Where There’s Smoke There’s Controversy: Let Me Clear the Air

In New Orleans, smoking is a favorite past time of many generations. Now more than ever, smoking is a socially accepted, regardless of gender or age. Widespread use has even led to the phenomenon of the “social smoker”. While the dangerous effects of smoking have been widely exposed, recent attempts at legislation have evoked a firestorm of controversy. As with most controversial issues, the smoking debate has become heavily politicized. On January 1st, 2007, Louisiana, Senate Bill 742 was passed, which banned smoking in restaurants. This bill defined restaurants as any establishment receiving greater than 50% of its revenues from food sales. Restaurant and bar owners argue that the government is becoming too involved in private business practice. Should the government have the authority to dictate what’s appropriate?

As you probably know, smoking is very controversial. In a struggling city, economically-tied to hospitality, it is very important that Louisiana lawmakers get this right. During these hard times, New Orleanians must preserve the same accepting, friendly environment that has made us so unique. No other city embraces cultural differences quite like New Orleans: where whites, blacks, Hispanics, and others can chit-chat casually during an afternoon stroll or streetcar ride – with no moments of that awkward silence so common in other cities.  If you’ve traveled outside of New Orleans, you’ve probably noticed the difference. We say “Hi” to strangers every day and even hug unknowns when the Saints score a touchdown. New Orleans is a city that embraces everything from decadence to interracial relationships to minority leadership; the city that elected the first Vietnamese American to Congress in US History – Joseph Cao. We are known as a city that accepts everyone – the city that doesn’t judge. We can’t let a hot-button issue like smoking, where seemingly everyone has an opinion, distract us from that culture. We don’t want to be the kind of city that punishes the many for the complaints of the few. New Orleans needs welcome everyone, smokers and nonsmokers alike.

We have become society focused on shaping lifestyles through regulation. Are smoking bans enacted to protect nonsmokers or are they passed to “encourage” (see Al Capone) smokers to limit their habits? Proponents of the bans have even admitted their logical fallacy. In an interview on Penn and Teller’s Bullshit!, Joe Churner – President of Smoke-Free Educational Services – made it clear: “The leading cause of death and disease is tobacco addiction”. However, this basis for supporting smoking bans is nonsensical. Second-hank smoke is not addictive. Obviously, the goal is not to protect the “rights” of nonsmokers, but to reduce the number of smokers. The government simply has no place in this discussion or decision.  In “Is the Smoking Ban a Good Idea”, Christopher Hitchins, a radical columnist for Vanity Fair, provides a unique view on the smoking ban controversy in London. His argument, delivered through sarcastic tone and references, delivers several thought-provoking messages. He argues that the smoking ban is “no longer about the protection of nonsmokers.” Rather,” he continues, “It is about state-enforced behavior modification”. He likens the ban to the prohibition movements of the 1920s. Hitchins makes it clear: this isn’t about health, it’s about control.

What do you think? Everyone knows exposure to smoky air is more dangerous than “clean” air. We’ve watched the commercials and read the billboards; we know about carcinogens and toxins and that “every cigarette takes seven years of your life”. Sure – there’s no doubt about it: smoking is dangerous. We’d certainly be hard-pressed to identify advocates for the benefits of smoking. But what about nonsmokers? Is second-hand smoke deleterious enough to justify the redefining of our civil liberties? As David Kuneman addresses in his article, “The Myth of Second Hand Smoke”, according to the World Health Organization, second-hand smoke only negligibly increases the risks of lung cancer. In fact, the US Department of Energy agrees: second-hand smoke simply isn’t as dangerous as expected. Kuneman notes that even OSHA revoked a twelve year petition for the banning of smoking in workplaces based on a “lack of evidence”. And sure, cigarette smoke can be annoying and disgusting and include many other bothersome traits, but can we ban something because it is simply…..malodorous? As Penn and Teller insinuated, banning smoking on the basis of its smell is akin to banning music you don’t want to hear. If you don’t like the music, go somewhere else.

