Jonathan David Morris
September 19, 2006
When banning smoking, please speak English
By Jonathan David Morris

Over the summer, Geno's Steaks in Philly made national headlines when owner Joey Vento posted a sign in his window saying: "This is America. When ordering, speak English." The whole City of Philadelphia could use the same reminder. In fact, so could the country. I don't know what the hell language we're speaking in America. But whatever it is, English isn't it.

Last week, Philly became the latest city to ban smoking in public places. This was the culmination of several years and about 8,000 near misses on the part of local anti-smoking forces. Right up until the final hours, some people feared Mayor John Street would veto the legislation. Not because he opposed it, but because it wasn't tough enough. The ban covers smoking in most bars and restaurants; Mayor Street wanted one that included sidewalk cafés.

Nevertheless, he signed it — pinching his nose with one hand, holding a pen with the other. People treated this as some sort of victory. Yet anyone with any understanding of English could've predicted it.

Philadelphia was always going to pass anti-smoking legislation. If it didn't happen now, it was going to happen eventually. Once planted in a region's imagination, smoking bans take on a death-and-taxes certainty. It's never a matter of if they will happen, but how they will happen, when they will happen, and who will get to take credit for it.

This is partly because anti-smoking groups are tenacious, and partly because smoking is a crappy habit. However, neither of these things explain why smoking bans are becoming inevitable. The real reason so many cities have banned smoking in public places is because of the words "public places." Somehow, this phrase has come to describe privately owned bars and restaurants, which, by nature, tend to be privately owned.

Just because you go "out in public" to visit these places doesn't make them public any more than having sex in a park in broad daylight makes the park private. There's an obvious difference between public and private property, and reasonable human beings can spot this difference. Unfortunately, this country is full of something, but it isn't reasonable human beings.

I don't care if it sounds like I'm splitting hairs here. To me, this isn't an issue of mere semantics. If you call privately owned bars and restaurants "public places," it tells me you don't know what you're talking about. And if you don't know what you're talking about, you shouldn't be making — or even so much as influencing — policy. No one should care about your opinion. I'm not even sure you should have the right to vote.

As a moron, you are just annoying enough to solve every problem in the worst and most uncreative way. Usually, this means imposing your preferences on others, instead of giving your fellow citizens a choice. Smoking bans are a typical case in point. Over the last few years, dozens of smoke-free bars and restaurants have opened up in Philly and the surrounding area. These restaurants are doing what all good restaurants do: They're catering to people's desires. Sometimes this means serving Italian food when customers want Italian food; other times it means banning smoking when customers don't like smoking.

In a world that made sense, someone would've stepped back, taken a look at this trend, and concluded a Philadelphia smoking ban was unnecessary. Smoke-free establishments would continue to exist side-by-side with smoking establishments, and everyone would be happy because everyone would get their way. Instead, we've decided not to be happy unless everyone does everything exactly like we do. This is what you get when you don't even know what the words "public place" mean. When you don't understand the idea of private property, you tend to think every place on the planet needs the same rules.

© Jonathan David Morris


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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