Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Is it smokey in here?

I ran this item last week, at the time that the Casper City Council reinstated a complete ban on smoking in public buildings, following the victory of an initiative movement in the Wyoming Supreme Court.  That movement, backed by former city council woman Kim Holloway, achieved the Court's declaration that some signatures had been improperly rejected.
Lex Anteinternet: Today In Wyoming's History: September 8: Today In Wyoming's History: September 8 : 2015  In a controversial move, the Casper City Counsel reinstated a tavern and restau...
Subsequent events have brought to light the truth of Otto Von Bismarck's comment that "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made."

Last night, making the first of three required votes on three readings, the City Council went on to officially repeal the amendment to the City's smoking law which had exempted bars. The thought was that by doing that, and restoring the original ordinance's complete ban, the need to hold the special election the initiative would have required would evaporate, as the goal of the petition was therefore met.  So, we must note, there was a degree of cynicism in the vote, as the councilmen, as shown by their next vote, did not wish to genuinely reinstate a complete ban, as the petitioners did.  Having said that, a couple genuinely supported the restoration of a complete ban.

Next the council voted to completely repeal the ban, thereby allowing smoking everywhere once again.  Only two councilmen voted against that.

The debate heavily focused on property rights and on the plight of tavern owners whose patrons have fled to Mills, Evansville and Bar Nunn, neighboring towns which those from outside of Casper no doubt generally regard as part of Casper, but which have separate legal status and governments. The arguments against repealing a ban were weighted heavily on public health issues.  I saw the council meeting on television, and the sides were well behaved and presented their views quite well.

The instinctively sympathetic view, around here anyway, is that a business owner should be allowed to do what they will, and the patrons can vote with their feet. There's some logic to that, but it does miss the point, raised but often not really well developed, that employees of any one workplace often are in a position where they have to work where there's work.  I know that there's people who really like and aspire to be bar servers and tenders, but there's also a lot of people who find there way into those jobs, often temporarily, but sometimes long term, and have to stick with them for one reason or another.  The "you can always quit" argument doesn't work for most other occupations anymore in recognition of that, but it's a common one for these occupations, which are often occupied by the workplace demographic that's least able to switch employments readily.

It also somewhat applied to patrons of restaurants and bars, although people rarely recognize that.  If you are in business and everyone breaks for lunch and the nearest establishment is Smokey Joe's Bar Grill and Smokapalooza, you're gong there with everyone else working on that big project, as you'll have little other choice.  No matter what your health situation may be.  I well remember, for instance, being on breaks in trials for lunch where the only nearby restaurant, or the one the client recommended, featured smoke and being very conscious that I was now heading back to court smelling like cigarette smoke, something that non smokers are extremely conscious of but which smokers seem not to notice at all.   This doesn't touch on the numerous people who are allergic or have reactions to cigarette smoke in one form or another.  These folks don't really have the option of making a big deal out of their situation in a lot of instances.

I guess that makes it obvious that I wish they keep the smoke ban in place, but then I also feel that they shouldn't have voted to eliminate their compromise position that allowed smoking in bars, not because I want to smoke in a bar (obviously I don't smoke), but because it seemed to be a compromise that was working.  

Which brings to mind the Italian proverb "Le meglio è l'inimico del bene", or "the perfect is the enemy of the good".  It really is.  

Passing a smoking ban was difficult in Casper in the first place.  When it first came up around 2002 it was voted down, but then a decade later the full ban (oddly called the "fully leaded ban" in the debate) was passed, but thereafter shortly amended to exempt bars.  That law was no doubt not perfect from anyone's perspective, but then the perspectives are so radically different that no law could satisfy that.  For those who take the "property rights" position, no ban, perhaps on anything, would be ideal. For those who a radically opposed to cigarettes, I suppose banning cigarettes entirely would be ideal.  No compromise is going to make everyone happy.

Which brings us to a likely ironic result of all of this. When Kim Holloway, a former city councilwoman, took to the streets with her petition to take this to the voters, the goal was to restore a full ban.  But what now appears likely is that her actions have killed off the partial ban, or soon will.  No doubt a new petition drive will start, and I'd guess Holloway will be leading the charge, but just listening to the city council and those who came to speak, I suspect that the tide has turned on this issue and the voters will side with the property rights argument.  That will likely have less of an impact than supposed, as smoking is slowly declining in the population anyhow, and my guess (and hope) is that most of the restaurants aren't going to restore smoking, indeed a lot didn't allow it before the ban, and more than a few busy bars aren't going to allow it again either, now that they know that they can survive without smoking in the premises.  So the hard feeling that we must ban smoking to have an impact is likely gone, and as our local economy declines, the feeling that we shouldn't mess with business owners will increase. But some bars that did allow smoking recently will go back to it, and I'd guess a few small cafes in town will also. The petition backers who sought to fully ban smoking, may have in fact restored it.

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