Perhaps the most glaring assessment of the “harms” of smoking came from Congressional Research Service:

  • The statistical evidence does not appear to support a conclusion that there are substantial health effects of passive smoking.
  • It is possible that very few or even no deaths can be attributed to second hand smoke.
  • If there are any lung cancer deaths from second hand smoke, they are likely to be concentrated among those subjected to the highest exposure levels (e.g., spouses).
  • The absolute risk, even to those with the greatest exposure levels, is uncertain.

Now that you’ve seen the facts, has your opinion changed? If second hand smoke isn’t dangerous, why ban smoking? The underlying basis of these bans is government interference and control. Should the government be allowed to ban a legal practice in a private setting? The answer is simple: No.

Smoking policies should be handled by bar owners – not elected officials. Business owners should have the ability to operate their companies in the way they see fit. The market should dictate the nature of business, not the government. If enough people stop going to a bar or restaurant because they do not want to be around smoking, then the bar owner will make the decision to ban smoking in his establishment. American was founded on the principles of laissez-faire, defined by dictionary.com as the “practice or doctrine of noninterference in the affairs of others, especially with reference to individual conduct or freedom of action”. While laissez-faire typically refers to economic policy, the definition above identifies its broad scope. Our country was founded on this principle: let people manage their own affairs – and more importantly, keep government out. The government has plenty of roles, none of which should include restricting a legal activity in a private setting.

We need to talk about privilege. Proponents of these smoking bans argue that smokers can simply walk outside to smoke. In the same sense, however, patrons bothered by smoke also have the option to take their business elsewhere.  Thomas Lambert, Professor of Anti-Trust Law at the University of Missouri, makes the case for establishment owners in his essay, “The Case Against Smoking Bans”. Lambert argues that unlike public places, where the air is owned by everyone, air within private property is owned by the business owner. Therefore, he should be permitted to maintain the air quality that maximizes patronage. Lambert contends that nonsmokers will leave if they are not “compensated by some positive attribute of the space at issue – say, cheap drinks or particularly attractive clientele.” His argument makes tons of sense. If business owners do not provide some enticement for nonsmokers, he will always lose them to alternatives. Moreover, smoking increases economic efficiency by creating varieties of establishments, some that offer smoking and some that do not. Forcing businesses to adopt no-smoking policies inhibits economic growth by dictating their market and blending their uniqueness. Therefore, we can only conclude that smoking bans inhibit small business proliferation and undermine classical American culture. What about bartenders and waitresses in smoking environments? Shouldn’t we protect them from second-hand smoke. Lambert points out that these employees are compensated as well. Smelling like cigarettes at the end of the night comes at a price: employees may demand higher pay for smoky working conditions, just as deep-sea fisherman demand higher pay than janitors. If insufficiently compensated, an unsatisfied employee will seek employment where pay is commensurate with the quality of the job.

At the end of the day, we must review the facts. Second hand smoke has not proven to be dangerous. The public has been misguided by assumptions and clever advertising by smoking-ban proponents. Since second hand smoke is not an immediate health hazard, there is no reason we should waver from our laissez-faire roots of limited government. New Orleans’ business owners should be afforded the opportunity to operate as they see fit.

We, as Americans, need to revoke our rights and fight these bans.

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Second-Hand Smoker’s Cough: NOT the Business of Barroom Bureaucracy

Should Louisiana politicians ban smoking in bars and restaurants in New Orleans?

To the casual reader standing in my kitchen,

If you are reading this letter, you are in my house. I, however, am venturing into the realm of smoking laws in Louisiana. And yes, I’m breathing through my nose. I chose to research this topic because I feel strongly that the government should not interfere with business owners’ decisions. I feel that the strong, articulate essay I will write at the finale of this adventure will be much more persuasive if I gather good evidence of my claims. I feel that there is substantial evidence pointing in the direction of my position and am confident I will be able to show the world the obvious: that smoking policies should be handled by bar owners – not elected officials. In my opinion, business owners should have the ability to operate their companies in the way they see fit. I think that the market should dictate the nature of business, not the government. If enough people stop going to a bar or restaurant because they do not want to be around smoking, then the bar owner will make the decision to ban smoking in his establishment. I think that restaurants should be required to having smoking and non-smoking sections. However, in bars that do not serve food, owners should have the right to run their businesses completely as they wish.

