Point/Counterpoint: Winning the Smoking Ban Debate

Rebuttals to frequently-used arguments used by ban advocates (special thanks to Ban the Ban Michigan for the info).

1. Smoking bans curb smoking.

Here in Michigan, the ban had no effect on the state’s smoking rate, according to The Economic Impact of Michigan’s Dr. Ron Davis Smoke-Free Air Law: A Report to the Michigan Department of Community Health, August 6, 2012. And this isn’t unique; smoking rates across the world have either stagnated or gone up since smoking bans were enacted. In Ireland, for example, the smoking rate increased to an 11-year high–that’s up to a third of the population–after that country enacted its ban.

2. Smoking bans save society money.

The rationale behind this argument is that smoking bans reduce smoking, which is also false (see #1). The hidden argument ban supporters want people to see with this one is that smokers cost society money. This is unequivocally false; smokers pay for themselves through taxes on cigarettes with plenty to spare.

As the New England Journal of Medicine put it: “…in a population in which no one smoked the costs would be 7% higher among men and 4% higher among women than the costs in the current mixed population of smokers and non-smokers… complete smoking cessation would produce a net increase in health care costs.”

Perhaps what “costs society money” is how this surplus money is misused; We humbly suggest it be used on (legitimate) cancer research.

  • From “The Proposed Tobacco Settlement: Who Pays for the Health Costs of Smoking:”
    “Smoking has apparently brought financial gain to both the federal and state governments, especially when tobacco taxes are taken into account. In general, smokers do not appear to currently impose net financial costs on the rest of society.”
  • From “Smokers’ burden on society: Myth and reality in Canada:”
    “Net additional external costs borne by non-smokers worked out to $244 million for Canada in 1986. However, smokers are responsible for a much larger flow in the other direction… Finally, the massive tax burden borne by smokers alone means that they account for a further transfer of close to $3.2 billion to the benefit of non-smokers.”
  • From “Social cost and the cigarette excise tax: A misguided rationale for an inefficient and unfair policy:”
    “The widespread belief that smokers do not pay their own way is the result of repeated assertions that are totally lacking in empirical support. There is simply no evidence that smokers impose costs on others by making more use of medical care than do nonsmokers.”
  • From “Confusing, misleading CDC figures on economic costs of smoking:”
    “On balance, most studies find that smokers cost the government less in terms of health care outlays than the sum of what they save the government in unclaimed retirement benefits and pay the government in tobacco taxes at existing tax rates.”
  • From “Does smoking increase medical care expenditure:”
    “The results imply that smoking does not increase medical care expenditure and, therefore, reducing smoking is unlikely to decrease it.”

The important takeaway from the above studies is that despite these facts, anti-smokers want people to think smokers impose a burden on society.

3. Smoking bans are good for business

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4. Anti-smoking organizations/ban advocates have no reason to mislead.

It can be said that ban advocates have immense financial motivations to imply secondhand smoke is harmful. Smoking bans may not reduce smoking (see #1), but they certainly make smokers try to quit–sending them directly into the arms of mega-pharmaceuticals that make nicotine gum and other try-to-quit smoking products. These pharmaceuticals donate millions to anti-smoking organizations, and have also donated large “campaign contributions” to legislators. These may serve as investments with colossal payoffs, both to drug companies and to the anti-smoking organizations they finance.

5. This ban is what the public wants.

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6. Studies/science have proven secondhand smoke is dangerous

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Regarding cancer, the majority of studies show correlations that are so weak they would be dismissed if the subject were anything else and present a much more compelling argument as to secondhand smoke’s harmlessness in this regard. The general rule of thumb that a relative risk should exceed at least a 2.0 is by necessity disregarded by anti-smoking organizations to make this argument.

There’s a much stronger case to be made that electromagnetic radiation from power lines is a cancer-causing agent, for example, yet the data still isn’t strong enough for the EPA to classify power lines as cancer-causing agents. Hair dryers and cell phones also constitute greater relative risks than secondhand smoke, but the data is still not strong enough for them to be considered dangerous, either. It’s a double-standard resulting from pressure from anti-smoking organizations.

