joker123 The NY Smoking Ban – Mike’s Elitist Assault (NYPost Oct.14 2002) » Jonathan Foreman
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Though I am not a smoker, Mayor Bloomberg’s drive to ban smoking from every corner of every bar and restaurant in New York seems creepy and wrongheaded.

It is weird enough that his administration seems to feel so confident it has solved such social problems as crime, homelessness and dysfunctional schools that it can expend time and energy on the smoking crisis.

But the most distasteful thing about this puritanical, righteous crusade is its deep contempt for ordinary people and the choices they make. The mayor promotes his coercive legislation as protecting the health of people who work in bars and restaurants, as if they have no choice but to assume some great risk. But even if you buy the much-debated science on the risk of second-hand smoke, this is preposterous.

While we rightly don’t rely on the market to enforce genuine issues of workplace health and safety, it is hardly as if jobs are so tight in the hospitality industry that thousands of waitstaff are forced to work in bars or restaurant smoking sections against their will.

Does anyone believe that the Mayor or anyone else in the anti-smoking movement cares about restaurant staff? The obsession with banning smoking has always been an upper-middle class, Baby Boomer fetish. Its devotees are oblivious to the financial or even psychological costs of their cause.

For them, it’s obvious that restaurant workers are better off unemployed (as many of them would be thanks to the proposed law) than working in the vicinity of smokers, even if the workers themselves might think otherwise.

This elitist arrogance seems even more callous if you take into account just who bears the brunt of anti-smoking laws. Just look at the people you see huddled outside office buildings, cigarettes in hand, in the worst of weather. They’re disproportionately the secretaries, assistants and messengers, not the law-firm partners or big-deal bankers. (They’re so disproportionately female, in fact, that one French friend asked me how there could be many hookers standing around in Midtown at midday.)

Add in the folk who really do need cigarettes to get themselves through life- the mentally ill in half-way houses, the recovering alcoholics you see puffing away around coffee cups at 2 a.m. This is a slice of the population with no chance of standing up to well-organized, well-funded upper-middle-class busybodies.

You also have to wonder if Bloomberg and his allies have even considered the extent to which a smoking ban will repress New York’s cosmopolitan character.

It’s no secret that foreigners – whether expensively dressed Italian bankers or busboys recently arrived from Ecuador – like to smoke, especially when drinking and eating. So do lots of artists and other creative people, who have fled to NewYork from less cosmopolitan parts of the country. If they and all the wealthy Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians who choose to live and play here, wanted to live in a health-obsessed, smoke-free paradise, they would be in San Francisco.

Smoking is clearly an unhealthy practice. But H.L. Mencken once pointed out that the puritans banned bear-baiting not because of the pain it caused the bear but because of the pleasure it afforded the people watching . . .

If the mayor has more generous motives than this, and has any respect for citizens he serves, he should heed the suggestion of Elaine Kaufman of Elaine’s restaurant: Make smoking an option for which restaurants pay, like a cabaret license.

Then those of us who want to own, work in or go to restaurants and bars where we or our friends can light up could decide for ourselves if the pleasures of tobacco are worth the risks.



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