As you probably know, smoking is very controversial. In a struggling city, economically-tied to hospitality, it is very important that Louisiana lawmakers get this right. During these hard times, New Orleanians must preserve the same accepting, friendly environment that has made it so unique. No other city embraces cultural differences quite like New Orleans: where whites, blacks, Hispanics, and others can chit-chat casually during an afternoon stroll or streetcar ride – with no moments of that awkward silence so common in other cities.  If you’ve traveled outside of New Orleans, you’ve probably noticed the difference. We say “Hi” to strangers every day and even hug unknowns when the Saints score a touchdown. New Orleans is a city that embraces everything from decadence to interracial relationships to minority leadership; the city that elected the first Vietnamese American to Congress in US History – Joseph Cao. We are known as a city that accepts everyone – the city that doesn’t judge. We can’t let a hot-button issue like smoking, where seemingly everyone has an opinion, distract us from that culture.

We don’t want to be the kind of city that punishes the many for the complaints of the few. New Orleans needs to remain welcome to everyone, smokers and nonsmokers alike. Our laws need to be structured in such a way as to protect the rights of our business owners to stay their unique courses. There is a campaign called “Let’s Be Totally Clear” which advocates for non-smoking on the behalf of hospitality industry employees. I intend on investigating this campaign because it is important to hear both sides of every story.

While it is minutely possible that my mind may change, I fully expect to only strengthen my stance on this issue.

Simply put,

I choose not to work in a coal mine because I don’t want the Black lung.

I choose not to be a police officer because I don’t want to get shot.

I also choose not to be a smoker nor work in a smoky environment because I don’t want lung cancer. In addition, I also find the smell of cigarette smoke disgusting.

I just feel that the government is going too far with this type of legislation.

Asian Geniuses and Black Guilt: Today’s Racial Narratives in a Nutshell

Some have argued that the LeBron James/Gisele Bundchen Vogue magazine cover reinforces certain racial narratives, especially the “black athlete” narrative. In this image, James’ animalistic, intimidating demeanor evoked a firestorm of controversy. Many argued that the image only enhances the notion that in order for a black man to be successful, he must be an athlete. My definition of a racial narrative is any idea – based on stereotype – that becomes accepted in the subconscious of society. Typically these stereotypes become accepted because they are neither overwhelmingly denied by members of the race or because members of that race act in a manner consistent with the stereotype. Two common racial narratives I have noticed are the “genius Asian” and the “black man vs. the police”.

In “The ‘Shape’ of Race”, feminist write Rebecca Hyman echoes these sentiments when referencing the concept of the ‘black athlete’. She argues that the overuse of these racial narratives causes them to become ingrained in society. Hyman mentions that in times past there was a “prohibition of black men sleeping with white women”. She says that black men were considered rough, brutal, and animalistic. While these traits do not fit the ideal suitor for a white woman, they coincide with the identities of athletes. Athletes are not usually smooth and clean-cut. They tend to be rough, animalistic, and uncontrolled, suggesting that the niche for African Americans is athletics. While Hyman’s article articulates the “black athlete” social narrative, there are many examples of these ideas in society today.

On TV, Asian characters are typically the scientists or the smart ones who solve the puzzles and problems of others. Very rarely are they portrayed as unintelligent. It has become widely accepted that Asian families emphasize the value of education more than other races. I believe that this constant portrayal of Asians as the smart ones has created the stereotype that all Asians are smart and studious. Generalizations like these, even when positive, simply aren’t accurate. While there are certainly many smart Asian people, surely they are not all geniuses. However, this generalization is so prevalent that it may even cause employers to hire Asian candidates over other candidates of equal qualifications. This idea that Asians are hard-working and goal-driven could potentially benefit them in the workplace. Comedians like Carlos Mencia reinforce these racial narratives in their comedic monologues. Mencia mimics Asian parents pressuring their kids to get perfect scores on tests. His sentiments express the common racial narrative that all Asians are smart.

