The Electric Commentary

Friday, June 11, 2004

I received an email the other day that made me rethink my opinion on an issue that is prominent in the political scene in my town. The Madison (Wisconsin) City council recently voted, in a 15-5, decision to pass a smoke-free workplace ordinance to go into affect in 2005. A smoking ban for bars is still in the works. A member of my triathlon team sent an email to the entire team that informed us all that “we won!” when the ordinance passed. I was troubled by this because I already knew the result of the vote and “we” did not win. “We” lost a bit of freedom.

I was slightly troubled by the assumption that because I was a triathlete I was expected to take a particular stance on this issue. My guess is that the majority of the people that compete in endurance sports such as triathlon are anti-smoking, myself included. I have smoked three cigarettes in my life. The first was in Mexico when I was a senior in high school. I was slightly drunk and a really hot girl asked me if I wanted a cigarette. The second and third were this year. I bet a smoker friend that he couldn’t make it until the end of finals week without smoking. I smoked in front of him because it was fun to watch him fidget and I wanted to win $50.00. However, just because I don’t smoke, I hate being in smoky bars, and I hate smelling like smoke does not mean that I support a law that would make it illegal to smoke in restaurants or bars.

This issue should not be looked at as a division between smokers and non-smokers. It should be looked at as a division between tavern-owners and totalitarians. The ends that the supporters of the ban are aiming for sound pretty good to me but the means they employ to achieve those ends are scary. They ask that the government tell people (I’m talking about business owners, not smokers), that they must submit some control of their business--their means of production--to the government.

They do this by disguising the issue as one between smokers and non-smokers. Smoking IS a public health issue but, as Smoke-Free Madison points out, it is preventable. What they ignore is that it is preventable without the government telling the business owners what to do. That goes for second-hand smoke too. If you do not want to be in a smoking bar you should patronize the bars that, by choice of the owner, do not allow smoking. There are some.

I will probably enjoy bars more when they are smoke-free. For one thing, I bet they will be less crowded—an effect I’m sure the tavern owners will not appreciate as much. But, like so many order-versus-liberty debates, this is a big step down the slippery slope. What “health issue” will the government ban next? Here are some fun facts, one from the smoke free Madison website
and one from peak performance online

-14 out of every 1000 workers will die from lung cancer attributable to their worksite exposure. This statistic assumes 40 years exposure in that worksite. (It is interesting to note that the site does not give any information regarding how many people who work in places that allow smoking, like bars, work there for 40 years or how many of them smoke themselves. It does say, in another "fact," that many of the people who work in bars are students with little choice for jobs. This seems inconsistent with the 40 year requirement in the statistic that supports this argument.)

- Any athlete who participates in a strenuous test of endurance lasting about three hours or more has an increased chance of dying during - and for 24 hours following - the exertion, even when the athlete's chance of a death-door knock is compared with the risk incurred by a cigarette-smoking, sedentary layabout who spends the same 24 hours drinking beer and watching TV.

Maybe we should vote to ban marathons.

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