smoking is dangerous, and so is mountain-climbing, but can you seriously
expect voters to look at that analogy and take it to heart? When
was the last time someone was having dinner and the guy climbing
the mountain next to them fell onto their table? Smoking is annoying
to non-smokers, particularly when they're eating.

As for smoking
sections, it seems that smoke has a funny way of leaving the imaginary
fence around that area and wafting over to the non-smoking section.
Besides, smoking sections are a result of government regulation
anyway, so how good could they really be?

After I stopped
laughing, I checked out the pro-ban sites, and found such lame reasons
for the ban such as:

All of them!

On election
eve, I received a "bulletin" on my Myspace
profile from a friend promoting Issue 5. It included this passage,
which sums up Issue 5's arguments:

If you disdain
government interference, vote no on Issue 4. It would change the
Ohio Constitution so local communities couldn’t pass smoking restrictions.
Do you want to give tobacco companies that kind of power? Do you
want to give the state that kind of power?

It then went
on to promote Issue 5, as if it were God's gift to small government.
With contradictions like that out there in the open, how could the
ban's opponents screw it up? Well, because of Issue 4, there weren't
any ban opponents! In fact, Issue 4 was such a blatant farce from
the beginning that it probably brought more people to vote for Issue
5 out of sheer hatred for tobacco companies.

Ohio now has
an all-encompassing smoking ban for "public" places that
happens to be limited to places that aren't actually public. In
fact, there will be more smoking in actual public places
like streets and sidewalks now that no one can smoke inside. Isn't
this yet another contradiction ripe for the crushing?

The Solution!

After a night
of pondering the issues over a can of happoshu
and a pack of Seven Stars, I found the perfect defense against smoking
bans: It's not your bar!

How difficult
could that have been? Instead of arguing back and forth against
the prohibitionists over stupid little talking points, they could
have used an irrefutable argument. People like to nitpick on good/bad
things that the government should/shouldn't do, but most of them
understand basic property rights. Sure, you get the people who say
that "hospitality workers" (read: bartenders and waitresses)
are exposed to health-damaging smoke. Nonetheless, if you stick
to your guns and simply repeat "It's not your bar!"
there isn't anywhere for prohibitionists to go besides claiming
that they do happen to have a financial stake in every bar, restaurant,
bowling alley, and bingo hall in Ohio.

Elections are
all about messages, and especially the clarity of the messages.
There's nothing more clear than asserting rights to your own property
and standing up for yourself. Even Cato's own Tom Firey (from whom
I got the lame "mountain climbing" analogy) couldn't bring
himself to mention property rights in this week's Cato Daily Podcast
about smoking bans. Instead of talking about "freedom"
in abstract terms related to blowing up other countries, let's try
using it for real in (gasp!) everyday life!

Forget the
tobacco companies! Forget the excuses! Repeat after me: It's not
your bar!

November
17, 2006

Michael
Keferl [send him mail] is
a Japan-based trendscout and researcher specializing in Japanese
marketing and technology. In his free time he enjoys medium-format
photography with his $20 plastic Holga, taking long baths in the
local hot springs, being stuffed full of food by his girlfriend's
grandmother, and finding all the cool ways Lucky Strike markets
their coffin nails in Japan. You can find him at Kilian-Nakamura.com
and Cscout.com.

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