Sunday, November 13, 2005

Do newspapers really need informed, intelligent editorials about public policy issues? Our Tribune apparently is uncertain.

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” Oscar Wilde

If the flamboyant Irish writer is correct, then is it too much for me to ask that when the external source of an opinion derives from a journalist, might that content provider at the very barest of minimums try to contribute a thought that is remotely original, or if not truly unique, at least a view that represents an intelligible synthesis of reputable commentary on the topic at hand?

Accordingly, is it too much for me to hold a newspaper’s obligations to a higher standard of intelligence than the swill-inspired crayon scrawling on the drywall above the urinals at the Luddite Bar & Grill?

Am I wrong, then, to expect journalism’s absolute lowest of common denominators to encompass intellectual honesty, earnestness and diligence, and not sloth and laziness?

If I’m indeed mistaken about these concerns, and if it’s wrong of me to expect journalists to aspire to be something more than transmitters of phoned-in Luddite graffiti, then please, run right out and hire Legal Bagel or some other charlatan mouthpiece wanna-be, and sue me.

It’s not like you don’t know who I am, and where I live and work.

In the interim, as I await my summons to explain to a jury of hooded little people why I detest mediocrity, let’s consider today’s otherwise informative New Albany Tribune and managing editor Chris Morris’s sloppy, negligent and poorly reasoned rant entitled, “Do cities really need formal smoking bans?”

It is a typically inadequate, scattershot piece that somehow is allowed to masquerade as fodder for the editorial slot, which itself is a portion of the newspaper’s acreage presumably intended for expression of its official editorial policy, and one not lightly to be given over to stream-of-consciousness ruminations unencumbered by research or the slightest effort to examine issues beyond simplistic sloganeering.

If a sense of déjà vu overtakes you while reading the “editorial” as reprinted in its entirely below, that feeling might stem from it being the third time in a year that Chris has advanced the same “argument” and mouthed the same unsubstantiated “personal freedom” mantras.

It gets no better with mindless repetition.

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Do cities really need formal smoking bans?

It looks like the city of Jeffersonville is one step closer to passing a smoking ban – which would include most public buildings. The Jeffersonville City Council voted 4-3 last Monday night to keep the ordinance alive. It appears it’s all but a done deal.

This seems to be the trend nationally – these anti-smoking ordinances.

Louisville has already passed such an ordinance, and now it has crossed the river.

Will Clarksville and New Albany be next? Probably – it’s the “in” thing to do.

However, how much will a smoking ban benefit residents in Louisville or Jeffersonville? It seems to me these types of laws are like gun control – bad people still wind up with pistols and rifles. Smokers will still smoke. It just feels good to pass a formal law I guess.

Most business owners in Jeffersonville are against the ban. They fear it will drive away business. But, will those businesses, that once allowed smokers, attract more non-smokers when they become smoke-free?

No one knows for sure. The only thing we do know is that the government continues to try and regulate legal and personal habits. What’s next, an anti-fast food ordinance?

What is wrong with eating establishments having a smoking area, and a smoke-free area, like they have today? That takes care of both sides.

I’m sure those businesses would also install a bigger exhaust fan if that would help.

Our personal freedoms continue to be regulated or altered. We don’t need anti-smoking ordinances.

What we need to do is continue to educate our children about how smoking cigarettes is bad for their health. Education at an early age is key.

We don’t need a feel-good law that will have little to no effect on lowering the number of people who smoke.

There are bigger issues in Jeffersonville, Clarksville and New Albany to tackle than passing anti-smoking ordinances.

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Increasingly it has become obvious that to Chris, any phenomenon he fails to understand must be some sort of “fad” perpetrated on freedom-loving Americans by the “feel-good” lobby. Apparently it has yet to occur to him to conduct research and further develop his understanding – five minutes of Googling should do the trick – as to the fundamental rationale that has guided proponents of restrictions on smoking.

That's workplace safety and the health of employees.

