Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Rock Creek Rambler discovers the killswitch for the smoking ban.

For those of you out there who decry the coming smoking ban in DC, the Rock Creek Rambler, visiting San Francisco, may have discovered an interesting loophole.

As you know, the law that is being enacted on behalf of restaurant/bar employees as a workplace safety issue. And that is precisely how the ban proponents have framed their argument.

I have tried to keep my dog firmly out of this hunt because, with few exceptions (and the Rambler has been a sterling example of the exception) I have found the proponents of both sides to be some of the most unpleasant people I have ever met. Their chief concern seems to have nothing to do with law or safety or anything else. Each side mainly wants to revel in the suffering of the other. They just plain don't like each other, and if there was ever an abhorrent position from which to craft public policy, that's it. Frankly, what I want to see banned from bars are the people who have driven this issue on each side. If the DC Council could craft a law that results in both sides losing, I would hail them as the Solons of the 21st Century.

But personally, I think the ban does publicly kickstart general wellness--a good thing when you consider how left alone and abandoned many of us are as far as finding cost-effective entrees into the health care system. True, it would mean that we shall nevermore be able to use the sidewalk on 18th Street--and non-smokers will still shy away from Adams Morgan on account of the coming cumulus nicotine clouds that will be a permanent resident of that neighborhood--but it is important in this day and age to find way to get people on a health kick. Unless we're planning on defeating terrorists with obesity.

Nevertheless, I'm the type of person who abhors a specious argument regardless of positive outcomes, and I've always found the ban proponents legalargument to be specious and disingenuous. Consider: in all the celebrating that's been done over at the DCist comment boards and similar media, most people are happy about 1) their hair and how it will smell 2) ibid. w/r/t clothing 3) sticking it to smokers 4) overcoming their deep seated anxieties long enough to enter the Pharmacy Bar 5) et cetera--there has not, to my knowledge been a single hoo-rah-ray that approximates "Yay! What a victory for restaurant and bar employees!"

Let's be honest--for ban proponents, employees were the Trojan horse that was necessary to achieve a reduction in their shampoo costs. And regardless of the potential benefit the ban could provide, this always bothered me. I interviewed a handful of servers for an article in DCist that eventually got aborted (mainly because I was one of the only ones on staff who went into bars to do the asking and remain successfully sober enough to record the responses (not naming names!)) and I found that while there are employees who abhor the ban as well as employees who look forward to it, to a person, not a single one cited cigarette smoke as one of their health concerns. (Number one answer: orthopedic injuries, obvs. The surprise major health concern? Plantar fasciitis! Who knew?)

Why should that bother you? Simple. If you expect the people who backed the smoking ban by dressing themselves up as workplace safety mavens to spend a single second of their lives working to provide comprehensive workplace safety to waiters or barstaff (or anyone else for that matter), don't bother. It's not going to happen. They got nothing fo' ya, West Virginia mining families. Very much like the anti-ban folk, deep down, their area of concern ended at the dermis' edge.

But back to the point. The RCR in SF, has discovered that clever bars have taken the employee safety angle of the law and narrowcasted it to their own advantage by doing something so brilliantly smack-the-forehead innovative...that it's breathtaking. They've gotten rid of their employees! They've simply done away with employees! It's like killing the hostage!

Do you want The Raven to remain a smokers' haven, Christopher Hitchens? Wanna stay indoors as you suck on your Kools, Julian Sanchez? Convince your local dive establishment to give everyone on their staffs an OWNERSHIP stake. Once a bar is staffed entirely by owners, instead of employees, there's no one left for the law to protect. No one remaining with the standing to sue under the law.

Don't get me wrong, it'll be so so bad for you, but the irony, like Mr. Pibb and Red Vines, is crazy delicious.


PK said...


OK, Jason, two things:

1) I've told you about this "loophole" at least a half-dozen times since I moved back from SF five years ago. I realize it doesn't count unless a blogger says it, but still. Sheesh.

2) I don't think your argument - which amounts to "workers don't seem worried about it, so it's bullshit for other people to worry about it on their behalf" - is a very good one. I mean, you could say the same thing about health care in general, or about the national personal savings rate, or just about any other long-term vs. short-term argument. Servers in bars complain about orthopaedic health because their feet hurt. And that's understandable, and it sucks, but it's basically an unavoidable consequence of a job where your primary function is bringing people things. Besides, I don't know that I've ever heard of anybody dying of plantar fascitis.

The Deceiver said...

Dude. I honestly don't remember you telling me!

I'm not really making an argument that the government should step in and alleviate the orthopedic injuries of waitstaff. I'm merely pointing out a disconnect between what one party claims to say on their behalf versus what servers actually say. Believe me, I think people should wear seatbelts.

Largely, I just want to make sure that someone rips off the workplace safety mask from people who wear it out of pure convenience. Let's face it, it's the exact same shit Mr. Rove pulls every day.

You are correct about the relative survivability of plantar faschiitis, but you of all people should be able to appreciate just how debilitating it can be to a University of Virginia basketball team! Together, we could wipe out plantar fascism. Live the dream.

PK said...

Oh yeah, one more thing: Most of the bars in SF that went this route didn't have employees to begin with. They were mom&pop corner bars, and this whole thing has been a huge boon for them.

While I'm on the topic, I actually believe that the smoking ban was a great thing for business. Why? Because every bar in the city had a huge crowd of people standing out front. It made EVERY place seem hyped up and filled beyond capacity. It was only once you got inside that you realized all those people were just standing out there smoking because they couldn't do it inside. And by then, you had already ordered a beer (from the miraculously easily available bartender!)...

rcr said...

When I proclaimed "genius" to the bartender, he replied "well, we've had this ban since 97. You east coasters will catch up soon enough."

DC1974 said...

Humph. I have never mentioned this hear, but I've mentioned this oh and at least as many times as pk over at DCist. In fact, if you Google my handle: DC1974, a DCist comment thread pops up where someone is calling me a commie over this very point.

Having lived in California until only 2 years ago (and considering moving back with each passing day), I can tell you that this is NO loophole. In fact, it was the plan from the beginning. Remember, California is the only place with an employee-owned and unionized strip club in the U.S.

Since the original law banning smoking was written by and endorsed by the SEIU, the intention was always to benefit the workers or worker-owners over absentee owners.

On a second and more disturbing note for DC (who by the way has instituted a much more draconian and expensive -- surprise! -- penalty system than California), Chicago has also recently passed, again like California by voter initiative, a smoking ban. Like DC, however, there are a host of exceptions of and related to smoking lounges and cigar bars. So lo and behold who should plan to open a chain of smoking lounges? Well, RJR of course. These will be "upscale" cancer bars apparently.

Expect them to drop in DC soon.

The Deceiver said...

I always pay attention to your DCist comments, DC1974. You take the time and you add value. So don't be deterred by the inane children who still peddle "Commie" as an insult.

Your last point, about the coming Big Tobacco Hangouts, is well taken. As I've said, this debate has been largely fomented and rebuffed by two sides of warring, pissy hotheads. It's a bad place to come from when you're crafting policy and law, because the most important law of all--the Law of Unintended Consequences--is most routinely forgotten.

DC1974 said...

Jason --

Thanks for the kind words. I don't think Commie is an insult. And really, if the commenter at DCist knew anything about me, they'd realize how ridiculous that statement is. Well maybe not that ridiculous. But close.

I just wanted to add, California has now declared second hand smoke to be an official toxin (and therefore regulated by the California version of the EPA, the Air Resources Board).

For more news read here.

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