7. There are (various numbers) chemicals in secondhand smoke!

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8. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke.

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9. Ventilation/filtration cannot protect patrons and employees from SHS.

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10. The air is now “safer,” “cleaner,” or “healthier” because of the ban

Actually, our amendment proposal for the ban can make the air better than it is now. Establishments were much more likely to be running ventilation pre-ban than they are now. Because of this, the air in many places is now much more likely to be contaminated with particles that actually are dangerous, such as mold, formaldehyde, airborne viruses and bacteria, not to mention common asthma and allergy triggers.

Frequently used catch-phrases

11. I have the right to breathe clean air!

Our amendment proposal can make the air better than it is now.

12. I have the right to go to a public place and not breathe smoke.

Bars, restaurants and the like are not public places. They’re private property that the owner is inviting you into. As the Supreme Court concluded in Lloyd Corp v Tanner, businesses do not lose their private character just because the owner invites people in.

Do you have the right to go somewhere and not breathe dust, pollen, dander, mites, viruses and bacteria? Because that’s what’s in the air of your favorite bar at the moment. And it will remain there until the ban is amended.

13. Smoking bans respect the rights of ALL people–smokers and nonsmokers.

In Michigan, the general public feels the ban goes too far. Smoking bans respect the “rights” of only a small group of people. Before the ban, each business owner had the right to choose whether or not to allow smoking. No one was forced to allow it. No one was forced to patronize any establishment. No one was forced to work at any establishment. Everyone had a choice, but the ban has taken choice away from everyone.

14. Health departments have the right to act for the protection of patrons and workers / It’s a public health issue.

It’s called a public health issue, but that doesn’t make it a legitimate one.
Health departments’ focus relating to the food service industry is to help minimize exposure to microbes and organisms that could have direct and immediate health effects. Secondhand smoke has no such effect.

Furthermore, our amendment proposal can make the air better than it is now.

15. There are more important things to worry about.

When debating bans before they’re enacted, anti-smokers treat them as if they’re the most important issue ever to face humanity. Once they’re passed, they’ll often claim it’s unimportant to talk about it–or think about it–any further. Business owners, former business owners, smokers, and their friends and loved ones beg to differ.

16. Smokers are just selfish.

We support a reasonable compromise to one of the strictest smoking bans in existence. Most Michigan residents feel the ban goes too far; it appeals only to a small minority. No one’s talking about forcing all business owners to allow smoking. Letting the property owners decide based upon the desires of their customers will give everyone a choice.

17. If you don’t support a smoking ban, you’re supporting “big tobacco.”

The anti-smoking industry adopted a strategy of vilifying tobacco companies in the 90s; a public relations tactic to counter the widespread belief their true motive was hostility toward smokers. Two decades later, they’ve dropped the pretense, and are often now unashamedly openly hostile toward smokers.

It’s akin to saying if you don’t support our tax on tea, you’re supporting Big Tea. Or that you’re just a tea addict. It’s the tired “you’re either with us, or you’re the enemy.” In any case, the Big Tobacco argument presupposes that smoking bans reduce smoking and that a rollback would increase smoking. This is untrue.

18. So-and-so got lung cancer from secondhand smoke.

Actually, there’s not one documented death from secondhand smoke–not one. Not even anti-smoking organizations pretend they can name anyone who has died from it.

19. A smoking section in a restaurant is like a peeing section in a swimming pool.

In use since the early 1980s, this oft-repeated catch phrase may be attention-grabbing, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. A person can’t tell upon entering a swimming pool if someone has urinated in it, but people can easily tell upon entering a restaurant or bar if people are smoking–and can therefore choose to turn around and walk away. In fact, our proposal would require business owners who choose to allow smoking within designated indoor areas to post signage at customer entrances. This way, customers can make an informed decision whether or not to enter.

