You may agree or disagree with what I write, but you can’t say I didn’t warn you when it comes to the misbegotten direction of New Albany’s Greatly Unnecessary Smoking Debate of ’08.
As reported in yesterday’s Tribune, on Tuesday evening three of the four council persons voting against President Jeff Gahan’s cynically calculated smoking ordinance met with opponents of the ban, and public discussion began in earnest as to a politically expedient softening of the ordinance’s reach.
In blunt terms, this means that the council Nay-Bloc’s appearance, while well intentioned, duly initiates the process of harried last-minute horse trading for exemptions and exceptions to the ordinance’s scope. Once in progress, this bargaining will have the effect of dividing the opposition against itself – surely playing to the ultimate goal of the council’s Pro-Bloc – while placing the council itself in exactly the position I predicted it would be.
The council will be playing God, which of course fits snugly within the confines of Dan Coffey’s Bazooka Joe divinity school diploma, but should frighten the living daylights out of the rest of the city of New Albany and anyone else as close as Pyongyang and Zimbabwe.
When the topic of exceptions and exemptions comes up, one must remember that the conceptual basis of the argument against indoor smoking is secondhand smoke, and its health effects on humans. The smoking ban lobby's case hinges on secondhand smoke in workplaces only, and not on individual freedoms and consumer choice, considerations that have been proven to be capable of bypassing when there is an overarching concern for workplace safety.
(As an aside, I've always found it odd that if this is indeed the case, OSHA as yet does not purport to regulate workplace smoking. But I digress.)
As temperatures rise, and with the jockeying for placatory exemptions and exceptions soon to resemble an outdoor volleyball match between drunken sand crabs, the council will be asked to decide which employee better deserves protection in the workplace -- the waiter in the smoke-free restaurant dining room, or the bartender barely visible behind nicotine clouds? Naturally, there is a hazmat electoral corollary. Which of the two is likely to cast a ballot … and in which direction?
Of course, this Solomon-like distinction (health, not votes) is an impossible one for any mortal to make, and far more so for a council congenitally challenged by the fundamental precepts of scientific evidence and logical consistency – dare I say, by the very precepts of higher education itself.
At the same time, there is an eerie scent of political co-dependence in the air. It is an open secret that Mayor Doug England is considering a veto of the council’s smoking ordinance, but the mayor is a politician, too, and until the lung damage credits are blithely swapped around in the council chamber, he’ll be unable to gauge the political efficacy of a veto. The vote last week was 5-4 on a first reading, meaning that if the totals hold through second and third tallies, at least one council person saying “nay” would have to flip over to the “aye” side for 6-3 veto kill.
Will he veto, or won’t he? Only the Shadow knows (and I don’t mean Carl Malysz, campers).
Pondering these many sub-topics, the question to me remains one of sensible proportion in the context of smoking as one of many potential problems faced by the city during tough economic times.
By most accounts, the council’s August 4 work session on the general topic of code enforcement, substandard housing and rental property regulation – essentials for any public official claiming (sans hypocrisy) to be concerned about public health – went swimmingly.
At the same time, the intellectual vacancy of Dan “Wizard of Westside” Coffey’s ability to now be for public health (workplace smoking) and against it (rigorous code enforcement) simultaneously is far more indicative of the council’s previous habits of non-thought than could possibly be rectified by one election cycle and the overdue departure of professional wannabeen “policrites” like Larry Kochert.
The Floyd County Department of Health stands similarly exposed, at least in my mind. As reader Ecology Warrior recently pointed out, local health officials find it somehow far easier to stridently support the smoking ban than to take responsibility for helpfulness on mosquito (West Nile, anyone?) eradication.
I may be mistaken, but I can’t recall the department taking a coherent position on the myriad public health issues engendered by uncontrolled slumlords and substandard housing in the traditional absence of code enforcement. The same can be said for the various “drug” eradication bureaus and free-lance health crusaders.
Will they be there to lend their concerned voices to the imperatives of public health and safety when the topic turns away from bars and restaurants, which after all are indicative of voluntary discretionary spending on the part of the citizenry, and toward prying long overdue rental property reforms from the cold, dead hands of the likes of Pat Harrison, owner of as many rental units as George W. Bush has malapropisms?
I’ll not be holding my breath on that one. Surprisingly enough, the reason for my skepticism was best stated by a pseudonymous commenter at Mrs. Baird’s blog:
Most of the people that vote these bans into law simply see this as a chance to "stick it" to smokers, whom they view as second class citizens, and it's personal.
Yep, and the key word here is personal.
Once introduced in ordinance form, the anti-smoking argument on behalf of objective science always mutates into one of personal preferences -- of what I like versus what you like.
Wouldn’t it be wondrous to see, for once, the righteous indignation of nanny health fascism focused against the slumlord class’s perpetual enrichment from substandard housing, and the same city council's long-held refusal to address it?
Hey, Dan Coffey: Is the health of a low-income busboy who can choose to work at any number of establishments more important than that of a low-income family, wedged into a vermin-ridden hole for too damned much money each month, but lacking reasonable options?
If you answer “no”, then I trust we’ll be seeing you at the forefront of the rental property regulation campaign, right?
In the end, I admit to being too sensitive to the historical precedents of the prohibitionist instinct in America. After all, my career in beer, along with my natural barroom habitat and chosen workplace, was once declared illegal, overnight, by virtue of legislation stemming from mostly well-meaning people fatally infected by the contagion of over-zealous virtue.
And, I’ll admit to having become, at long last, genuinely angry about the brazen and persistent hypocrisy of elected officials who’ll merrily sweep other public health concerns under a rug, sneer openly at the Constitutional principle of fair representation, and ignore literally dozens of pressing civic needs to embark upon a purposeless Jihad that will doubtless inflict economic hardship on my own business and my brethren in it.
The impact may indeed be short-term for my own business, but in an uncertain economy, and with consumers beset by rising prices, who among us should be forced by legislative fiat to make such a short-term sacrifice?
Until the council’s concern for public health is uniform and distributed across the city’s shoddily regulated expanse, this amazingly urgent smoking ban impetus should be viewed for what it is, and that’s diversionary, hypocritical, elitist bunk.
Indeed … the silence from the council's Pro-Bloc is fairly deafening. Can any of you step forward to differ with me?