Geov Parrish is a (generally) respected progressive columnist for the Seattle Weekly and a radio commentator on KBCS. But on a recent Friday afternoon, Parrish broadcast a surprisingly ill-conceived call, Government–Butt Out!, for Washingtonians to dump I-901, the Healthy Indoor Air initiative.
Unfortunately, Geov is blowing smoke in our eyes and it’s time to clear the air (one bad joke deserves at least two others). His arguments overreach and betray an ignorance of scientific fact regarding the severe ill-effects of second-hand smoke on those in and around public buildings.
What’s more, he should look to see who his bedfellows are opposing I-901: restaurant, bar, bowling alley and casino owners. And look who’s supporting it: American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Seattle Times and seven other NW dailies, and Swedish Hospital. I know which side I’d prefer to be on.
Here’s what the initiative will do according to the Healthy Indoor Air for Washington site:
I-901 protects workers and the public in Washington State from exposure to toxic secondhand smoke. The Healthy Indoor Air Initiative amends the 1985 Clean Air Act to remove exemptions for workplaces such as restaurants, bars, skating rinks, bowling alleys and casinos. The initiative prohibits smoking in all public places and 25 feet or less from entrances, exits, opening windows and ventilation intakes, in order to prevent secondhand smoke from filtering back inside.
Anyone who’s had to breathe cigarette smoke while trying to enjoy a meal with their children in a restaurant will understand why I-901 is a good thing. Anyone who works in an office building and is forced to run the gauntlet between smokers taking their cigarette break each day knows why I-901 is a good thing.
But Geov inexplicably takes what I’d call an extreme Republican-libertarian perspective on the initiative. According to him, government doesn’t have any role in protecting the public from cigarette smoke. It’s more an issue of civility and common sense; and smokers and non-smokers somehow just have to learn to get along better (reminds me of Rodney King’s pathetic: “Why can’t we all just learn to get along?”).
Along the way, Geov says some real whoppers. First up, I-901 to him smacks of Prohibition!
This initiative goes about as far as it’s politically possible to go in this country towards prohibition. The problem is that, as with any other drug, prohibition doesn’t work. People are going to get their nicotine fix regardless. When are we going to learn? Addictive, toxic drugs are a public health problem – not a matter for the law.
That’s utterly ridiculous. The Initiative doesn’t prohibit people from smoking. They can smoke at home. They can smoke outdoors. They can smoke in their cars. They just can’t smoke in places that impact the health of others in public settings. If this really were Prohibition, we’d be closing down the tobacco companies and making it illegal for them to make cigarettes. No one’s proposed that.
Another of Geov’s whoppers concerns second-hand smoke. Apparently, he doesn’t know (or refuses to concede) that second-hand smoke actually kills people (38,000 each year to be specific):
As for the dangers of second hand smoke, this is not nuclear radiation, where no level of limited exposure, no matter how infinitely small, could be toxic…Most [smokers] are also aware that second-hand smoke can be obnoxious, and make reasonable efforts to balance being polite about it with their need for a fix.
So, Geov, what level of death from second-hand smoke are you willing to accept? How much smoke is OK to breathe in public? A little? A moderate amount? And by the way, who’s to judge what’s an acceptable amount of it to breathe? Parrish is no doctor, yet he seems willing to make judgments that require a doctor’s expertise. You’ll also note he calls second-hand smoke “obnoxious,” but not more accurately “lethal.” And finally, Geov thinks this is all a courtesy thing and smokers and non-smokers should be able to work it out using common sense.
I don’t know about you, but with something as dangerous as breathing toxic fumes from cigarettes I’m not willing to leave it to common courtesy. I want the law to weigh in and provide guidance for smokers’ behavior. That way, I’ll know that me and my children will have less exposure to the bad stuff.
Geov claims (falsely in my opinion) that smokers will not quit due to societal pressure:
Most people aren’t going to quit just because society thinks it’s a bad idea. Heck, that’s why more than a few people start smoking.
The reasons why people quit smoking are myriad and different for each person. But if society makes smoking less convenient (while protecting the health of the non-smoking public), that may discourage some from smoking. If people who smoke are considered uncool, unhealthy or undesirable as potential mates or employees, that too makes smoking less attractive. If even a single smoker quits for any of these reasons, then the Initiative will have been worthwhile.
The last straw is turning smokers into a discriminated minority:
What we’re talking about, then, is…enshrining pariahhood in law. (“If you smoke, you must do so away from us civilized people.”) This is the very embodiment of a majority exercising legislative power over a minority.
Really, this is pathetic. Smokers are in no way a minority as in an ethnic community. If you wish to say they are discriminated against, it is only because their habit can cause their own death and that of others. Discrimination suffered by African-Americans or other groups derives solely from the color of their skin and not from the fact that they cause harm to others in the way smokers do.
I’ve got a prediction…Geov is going to be on the losing side on this one come Election Day.