Weighing the costs and benefits

Judging from Chris Flynn’s May 16 response, “Secondhand smoke is the enemy,” it appears that the debate on the socialization of health care costs is off the table. Flynn states: “The main thrust behind banning smoking in most places is to reduce the harmful effects of secondhand smoke on nonsmokers.”

I couldn’t agree more. My position is based on the idea that people should be free to do whatever they want as long as nonconsenting parties are not harmed. If the evidence shows that secondhand smoke is harmful to nonconsenting third parties, then it is morally necessary that such harm be prevented.

So let’s talk about limits. Smoking should be banned in public places, but not on private property. Owners of homes, restaurants and bars should be free to determine their own smoking policy. Entry to such places is not compulsory in the way that we must visit hospitals or government buildings from time to time in order to fully participate in society.

Secondhand smoke does pose a health risk to people who work in bars and restaurants that allow smoking, but those workers are consenting third parties. Many jobs are hazardous, even frivolous ones like a stunt actor. Why should we allow people to engage in dangerous acts that are purely for entertainment purposes? It’s because the people in question freely choose to do so; they believe that the benefits of the job (money, fame, thrills) outweigh the costs (danger to life and limb). We cannot and should not assume that we know what is best for other people.

Flynn writes that “Smoking is not illegal in Australia …” But my original question remains: Should it be illegal? If the ultimate goal is to improve the health of as many people as possible, would the costs of outright prohibition (violence, higher incarceration rates, corruption) result in a net increase or decrease in public health?

joseph jaworski
taragi, kumamoto

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • Jon Krueger

    So it’s really OK if the workplace is unsafe in other ways, right? No reason secondhand smoke should be special.

    It’s really OK if the floors are slippery, the stoves explode, the air is filled with toxins and diseases. It’s really OK if the restaurant workers get hurt, get sick, .and die from this. It’s really OK if this was all completely preventable. It’s OK. They agreed to it. Right?

    Of course no one would think that’s OK. And there’s no reason the argument works for secondhand smoke.

    Comparing secondhand smoke to “dangerous jobs” pretends the danger is inherent to the job. It is not. The job is to prepare food, to serve it, to take orders, etc. Secondhand smoke is not inherent to the job or workplace. Ask any airline flight attendant if secondhand smoke is necessary to work on an airplane. It is not.

    No, sorry, your arguments just don’t work. Maybe JTI likes them. The rest of the world believes in safe workplaces.

    • Spudator

      Excellent point and very well made. I agree with you completely.

      Every morning I used to pop into a branch of one of the big Japanese coffeeshop chains to pick up a coffee on the way to the office. The smoke-filled atmosphere in there was awful—a stifling fug from the cigarettes of dozens of chainsmoking salarymen trying to get as much nicotine as possible into their bloodstreams before heading off to work. It was disgusting, but at least I could escape from it as soon as I’d picked up my order.

      For the young women serving behind the counter, however, there was no escape. They’d each have to breathe in that foul-smelling poison for their entire shift. I felt really sorry for them; they were having to endure something that they shouldn’t have to, possibly to the detriment of their health, simply to earn a very basic living. As far as I’m concerned, it was a gross infringement of their human rights. God forbid my daughter should ever wind up working in such a joint.

      I think it’s very revealing that the U.S. coffeeshop chains either have a no-smoking policy in all their branches or provide sealed-off rooms for smokers. Only the Japanese chains seem to think that to cater to non-smokers it’s sufficient to have a few no-smoking tables right next to the ones for smokers, with nothing to stop the smoke drifting between tables. What an earth are the imbeciles running these chains thinking?

  • Spudator

    Owners of homes, restaurants and bars should be free to determine their own smoking policy.

    How about homeowners with young children? Those children won’t be able to understand the dangers of passive smoking let alone express their feelings about it. If their parents choose to smoke indoors at home, does their children’s silence on the issue count as consent?

    Given that one often sees idiot parents in Japan blithely puffing away when they have their children with them, I suspect there must be a lot of kids here having their health ruined even in the apparent safety of their homes. The government definitely needs to do something to knock some sense into the heads of such stupid, irresponsible parents. The trouble is the government owns Japan Tobacco, so they’re not in a very good position to take the moral highground.

    • Joseph Jaworski

      I am glad someone mentioned children who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home. Should parents who smoke have their children taken away? Will the damage to the child’s psychological health be outweighed by the improvement in their physical health. If you have the answer, please show your work.

      Regarding bar and restaurant workers, yes, tobacco smoke is inherent to the job to the extent that customers enjoy smoking while they eat or drink. If workers are unsatisfied with the work environment, they can “escape”; it is called “quitting.” Is anyone suggesting that bar and restaurant workers are accepting jobs with complete ignorance of the work environment? The argument that low-skilled workers are doomed to work in smoke-filled bars is false – there are plenty of low-skilled jobs, such as in convince stores or fast-food restaurants that are smoke-free.

      If you are truly opposed to business that are not smoke-free, then don’t support them; either as a customer or a worker. I find it interesting that “Spudator” did not allow his opposition to smoke-filled workplaces prevent him from supporting such a business with his daily patronage.