Yes, that’s it -- but you'll not find Chris seriously addressing it.

Make no mistake; smoking bans are not “about” reducing the number of people who smoke. They’re not “about” bar and restaurant customers.

They’re about workers.

If you wish to wave the banner against smoking bans, you are advised to refer to the history of governmental regulation of health and safety in the workplace, and not the history of cigarettes as a bizarre, flag-waving aspect of personal freedom – because that dog won’t hunt.

Note this passage from Many claim smoking ban exemptions; Louisville businesses, groups prepare for new rules Tuesday, by Joseph Gerth in today’s Courier-Journal (short shelf life for C-J links):

… most of the national chain restaurants in Louisville say they will ban smoking.

Applebee's, which operates eight restaurants in Louisville; O'Charley's, which has five; Outback, four; Texas Roadhouse, four; and Tumbleweed, five full-service, all say that they are going smoke-free in the city.

Terry Smith, president and CEO of Tumbleweed, was enthusiastic about the ban, saying his company doesn't meet any of the qualifications for an exemption.

"Even if we were to meet it, we would still go smoke-free," Smith said. "We believe in the mayor's initiative for smoke-free environment for employees, as well as our guests."

I hate chains … but they’re getting it.

Beyond this critical error in focus, Chris seems eternally unwilling to try and grasp the potential breadth of this and related topics, preferring flippant banter and inevitably jigoistic conclusions to an appreciation of the intellectual content of public policy issues.

As I asked Chris previously in Smoke 'em if you got 'em, says the 'Bune -- but not while you're pumping that $3.00 a gallon gas:

Did you read former FDA chief David Kessler's “A Question of Intent?”

Have you seen the movie “Super Size Me?”

Have you read “Fast Food Nation?” If so, you might not be so quick to blithely refer to cheeseburgers in a flippant matter as the next target of the regulators. Adults make choices ... but do children?

For instance, any debate of “fast-food bans” as a manifestation of public health must include thoughtful considerations of personal choice vs. the pervasiveness of saturation advertising and mass marketing. It’s a serious topic for an obese and increasingly unhealthy nation, but to Chris, it’s just an adolescent snigger on the path to the summary dismissal of complexity in everyday life.

Verily, Chris and the Tribune must do better than this if the writer and the newspaper are to be taken seriously as journalists, as opposed to the spokepersons for this community's ridiculously low expectations.

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See also the debate at Jeff votes to uphold smoking ban, by the Healthblogger (NA Health blog).

12 comments:

All4Word said...

To say "most businesses in Jeffersonville" oppose the ban is the height of irresponsibility. Period.

It's lazy editorializing. As much as I root for an enhanced and lively opinion page at The Tribune, as much as I think the columnists should be given wide latitude, there is no excuse for this one.

ceece said...

"isn't having a non-smoking section in a restaurant like have a peeing section in a pool?"
-anonymous

How insulting to insinuate that these citys are jumping on some sort of popularity bandwagon.

As a person who supports smoking bans, my support is not for telling people what to do, I in no way think that a smoking ban in a restaurant is going to stop people all over from smoking.


Again, that ban is not to stop people from smoking, it is to protect those that do not smoke. How come this is so hard to understand?

If you want to smoke and ruin your health, then that's fine! But do it where it doesn't affect me.

It is ridiculous to say that smokers will start boycotting business's and restaurants when/if the ban comes into effect. They will want to go out and eat somewhere, they will just have to "suck it up", as so many non-smokers have been told to do in the past.

This editorial is an embarassment to the paper and our city.

Debbie H. said...

Everyone wants to lay claim to what an issue is "about." They want to frame it in a manner that helps them through the debate. I suppose I am no different because I have a totally different view of the smoking ban controversy.

It's not "about" worker safety and health of employees as stated in this particular blog.

It's about private property rights.

The businesses that take the financial risks should be the ones who make the decision about whether or not to allow smoking on their property.

