No smoking in bars next summer?

A workgroup set by the Finnish ministry of Social Affairs and Health has issued a recommendation that all bars and restaurants are to be made completely non-smoking (unless you can provide a glass box in your restaurant for that purpose), possibly even next year.

Some people see this as health fascism, some people see this as necessary, some people are saying that this will kill the restaurant industry, and some point out that that has not happened in other countries who have issued similar legislation. In thinking my own position I've found it useful to imagine if the situation was reversed: if smoking was a new fad, all the bars were by default non-smoking (and nobody has ever smoked in them), and we knew all the dangers involved - would we allow smoking in the bars in the first place? And with what kind of arguments would we speak for and against?

I think we're having this discussion only because people are afraid of change, no matter whether it's for the better or for the worse. It's much the same (though obviously not all) as the opposition of downloadable music by record companies, or open source software by established software houses, or DRM and SW patents by the open source people. It's all changing the status quo, and that is what scares people. Which is also why the opposition likes to think of the worst possible scenario and present it as the inevitable truth: open source will die; millions will lose their jobs as proprietary software houses die; artists starve to death; half of the restaurants will go out of business; and countries will slide to fascism if people are not allowed to kill themselves in boring, smelly and slow ways.

The old serenity prayer says:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The entire media is filled with stories of people "who just wouldn't accept the inevitable", or "went against impossible odds", or "didn't conform". They are all praises of individualism and freedom, and we like to call those people "heroes". But we only talk about the ones that succeed - the ones that go against the tide and fail we call "stupid".

I wish I had the wisdom to know the difference.




Comments

Here in Vancouver smoking is not allowed in bars and restaurants. And I absolutely love it. In England the biggest reason for not going into pubs for me was that I would feel physically sick within ten minutes because of all the smoke.

--kolibri, 22-Jun-2005


In '99 I moved from Alaska (where smoking in bars was allowed) to California (where public smoking has been pretty much banned). Several years later, on one of my trips back to Alaska, we all went out for beers at a local bar in Anchorage. I was floored by how much the smoke in the bar bothered me. I had grown up here, I had been in these bars many many evenings in my early 20s, now I was being repulsed.

I am not a smoker, but I always viewed drinking and smoking as long time bar traditions, and if you drink at all, you quickly realize the ration of drinking/smokers is very much skewed from the number of people that smoke. If 30 percent of the population smokes, look around the bar and you'll see 60% holding a cigarette.

Once I had experienced drinking without the smoke, I realized that the two weren't necessarily tied to each other. This definetly was a change in the status quo. I also discovered that it met my need for well being and autonomy. I felt better, experiencing at worst a "hangover" from a night out, not a scratchy throat or burning eyes. And my clothes don't stink when I get home unless it's something that I did (ha).

I think that if the most peoples needs are to be met, things that intrude on the public space as much as smoking need to be limited. Governments are supposed to protect the public, which I suppose is a fine balance between acting facist and acting in the general interest. Janne hinted at the difference. Had there never been smoking in public, it would not currently be viewed as facist to try and stop it. It's not that stopping it is facists, it's that it only met the needs of the smoker in the first place. Since it's very start, people have complained about smoking in public, clearly their needs for autonomy and good health weren't being met.

It's important to remember that these laws are only for public spaces.

I do not agree with outlawing drugs, smoking, or most any type of behaviour in the privacy of our own homes. Here in America we've moved completely (and to our detriment) away from that ideal, but clearly our constitution was meant to, in part, protect this most basic concept.

As long as the laws stay to public spaces, I see these "facists" moves as a step in the right direction - government should protect the people. There's an old saying (forget who said it) that "your freedom ends when it begins to infringe on mine." Clearly public smoking fails this most basic of tests - and doing whatever inside your own home, short of blowing it up, would nearly always pass.

Once argument against these type of laws is that the government shouldn't do this because next they'll be outlawing talking in movie theaters or shouting in public or anything else that a majority of people find annoying. And there's some merit to this arguement. In the case of smoking, I believe the health issue are clear - pregnant mothers are of particular concern. However, in the cases of other annoyances, there is no clear cut harm.

I think the next target is likely to be cell phone use. It seems to be similar to smoking in that lots of people do it in public and lots of people find it annoying. And mounting research is beginning to show that the radiation may indeed be harmful, though not enough good science has been done on this.

[Though a friend of my at Stanford did some of the early tests on analog cell phones - the report (sponsored by motorola) came back saying there was no harm. My friend gave up his cell phone and went back to a pager. When I question him on it he all he's say is, "well...I'm just not using a cell phone and I'll leave it at that." This reaction has had a profound impact on me, though I use a cell phone quite often (2000 mins/month) I use a headset or a bluetooth device when I can. I'm reminded of the old commercials we had here in America with doctors hawking cigarettes on TV. "I'm a doctor, and I tell my patients to smoke to relax."]

Smoking serves no greater good, but clearly the public loves cell phones. I believe Janne works in the industry. It's done an amazing amount of good. However, in public, it shares many of the same problems as smoking. If an adverse health impact is added, the actions that follow will be very interesting to watch. [England for example is trying to ban marketing cell phones to children siting health concerns.]

Janne, thanks for sharing this on your blog. It's a good topic for public discussion.

Scott

--67.188.200.35, 23-Jun-2005


A number of years ago, the State of Delaware passed a no smoking ban in ALL public areas. There was much wailing, but what the restaurant people found is that more people went out to eat. The number one reason given was the lack of smoke to battle with by diners. The places on the border between Delaware and Pennsylvania noticed an increase, people leaving the PA restaurants to come to Delaware

Bars noticed an immediate decline, and then their business came back also. (There was also a spike in the sales of "non-tobacco cigs" like clove ones, but that has dropped)

The best item was the local casino's, Dover Down Slots, that reported almost a 10% increase in business.

--Foster, 23-Jun-2005


Ireland banned smoking, Sweden banned it, even Cuba with all their cigars has banned it, so why not Finland? I've been waiting for this for a loooong time already.

Sad that smoking in crowds in tram/train stops and on the street is still legal and causes many people to inhale smoke. Why won't they just ban smoking altogether... (Yes, I do smoke occasionally, but never where it can cause discomfort to other people)

--Täti Pensiö, 02-Jul-2005


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