Additionally, a swimming pool changes its water about once a year. A decently-ventilated restaurant changes its air roughly 50,000 times a year. 
Our amendment proposal can make the air in designated smoking areas better than that in nonsmoking areas, and given what’s floating around in the average bar or restaurant at this moment, you might say a business without our exemption is like a peeing section in a swimming pool!

20. A proprietor who allows smoking is like a proprietor who punches his customers in the face.

This catch-phrase has been around since at least the early 90s. It neglects to mention that businesses which allow smoking are occupied only by those who choose to enter voluntarily. You could just as easily say that a business which allows cooking on their property is like an owner punching people with asthma in the face.

21. Smoking bans are for the protection of workers.

Visit this page. What would actually protect workers would be the implementation of our amendments to the ban.

22. The #1 killer in the workplace is secondhand smoke.

Actually, the Bureau of Labor Statistics readily admits it’s impossible to know if any worker’s illness was brought on by their surroundings or environmental factors at work. Information on work-related fatal illnesses are not reported in BLS tracking records; they’re excluded because the incubation period of many occupational illnesses and the difficulty in actually linking them with work environments.

And if they’re still concerned, our common-sense compromise on Michigan’s smoking ban would actually improve workplace air quality over what it is currently!

23. Smoking bans are for the protection of the children.

Our very reasonable compromise solution would allow smoking at outdoor patios and designated indoor adult-only areas.

24. My relative died from smoking!

And my relative died from drinking. No one’s saying smoking is good for you, but our smoking ban amendment would help to improve workplace air above what it actually is with the ban.

25. Smoke bothers my asthma/allergies/other conditions.

Our smoking ban amendment would help to improve workplace air above what it actually is with the ban. It would require owners to install and maintain equipment which will filter out not only smoke, but allergy and asthma triggers such as dust, pollen, dander, mites, and illness-causing airborne viruses and bacteria. This equipment can bring the air to within EPA standards for good to moderate air quality and to within the EPA’s “healthy” range.

26. Secondhand smoke is more dangerous than smoking itself.

You’d have to suck it up through a straw for this to be true. A puff of smoke directly into your lungs vs. one mixed with an entire room full of air and filtered through air-scrubbing equipment are two very different things.

27. I’m a business owner, and I support the ban

This one’s pretty rare, but it happens. So why would a business owner support a law which forbids them from making a choice they already had before? At first thought, it makes no sense, but the answer’s simple.

If, before the ban, the owner ran a smoke-free establishment (by their own choice) doing so might have kept a lot of customers away. The ban was enacted, a lot of places went out of business, and potential customers previously frequenting other locales have fewer options.

Scaling back the ban would give customers more options; the pro-ban business owner is worried about their competition flourishing in the event of a rollback.

If you do encounter a business owner who likes the ban, please notify us, and we will help spread the word.

28. Your rights end where my nose begins.

Not when your nose has entered property owned by someone else. In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner that a place of business does not become “public” just because the public is invited in (“…Nor does property lose its private character merely because the public is generally invited to use it for designated purposes”).

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that, though freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed to all U.S. citizens, it does not supersede private property rights. (This means, for example, that bar owners can kick someone out if they’re attempting to make a political speech). Freedom of speech is certainly in the Constitution, yet the right to not smell certain smells when you voluntarily enter someone else’s property is nowhere to be found there.

Bars, restaurants, pool halls, bowling alleys and the like are privately owned; occupied only by those who choose to enter, including employees. No one is forced to patronize or work on any given piece of privately-owned property, and at no time during the course of its designated purpose does that property become a public space.

29. What if people blow smoke in my face?!

What if someone shoved food in your face? Or dumped a drink on your head? Or sang a song you didn’t like? What if someone next to you orders fish, even though you hate the smell of seafood? We do not support banning something from privately-owned property on the ability to imagine someone doing something outlandish with it. If this were the case, food, drinks, tables, chairs, and utensils would also have to be banned. And obviously, things cannot be banned on the basis of a person not liking it. Otherwise, everything would be banned.