Another example of a racial narrative is the idea that the police are on the patrol for the guilty black man. In movies like “Pulp Fiction”, even black policemen are discriminatory against their own race. As Jack White points out in his article “An Equal and Opposite Overreaction”, “The racial narrative, despite all the changes we’ve made, is so stubbornly embedded in our psyches that is prevents us from seeing clearly”. White, an ironically-named African American author, points out in his article that a white officer interacts with black citizens in a different frame of mind than he would when interacting with other white citizens. There is an intangible, unspoken apprehension in the air. The racial significance is clear to both parties during this interaction. In the same sense, black civilians approach interaction with white officers differently than with black officers. Instances like the Rodney King assault only reinforce the racial narrative of the black man vs. the law. White argues that there are separate white and black interpretations of these events and that these interpretations need to be taken into account when examining scenarios.

Situations like these are mocked on TV as well. In one episode of the popular 90’s TV show, “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, the two young, black protagonists are pulled over while driving slowly in an expensive car in a white neighborhood. While the officer is at the door of the car, Will, one of the passengers knows what is coming, while Carlton, the passenger has had limited exposure to racial conflicts, is naïve that the officer is skeptical of his true intentions. After they are released from jail, Carlton begins to realize the racial narrative that black men must constantly defend themselves when faced by law enforcement. I think that young African Americans who view this kind of behavior probably believe that this is the way the world works – that the police truly are out to get them. Therefore, when they get questioned by a white officer, they are probably more defensive than they would be if they had never seen or heard of scenarios like the one mention in “The Fresh Prince of Belair”. I think that when white children watch this type of scene, they are likely to deny that it occurs, although in reality it probably does occur with some frequency.

Overall, I think it is important to realize that racial narratives can easily be reinforced by imagery and media. Television shows, magazine photos, internet articles, and even comedians strengthen these stereotypes for young viewers and shape the way young generations think. These racial narratives are so ingrained in society that it seems we will never be completely rid of them.

Here is the link to the Jack White article “Equal and Opposite Overreaction” article on theroot.com:

http://www.theroot.com/views/equal-and-opposite-overreaction

I have attached a few videos of the aforementioned “Fresh Prince of Belair” scenes.

 

VII, returning to college, and a great dinner party….

My name is William Oakland and I am a student at UNO. This is the first blog I have ever written, so a lot of this is new to me. I chose to name my blog “VII Says”, because I am a seventh-generation William Oakland. There aren’t many people out there who are sevenths, so it seemed like the perfect title. I chose “From the Corner of My Eye” as a tagline because it refers to one of my favorite books, “From the Corner of His Eye”, by Dean Koontz. This blog is part of an ongoing assignment for my English class. Hopefully, many of my classmates’ blogs are as rough as mine.

Professor Poche suggested that we write our first blog as an introduction of ourselves to the class. So I guess I should tell you a few more things about myself. I am 23 years old (almost 24 – gasp!)  and a returning student at the University. I actually haven’t taken a class since 2006. Needless to say, its been tough readjusting to the college environment, especially working a full-time job this time around. After my experiences, I’m already using the old “stay-in-school” cliche to college students I know who are considering their alternatives. At this point, it seems like a no-brainer to do what it takes to graduate.

Professor Poche also mentioned that we could use our in-class worksheet for ideas on what to write in our first blog. The question that caught my eye was: “If you could have dinner with three people, whether dead or alive, who would you choose?” My answer was Lucille Ball, Steve Carell, and Adriana Lima. I think Lucille Ball and Steve Carell would be hilarious to sit with, probably to the extent that it would be hard to eat. Adriana Lima would surely provide great conversation as well.

Hopefully the rest of this semester goes better than this first blog entry.