Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Now You Can't Smoke Outdoors, Either

Portland, Maine (motto: we'd love to be Boston, Mass.) has outlawed smoking on some of the municipally owned and maintained walking trails. (The website does not yet have a permalink to this breaking news, so I am linking here to the previous story on the topic.)

This post may seem a dite self-contradictory at times, but if you'll bear with me, by the end some semblance of cogency should arise.

First of all, I hate cigarette smoke. Last night, I stopped for gas at the Maritime Farms convenience store in Belmont. Just as I was finishing the fueling process, an employee came out the front door and lit up a cancer stick. I shut off the pump, closed my tank, and leaned up against my car, glowering at the girl. She stayed about two feet from the front door. I leaned there for about three minutes before she noticed. She poked her head into the store to converse with the counter clerk, all the time carefully keeping her cigarette-laden hand stretched away from the door.

Then she fully emerged from the store and asked me, "Did you shut off the pump?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Are you going to pay?" she asked.

"Just as soon as I don't have to walk through a cloud of cigarette smoke to do it," I retorted.

Her face went pale, and the cigarette disappeared under her foot. Two minutes later, I walked in and paid.

So you can see that I'm no friend of cigarettes. But I do think that smokers should have the general right to smoke. Limitations on that right should be made only in very specific circumstances. Those circumstances generally involve publicly-owned property.

Notice that I say publicly-owned property, and not public places. By the former phrase I mean property that is owned by a governmental body. Smoking in those places would cause suffering to non-smokers who have paid their taxes to receive the public benefit of those properties. By the latter phrase I mean places open to or dealing with the public, but under private ownership, such as restaurants, theatres and workplaces.

One irony of the State of Maine's current ban on smoking in "public places" is that I as a non-smoker am now subjected to much more cigarette smoke in publicly-owned places than previously. Nicotine addicts who are no longer allowed to smoke in bars and pubs and restaurants now line the sidewalks on which I am trying to walk.

Now, since the sidewalks and streets (and the footpaths along the promenades in Portland) are government property, I would be totally in favor of a ban on smoking in those places. So long as the private businesses were allowed to decide for themselves as to smoking policies.

Those of you who know I'm a libertarian will perhaps see this one coming: I actually would like all of these areas to be privately-controlled areas. The streets, the sidewalks, the footpaths. They should be owned by private concerns who would be able to set any smoking policy as they saw fit. And I, as a non-smoker, would be free to seek out streets, sidewalks and footpaths that were smoke-free. It would be a little extra work for me, but the freedom would be worth it.



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