If we are talking about laziness and sloth, then it is those who wish to ban smoking that are lazy and slothful because instead of working to persuade businesses to change their ways, they have attempted to take the easy way out and use the force of government to get their way.

People who frame this debate as a worker's right issue forget that workers in a free market nation are able to leave and move to other employment. Another option is for the employees to petition the business to create policies relating to smoking. There are other ways to live your life without always running to the daddy government to take care of you.

The reason the big chains are falling into line is simply a basic business decision. They can see which market is the largest and they are simply opening themselves up to that market. (I found it quite interesting how Cheddar's, which opened as non-smoking VOLUNTARILY, was used as reasoning for implementing a forced government smoking ban on all restaurants.)

The irony is that this would all be happening anyway. More and more people are non-smokers and they could have been, and already were, using their power to affect the change through the free market. And too bad they didn't continue on this path because then the extra conflict of trying to use government to control others would not have occurred. That's what really disappoints me.

We can get things accomplished through the free market, but it does take commitment to a cause and yes, some hard work as well.

Debbie H. said...

All4Word said...
To say "most businesses in Jeffersonville" oppose the ban is the height of irresponsibility. Period.

Did you attend the council meeting? I imagine this statement was based on what occurred there. Many of those who spoke against the ban were small business owners. One woman got up and spoke on behalf of the Downtown Merchants Association and spoke against the ban, at least for now, as they wanted to see more discussion and research on specific ordinance possibilities.

If interested, anyone can read my personal observations from my colored view of the world, which is a view that believes private property rights for businesses are of great importance to everyone's freedom to live their life as they see fit.

Debbie H. said...

ceece said...
As a person who supports smoking bans, my support is not for telling people what to do, I in no way think that a smoking ban in a restaurant is going to stop people all over from smoking.

Hi ceece, I think we have debated this issue on another na blog. :) I have to say that you do want to tell other people what to do if you are for these sorts of smoking bans. You are telling business owners, the ones taking all the risks, what to do. The irony is that you can tell them what to do through the free market. You can not go to places that allow smoking and you can persuade others to do the same. And let the businesses know what you are doing. But that takes effort. And commitment. But you sound committed so I bet you could do it. And I would support you.

But I do not support those who try to use government force to get their way over others.

For anyone who is interested, I hear there is a protest being planned for next monday at 5:00 in front of the City County Building. As I hear more I will publish the information on my blog.

The New Albanian said...

As a side note, and something that may or may not be relevant to Debbie's discussion of property rights ...

In Indiana, to obtain a permit to sell alcoholic beverages requires as conditions for approval (among other things) the submission of a floor plan for the licensed premises and an inspection of the floor plan by an ATC officer.

The reason for this is that ATC officers have the right to search licensed premises without probable cause or a search warrant. They may come at any time, and see anything -- look in the file drawers, the safe, and so on.

So, to sell alcoholic beverages, I'm surendering a big chunk of property rights from the outset. Is this sacrifice justified by the very nature of alcoholic beverages and their traditional connection to taxation and revenue collection?

Or is it something that should drive me into the arms of the libertarians?

It hasn't. I'm sure we'll touch on reasons for this in the coming months.

ceece said...

Deb,

Thanks so much for pointing out my typing omission. What I meant to type was telling people what to do, in private.

Obviously you and I disagree here. I do not argue that.

For you to dissect my posts and tell me "what I really mean and feel", is annoying and rude.

If you would like to argue a fact that I have misstated feel free, but please don't attempt to tell me or others that read this blog, that I type one thing but mean something else.

Thanks

na girl said...

So Debbie, just curious, how do you feel about labor laws, access for persons with disabilities, health department regulations, fire codes, etc.?

ceece said...

PS. Deb yes I do frequent restaurants that are non-smoking only, much more then others.

I also make it a point to seek out the manager and let them know how much I appreciate what they are doing.

