Monday, 7 February 2011

New York conversation

What can I say about New York's latest smoking ban in 'public places' (how the definition of that changes)? I write about how these things are going to happen but when they do there doesn't seem to be anything left to say. It can't be justified on the basis of secondhand smoke, obviously, and very few people have tried to do so. In civil liberties terms it's beyond the pale. It probably can't be enforced, but we shall see. It's very sad, but New Yorkers knew what they were getting when they re-elected Bloomberg.

All this you know, so I'll just quote what other's have been saying.

Whoopi Goldberg's having none of it:

"I'm done with this (anti-smoking) because I feel I pay taxes here just like everybody else. There should be a designated place and I'm tired of being treated like some damn criminal. If they're really worried about the smell in the air, give us electric buses, give us electric cars, and then I'll understand!

"But you know, (give smokers) a little respect because I understand that not everyone wants to smoke, I get that, but you can't keep treating people like they don't matter."

And Goldberg has vowed to defy the ban and pay the $50 fines for smoking in the newly-banned areas until nicotine lovers are given specially-designated spots to puff away in public.

She adds, "I'm going to take the hit, I'm gonna write the cheque, do everything until you guys do what you need to do to stop this nasty smell of cars and all the other nasty stuff... I'm smoking my cigarette, I'm sick of this!"

She may not have to pay many fines, if Carl at Ep-ology's experience is anything to go by:

I was in New York a couple of days ago and enjoyed the juxtaposition of talk of the brand new law against outdoor smoking and hanging out with people who chose to defy even the indoor ban, demonstrating that there is really no problem getting away with that.

The Daily Mash gives us the satirical take:

New York is bidding to reverse its plummeting violent crime figures by not letting anybody smoke.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg extended the city's smoking ban to parks insisting outdoor tobacco fumes were preventing people from enjoying the exhaust emissions from more than 300 square miles of gridlocked traffic.

But tourism experts say the move will also resurrect the authentic New York atmosphere portrayed in much loved Hollywood classics such as Mean Streets, Bada Bing and Fuck You.

New York cabbie Tom Logan said: "Ordinarily I would recommend the cultural highlights and reasonably-priced restaurants in our fair city but after pulling a 12-hour shift without a smoke I'll probably just spray the entrance to the Waldorf with machine-gun fire and then drive this motherfucker straight off the Brooklyn Bridge."

New York's anti-smoking laws are some of the strictest in America, though there is a loophole in the legislation to allow the public smoking of crack.

Rob Lyons has a less-than-romanic view of the Land of the Free:

This is a country where you can be arrested for not crossing the road in a state-approved place or for having a drink when you're 20 years old. Bloomberg seems to be just tidying up a few loose ends.

But of particular interest to me was the editorial in the New York Times (h/t Carl Phillips). NYT editorials acted as something of a barometer of public opinion during the last great American Anti-Smoking Crusade (1899-1920).

As readers of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist will fondly recall, when the first rumblings of anti-cigarette fervour began in 1884, the NYT ran a xenophobic editorial attributing Spain's decline to the smoking of cigarettes and warned that "if this pernicious practice obtains among adult Americans the ruin of the Republic is close at hand."

But by the first decade of the next century, the newspaper was striking a more libertarian chord. When cigarettes were banned in Indiana, it called the ban "a scandalous an interference as can be conceived with constitutional freedom" and consistently defended the right to smoke.

If the NYT has written anything critical of the tobacco control lobby in my lifetime, I missed it. So perhaps—just perhaps—their latest editorial marked the moment when the NYT realised again that this is a prohibitionist crusade they're talking about:

No smoking at the crossroads of the world? The vortex of tourism that brings smokers and nonsmokers in great numbers? The site of the world’s most famous New Year’s Eve party, where who knows what goes on? All of this takes the mayor’s nannying too far, even for those of us who want to avoid the hazards of secondhand smoke...

Meanwhile, there is talk that the mayor and the City Council want even more, like banning smoking near doors of office buildings and apartments. They need to take a deep breath and remember that we tried prohibition 90 years ago. They called it a noble experiment. It turned into a civic disaster.


Dick Puddlecote said...

Gah! You got there before me on the NYT editorial. It's the equivalent of, say, our Guardian coming out with a critical piece about the anti-smoking lobby. Very interesting.

Chris Oakley said...

I just returned from New Orleans and I was surprised by the deepening contrast between the vibrancy of the South and the sterility of California or the East Coast where the so called progressives rule the roost. It is so much more relaxed and there is genuine warmth in the people that only serves to highlight the faux sincerity, studied casualness and obsessive political correctness of California or New York.

I don’t smoke but it was nice to sit around listening to music in bars where other people are allowed to if they wish. I haven’t invested in a pickup truck yet but would certainly recommend Louisiana over San Francisco or New York to anyone wanting to spend any time in the “land of the free”

I am encouraged by the NYT editorial but there is a long way to go before people in the US really understand how much the anti-tobacco movement has undermined some of the basic principles that underpin their society. Honesty being of course the most obvious.

Unknown said...

The Guardian aren't that bad Dick, they did publish an article of mine regarding smoking on hospital premises (which, as i doubt i need to say, was very much not in favour with the anti's position)

Becky Johnson said...

Our outdoor smoking ban (Santa Cruz, Ca.) is sweeping. The entire length of Pacific Ave, all right-of-ways, and in any parking lot adjacent to Pacific Ave. , all of Beach St., anywhere on our Municipal wharf, or on the entire length of W. Cliff Dr. are banned areas. ALL city parks and ALL city buildings including the sidewalk around City Hall.

And the ban is OPENLY and DEFIANTLY ignored by a significant number of UCSC students, downtown workers, foreign visitors, and homeless people.