Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Smoking in England


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If there ever was an issue that conflicted me personally it is smoking in bars. The House of Commons has voted to ban smoking in all workplaces, bars, restaurants and even private clubs in England.
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I loathe tobacco smoke, I am asthmatic and lived in households full of smokers for years. I doesn’t induce my asthma (I think I became immune), but I do find it revolting and bars/restaurants which are free of smoke are wonderful for me personally. It is easier to breathe and my clothes don’t absolutely reek at the end of a night out.
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However, I disagree with the banning of smoking in bars and restaurants. Why? Because it is, fundamentally, not up to me. A bar or restaurant is not a public place – it is private property that the owner has let open to people to access on the owner’s terms. This includes employees and customers. This is why bouncers exist at some bars, to remove people the owner does not want. This is why the owner should decide whether or not smoking is allowed.
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The employees of bars and restaurants can decide whether they prefer to work in a smokefree environment or not – many will find they can’t negotiate that or find few like that, some will. However, the employees do not own that space and should not dictate to the owner what is allowed or not allowed, unless it conflicts with their employment contract.
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The patrons can decide to enter the bar or restaurant or not. There are increasing number of restaurants in the UK with large smokefree zones, indicating customer demand for such an environment. That is the way it should be. You have no more right to demand a restaurant be smokefree than to demand its waiting staff be topless or that it have a vegetarian option. If you don’t like it, you wont be giving the owner your money – the owner misses out as much as you do. The owner takes the risk.
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Part of the problem is a mentality that somehow the government must direct you on this – some bars claim they have to allow people to smoke. No they don’t. It is your choice – choice for the owner, assessing how to meet the demands of the greatest number of patrons. Choice of the worker, deciding whether a smoky environment is worth the pay. Choice of the patron, whether they want to go somewhere where smoking is allowed or not.
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One final argument is that this will produce enormous health benefits. I actually believe this is true – as it will, no doubt, reduce exposure to tobacco smoke. It will also encourage people to stop smoking when they go out drinking and I think the English prefer to drink over smoking anyday!
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However, the ends do not justify the means. Just because people make bad choices does not mean the state should make them for them. Some are prepared to trade their health for the pleasure of smoking – it is their life after all. It is disturbing that no decision had been made yet on banning smoking in cars - you can see where it is heading can't you?
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Note also that many airlines that had allowed smoking stopped it out of passenger choice - the last time I was on a flight with smoking was in the late 90s with the now defunct Swissair, and there were only two seats in one corner of business class with it. Swissair banned smoking in 2000, although it had nothing to do with its bankruptcy in 2002!
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Only private homes, care homes, hospitals (!), prisons and hotel bedrooms are exempt from this ban in England, effective in just over a year. Have to wonder why someone owning a bar has less rights than a prisoner, and why the state, which owns the majority of hospitals in the UK, doesn’t ban it in hospitals in its capacity as owner. Interesting the House of Commons are exempt from the ban, as a Royal Palace its precincts are exempt from statutory health and safety provisions - Hells' Bells and they aren't all dead yet or injured without the protection of the state?

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