Saturday, June 16, 2012

On entitlement complexes and Birmingham's new smoking ban

Okay, so you walk into a bar and ask the bartender for a Grey Goose martini. And the bartender says, "We don't have Grey Goose. Would you like Ketel One or one of our other fine vodka offerings?" and you tell him no, you want Goose. He repeats--patiently, because he's a nice guy--that they don't have it. That if you insist on a Grey Goose martini, you'll have to go somewhere else, and if you insist on drinking here, you'll have to settle for Ketel (or one of their other fine vodka offerings). So what do you do? Of course you pass a law requiring every bar in town to stock Grey Goose so you can walk in wherever you want and have whatever you want.

NO, YOU DON'T. You decide that Ketel One will make an acceptable martini and order one of those. Or you decide to go down the street to see if another bar has Goose, and you get a martini there. Or you go home, where you have a freezer full of Goose, and you make your own cocktail. Sure, it's disappointing--you wanted that drink at that bar. But you're an adult, so you suck it up and recognize that, in the words of the Prophet, you can't always get what you want.

As of June 4, smoking is forbidden in basically any public area in Birmingham, including less than seven feet from the entrance of any bar or restaurant. In theory, as a dedicated nonsmoker, I should like this. It means I don't cough, I don't get exposed to secondhand smoke, and I can come in after a night out and not have to wash my hair before I go to bed.

But no one has every guaranteed me the right to go wherever I want and not have to wash my hair afterward. And no one has ever marched me into a smoky bar at gunpoint. On nights when I don't feel like getting smoky, I'm perfectly free to NOT GO to any of the establishments where people are smoking. And--up until last week, anyway--no owner of a private business was required to provide me with a smoke-free environment, just because I wanted one.

I'm not crazy about the gleeful shriek of a child's laughter. (I know, I'm a horrible person, but it hurts my ears.) But I don't try to ban children from public places--I just don't go to Chuck E. Cheese. I actively dislike restaurant music when it's loud enough to interfere with my pleasant dinnertime conversation. (Again, I know I'm a horrible person.) But I don't try to ban restaurant music--I just don't go to restaurants that have music.

On a Sunday morning, if I want brunch, I try to get to Cosmo's before the music starts and/or get a table in the back, away from the musician. Or I go somewhere that doesn't have music. Or I go to Cosmo's while the musician is there, and I just suck it up, because the shrimp and grits are made of sunlight and angels' wings. But it's not my place--or the city government's place--to tell them they can't have restaurant music just because I'm not into it. I know that those shrimp and grits come with a side of restaurant music. I have to weigh my desire for the delicious food against my distaste for music (and the food pretty much always wins out). No one ever promised me that I could have the shrimp and grits and the quiet brunch, and I'm an adult, so I live with it.

Yes, smoking is gross and stinky, and secondhand smoke is dangerous. But no one is forcing anyone to frequent establishments where people smoke. And--again, up until last week--no one had the right to have both a drink at a given bar and a smoke-free evening. Have the drink and live with the smoke, or avoid the smoke and not get the drink. You're not entitled to both. And for Birmingham to place this burden on private business owners, just to placate people who do feel they have the right to both, is feeding into one huge, societal entitlement complex. Adulthood entails making tough decisions. Except now it doesn't! Business owners are now required to give you everything you want in one place (except for the Grey Goose, which I'm sure will come up for a vote shortly)! Congratulations, you big babies.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I used to think the same as you, and I still find it distasteful, but there's another side to this. I once visited a bar/restaurant that had recently instituted a smoking ban because one of their long-time employees (a non-smoker) had been diagnosed with lung cancer. The surprising thing to me was that their business was noticeably down, presumably because of the smoking ban.

In my view, one of the roles of government is to step in where there's a market failure -- in this case, there is a very large population who would like smoke-free establishments to visit (not to mention work in), but it is economically damaging for the owners to provide this.

I don't think an all-out smoking ban in restaurants and bars is the right solution. I'd prefer a limited number of "smoking licenses" (similar to liquor licenses) that businesses can apply for, possibly with license fees going toward some sort of health benefit for employees of smoking establishments.