Sunday, March 09, 2008

legislative absurdity (journalistic, too)

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch (alternatively referred to as the Times-Disgrace or the Fishwrapper), one reason the Virginia General Assembly "matters" is that they defeated various efforts to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. As I have grown older (and quit smoking), become a parent, and researched the effects of secondhand smoke for PSA campaigns, my hope for smoking bans in bars and restaurants has grown. After spending enough time in establishments in Maine, New York, DC, and Bloomington following the enactment of bans, I've come to appreciate the opportunity to go out without hacking up a lung the next day or worrying about whether my clothes reek of smoke. I (and other parents I know) have also come to appreciate the ability to take Banana (and other kids) places where they won't be exposed to clouds of smoke.

What continues to amaze me about the intractability of the foes are the various arguments they use:
  • Business will suffer. Empirical evidence in cities and countries where bans have been enacted shows that business actually increases.
  • The effects of secondhand smoke aren't proven. First off, I'm tempted to point this one back to the arguments that climate change is a cooked-up theory; the effects of secondhand smoke on pets, children, service employees, and so forth are well documented. I mean, does anyone really believe that working in an enclosed space filled with particulate matter and chemicals like arsenic and benzene won't affect a person.
  • Smokers have rights, too. Yes, the same ones I have. The last time I checked, however, it is not a constitutionally protected right to put something in the air that injures another person.
  • Business owners should be able to run their businesses the way they want to. So develop a compromise that allows some businesses to continue to permit smoking. Bloomington's solution was to allow a three-tier set-up. A restaurant could be all-ages all the time and ban smoking, move to twenty-one and over after a certain time and only allow smoking after that time, or allow only legal drinkers at all times and allow smoking at all hours.

Regardless of the debunked argument or the ultimate solution, the reality is that none of this is truly about "rights" or even individual business owners' rights. Instead, this smacks of just another moment where the Republican-held VA legislature (and its media mouthpieces) are bowing to another powerful business lobby.


In the same section of the RTD, there was also a brief piece noting that the legislature had passed a measure requiring an adult convicted of French kissing a child under 13 to register as a sex offender. Really? Are we that backwards that we actually needed to stipulate this? Shouldn't it have been common sense (and law) all along?