      • Spudator

        I think you must be new to this platform and your unfamiliarity with it has led you to mistakenly post a general comment as a reply to me. Or maybe you wanted to reply to Jon Krueger. It’s hard to know what your intention was because some of your points seem to be directed to him; others, to me. But as you addressed your reply to me, I’ll respond to it.

        First off, I find myself pondering the following part of your post in bemused disbelief:

        Should parents who smoke have their children taken away? Will the damage to the child’s psychological health be outweighed by the improvement in their physical health. If you have the answer, please show your work.

        Where, for heaven’s sake, do I advocate that parents who smoke should have their children taken away from them to protect those children from second-hand smoke? The very idea is as horrifying as it’s preposterous. I’d have to be bonkers to advocate such a measure. And as I don’t advocate it, I can hardly show you anything in support of it, can I? Quite honestly, your ascribing such a stance to me, when I’ve neither explicitly nor implicitly suggested it, and then asking me to defend it is the most bizarre response to one of my posts that I’ve ever read in these threads. I’m tempted to ask, “What on earth are you smoking?”

        What I did suggest was that parents who smoke in the presence of their children need to have some sense knocked into their unthinking heads by the government. In other words, they need to be educated. One way to do that would be through a hard-hitting media campaign clearly explaining the damage sidestream smoke can do to developing lungs. But maybe such forthrightness wouldn’t be to Japanese tastes. So what’s your solution to this problem?

        If workers are unsatisfied with the work environment, they can “escape”; it is called “quitting.”

        You know, there are times when I’d like to quit my job to escape the unsatisfactory aspects of my work environment. But if I did, I’d be unemployed for a long time and unable to provide for my wife and daughter; it’s not the 1980′s anymore, when jobs were plentiful. In case you haven’t noticed, Japan Inc. isn’t doing too well these days and things are pretty tough in the job market. So I find your suggestion that people can waltz out of one job and waltz into another as if there are jobs a-plenty for the taking and zero competition for those jobs naïvely out of touch with reality.

        Is anyone suggesting that bar and restaurant workers are accepting jobs with complete ignorance of the work environment?

        Yes, you are. Bear with me as I walk you through the logic. In your first paragraph you agree with me that certain children are probably having their health damaged by parents who smoke at home. The question, then, is why do such parents indulge in this habit at the expense of their kids? I can only think of two possible answers: (1) they know it hurts their kids and don’t care; or (2) they don’t know it hurts their kids. Now, as I’m inclined to think that these parents are more likely to be ignorant fools than selfish monsters, I suspect answer 2 is the right explanation: they simply aren’t aware that passive smoking is dangerous.

        That being the case, it’s entirely reasonable to posit that such ignorance of the dangers of passive smoking isn’t limited to certain parents with young children, but extends to a subset of the entire population. In other words, there will undoubtedly be a large percentage of people seeking jobs in bars and restaurants who, while they’re aware that they’ll be working in smoke-filled environments, are blissfully ignorant of the health risks they’ll be exposed to in such environments.

        The argument that low-skilled workers are doomed to work in smoke-filled bars is false – there are plenty of low-skilled jobs, such as in convince stores or fast-food restaurants that are smoke-free.

        And when was the last time you applied for one of these low-skilled jobs? A few months back, my high-school daughter decided to get a part-time job so she’d have a bit of disposable income for clothes and archery equipment. McDonald’s was first on her jobhunting list. You do realise that to get a job at McDonald’s you have to go for an interview? And as with all interviews, you have to make a good impression or someone else gets the job. It’s not like falling off a log; people are competing for these jobs that you seem to think there are “plenty” of and that are there for the asking.

        My daughter, lacking interview technique savvy, failed to get a McJob. But it was good experience that helped her eventually land a job somewhere else. Oh, and by the way, contrary to your assertion, McDonald’s branches—and, I suspect, all fast-food joints—have smoking floors or sealed-off nicotine dens. So get a job in the fast-food industry and you’ll spend part of your working day being exposed to a cigarette fug at least as concentrated as in the most salaryman-friendly fumigatory. I’m rather glad McDonald’s rejected my daughter.

        I find it interesting that “Spudator” did not allow his opposition to smoke-filled workplaces prevent him from supporting such a business with his daily patronage.

        Again, you’re putting words in my mouth. Where did I say that I’m opposed to smoke-filled workplaces? You make me sound like some kind of activist. What I said was that I find the atmosphere in such establishments unpleasant, feel sorry for the people who work in them, and despise the clueless managers that run them. I also agreed with Jon Krueger that it’s not an inherent part of preparing and serving food and drink that workers be exposed to second-hand smoke (because it really isn’t, as most developed countries apart from Japan now recognise). Who could disagree with such an obvious truth?

        Because I find smoke-filled Japanese coffeshops unpleasant, I generally avoid them. But if I want to buy a take-out coffee without paying Starbucks’ or Tulley’s prices, I’m prepared to dive into such a place, grab my order, and dash out before the smoke gets to me. It’s a matter of simple pragmatism.