If anyone is interested in a list of restaurants who participate in non-smoking all the way check out this website, (this is a partial list)

http://www.smokefreeworld.com/kentucky.shtml

Debbie H. said...

Various replies...

About the alcohol license requirements: I think those laws are just as bad as any smoking laws. You should not have to give up your private property right to sell a beer. The purchasing of licenses from the state is just another example of how government tries to control so much of what we do. Alcohol licensing is one of the topics I have been considering for my monthly opinion column. Your information might be helpful if I do, so thanks in advance. :)

To ceece...Sorry I don't understand why you are calling me rude. Something evidently got miscommunicated. I almost always quote people when discussing through the internet to make sure that doesn't happen. So I'm not sure what you got insulted about. Was I wrong in thinking that you supported government forced smoking bans? That said, your other post saying what you have been doing voluntarily with local restaurants sounds great! Good for you.

nagirl...Your question covers a lot of territory, but I can give a short answer, at least to how it compares to smoking bans and restaurants. Fire codes and health department regulations for restaurants are two things that everyone agrees on. No one wants fire in the building, no one wants bacteria-laden food (which is also a reason these things could also occur through the free market, but that's a whole other discussion). Also, the food preparation is something the restaurant itself does, as part of its business. Smoking is a legal activity the patron does. Cigarettes are a currently legal product that each individual has the freedom to decide whether to use or not. Would you say that falls into a different category?

na girl said...

So if a majority of the public wants to be safe from fire hazards and bacteria it is OK to infringe on the business owners' private property and regulate and inspect these things. If a majority of the public wants to be free from disease causing smoke it is not OK to regulate that.

How do you think fire codes and health codes came into being? Don't you suppose that people wanted to be protected from bacteria and fire?

Why didn't we just let the free market take care of it? After all wouldn't a restaurant want to be clean and not make customers sick? Why were health codes needed?

Why is it different if people want to be protected from cigarette smoke which is know to be a health hazard? Why is this a private property issue?

Debbie H. said...

(Replying to na girl...I will quote her comments specifically so everyone can see what I am replying to.)

nagirl:
So if a majority of the public wants to be safe from fire hazards and bacteria it is OK to infringe on the business owners' private property and regulate and inspect these things. If a majority of the public wants to be free from disease causing smoke it is not OK to regulate that.

Debbie:
Actually, I don't think government infrigement was necessary. You appear to be saying that it would take some majority of the patrons to us government force for things like this to occur. Why do you think a restaurant would not want to protect her property from fire, or her business from the results of giving someone bacteria laden food?

nagirl:
How do you think fire codes and health codes came into being? Don't you suppose that people wanted to be protected from bacteria and fire?

Debbie:
As above, don't you think the restaurant owner herself would want to protect her property from the consequences these events would cause? I don't think government force was necessary for these things to occur. For example, insurers are the ones that make things like fire codes work. Other safety regulations occurred naturally without government force like the UL label on electrical cords.

nagirl:
Why didn't we just let the free market take care of it? After all wouldn't a restaurant want to be clean and not make customers sick? Why were health codes needed?

Debbie:
Bingo. You are exactly right. It only makes sense for a restaurant to want to avoid burning up their property or giving people bacteria laden food. See above examples of the use of the free market.

nagirl:
Why is it different if people want to be protected from cigarette smoke which is know to be a health hazard? Why is this a private property issue?

Debbie:
Because it's the free use of a legal product that is allowed by the property owners. A property owner may decide they don't want their business reeking of cigarettes, while another decides to serve that market so they will deal with the smell. But the smoking itself is not part of the service the business provides. Simply having smokers on the property does not harm you. If you smell the smoke, or know they allow smoking, you are free to refuse to patronize the establishment.

And actually the health code laws operate the same way. They don't necessarily protect you from the harm, you still have to act. In other words, to really protect yourself from bad food, you would have to notice that a restaurant failed the inspection, and then choose not to patronize that establishment any further.

It's all about taking charge of your own life.

Debbie