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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, March 03, 2024

Debate up in flames

Today the very mention of Madison's smoking ban is enough to make most students' eyes glaze over, roll back into their heads and eventually close as they drift into a deep peaceful sleep where they dream of a world without broken record political debates.  




The real problem with the recent rekindling of this issue is not its REM-inducing capacity, but rather the obvious fact that the ban is a progressive regulation that has all the force of history-as well as logic and science-behind it. 




Few Daily Cardinal readers are likely to remember the 1950s, but those who can will be able to fill the young ones in on the fact that these years were a magical time for smokers, who were free to light up wherever they chose.  




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The images of this glorious smoker's world of smoggy lecture halls where letter-sweater-clad students in dark glasses solemnly jot down notes with one hand and puff on Chesterfields with the other look hilariously dated to today's viewer. 




Images of 1950s family life in America are also amusingly full of cigarette smokers. Fathers are depicted smilingly dragging on Lucky Strikes while they chat with little Johnny in the living room. Mothers can be seen bustling about the kitchen with a Benson & Hedges burning in an ashtray on the counter. 




A humorous photograph of a Tour de France cyclist being helped to smoke a cigarette while racing his bike has even become a popular item in poster stores now that the effects of smoking on one's health are well known. 




Many of the smoking ban's opponents must not be getting the obvious hint that these descriptions give. Smoking has progressively been banned in more places as the years have passed, and it is completely inevitable that it be banned in bars. 




Those who still cling to the antiquated notion that spewing tobacco fumes into public spaces is acceptable would benefit from a little trip to a library where they could look up some black and white photos of people smoking in airplanes, school buses and hospitals. 




After they have these images firmly in their memories they should laugh at them and realize that in 50 years a photograph of them smoking in a bar will look just as preposterous.  




As pertinent as it is, the momentum-of-history argument alone is not quite enough to justify the smoking ban. There are logical and political reasons, which along with well-known scientific reasons, should be enough to tap the last nails into the ban-debate's coffin. 




Simply put, human lungs are not intended to breathe smoke, but rather are evolved to breathe the mix of gases that are the earth's atmosphere and filter out the oxygen therein. In other words, breathing in the atmosphere without tobacco smoke is the neutral condition of existence for the human body. 




Smokers must face the fact that what they do when they smoke indoors alters this neutral state and infringes on the rights of other humans to exist as they naturally do. The logic of democracy dictates that the rights of the individual extend only to the point at which they infringe upon the rights of the group. 




Imagine if smoking were not a socially embedded act. In this case, since it provides no nutrition or benefit of any kind to the body, it would be a purely arbitrary yet extremely harmful ritual act.  




Tossing lit fireworks around a bar is easily analogous. It might be pleasing to the individual doing it but is dangerous for others and completely devoid of physical benefit. If lighting fireworks in bars was the socially entrenched act instead of smoking, it would doubtlessly be defended with equally plodding determination. 




The ban's detractors often cite the right of bar owners to allow whatever activities they wish to go on in their establishments. If this is truly what they believe, then why are they not also arguing for smoking rights in other business areas, such as airplanes, shopping malls and movie theaters? 




Even though the smoking ban affects the right of business owners to determine the rules in their private business space, it protects the public from second-hand smoke. Laws do reach into the private space that is a bar; drugs cannot be used there, fights that happen there are prosecutable and cigarette smoking is disallowed. 




It is time for public officials and the media alike to stop listening to the minority that is calling for a referendum to re-decide the smoking ban and allow the debate to die the quiet death it deserves. 




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