On my way to work this morning, I heard about a recent happening in the Illinois State Assembly – apparently the Illinois House voted to weaken the statewide smoking ban by approving an exception for casinos provided the nearest state allows smoking in its casinos.
Supposedly the statewide smoking ban has had an adverse affect on casino revenue in Illinois (An unintended consequence of legislation??? How shocking!!!). According to the sponsor of the exception bill, Daniel Burke D-Chicago (aren’t they all D’s from Chicago?), “since the imposition of our statewide smoking ban, to date our state has lost revenues in excess of $800 million. We’re telling people ... go ahead, earn the money in Illinois, then get in your car and go to Wisconsin to gamble.”
Now this makes me laugh deep down on so many levels, mostly because I was strongly against the smoking ban in the first place, even though I don’t smoke. Honestly, the smoking ban doesn’t really affect my daily life because I live in Missouri, but I do see it every time I make the pilgrimage home. Besides, I grew up in Illinois, so I still feel that I have a stake in its fortunes (or its misfortunes). Does this make me happy, seeing that the smoking ban, once championed as the state’s only hope for healthy workplaces, is now in danger of being whittled away in an attempt to put some money into Illinois’s empty coffers? No, it's just that all of the hoopla surrounding the smoking ban seems to me like a dog humping a wooden leg – there’s a lot of effort, but nothing’s really being accomplished.
My big problem with the smoking ban is that it takes away the business owner’s right to decide if he wants to allow smoking (which is a legal use of a legal product) in his place of business. It kind of strikes me like George Carlin’s question of why prostitution is illegal – “Selling’s legal. (Something else) is legal. So why isn’t selling (that something else) legal???”
But Matt, what about the people who patronize the business that don’t like smoke? Go somewhere else. I don’t particularly care for Mexican food, but you don’t see me in Mexican restaurants asking for pizza. I just go to the pizza place! If enough people refuse to patronize a business that caters to smokers and those tolerant of smoke, either that business will have to change its policy regarding smoking, or another business will seize the opportunity.
Well, then, what about the people who work at that business who don’t have a choice about being exposed to smoke? Actually, yes, they do have a choice. Find a different job. I don’t want to work in narrow, damp tunnels that may collapse on me, so I didn’t become a coal miner. I didn’t have coal mining outlawed.
But just for the sake of argument, I will grant you that point. Let's suppose the economy sucks (just try to imagine it), there are no jobs to be had, so you’re stuck with Sophie’s choice – do you continue to work somewhere that would perhaps jeopardize your future health, or do you just not work and harm your current and future finances, and possibly be a drain on our social services? OK, just for the sake of argument, you are right; we should totally outlaw smoking at any place where anyone (who can’t make the decision to allow smoking) would work. But why should I, the owner and purveyor and sole employee of The Billy Bar (and Grill!) not be able to allow smoking at my establishment?
I went a little far with my anti-smoking ban rant, so back to the point at hand – OK, so the government forced all of these business owners to disallow consumption of a legal product for the greater social good. . .er, we banned smoking from all of these places so that the workers would have a healthier work environment (this is the fascist social interventionism that I am decrying). Sweet, we did a good thing; the American Heart Association and American Lung Association are proud of us. Of course, the American Diabetes Association can’t wait until we get around to banning all refined sugars and soda, and the American Lardbutt Society wants to outlaw couches. Again, I digress; back to the subject at hand – so we banned smoking from all of these places to promote healthier work environments. Why did we do it? Because we care.
We care about the single mother who can’t get a different job (for some reason, it's always a single mother). It’s bad enough that she has to spend so much time away from her kids; how can we condemn her to an early tobacco-related death? We also care about the taxpayers, right? I mean, let’s face it – the more that people smoke and that are exposed to smoke, the more that the state spends on public health related expenses, so if we reduce one, we reduce the other, good times, right? Well, isn’t that what got us into this boat to begin with? The government (and by extension, we the taxpayers) is on the hook for medical costs and now we have to cede direction of our lives and livelihoods to the state to lower those costs. Again, American Diabetes Association and American Lardbutt Society – just you wait – your payout is near!
I think what I like most about the story surrounding the smoking ban is the apparent shift of priorities for the state. For example, all the way back in 2007 and 2008, when Illinois was only running a “serious” deficit (as opposed to the current “crushing” deficit), Illinoisans and their legislators cared about all employees and their hazardous work conditions (Well, at least they cared about all the employees that were facing dangerous second-hand smoke; I’m sure that railroad and mine safety enthusiasts may disagree, but injured miners don’t make my clothes all stinky when I go out for a bite to eat.) However, in these lean times of $13 billion dollar deficits (Just think about that for a minute – Illinois has a $13 billion shortfall – not $13 billion in expenditures, but is spending $13 billion more than they’re taking in this year. That’s roughly $1000 per Illinoisan over budget!), some legislators have decided that while they still care about most workers, in the interest of competitive fairness regarding casino tax receipts, we don’t care about you quite as much if you’re a casino worker. Even if you’re a single mother. Especially if you’re a single mother. We need money!
So there you have it – a dog humping a wooden leg. I’m pretty sure that this legislation, even if it passes the State Senate, won’t be signed by the governor, and that puts the cherry right on top of this whole cluster - think of a dog humping a wooden leg in the back of a pickup truck spinning its wheels in the mud.
So really, for the love of God, what is the purpose of this exercise in futility? Do we really care that people have safer workplaces? Or were we just tired of going to restaurants that smelled like smoke? Here in St. Louis (County), a countywide smoking ban was recently enacted, but it made sure to carve out very generous exemptions for bars and casino floors. Of course, all the major health organizations highlighted the positive effect it would have on workplace health, but I guess, again, does anybody care about the health of the bartender or blackjack dealer? It seems, once again, that we only really care about going out to eat (or bowling!) and not smelling like smoke. At the very least, if someone would just fess up to that (you fascist!), I'd at least feel less like it was such a huge waste of time.