On the first of May, after years of lobbying by anti-smoking crusaders, most public workplaces in Michigan will be smoke-free. A majority of Michigan legislators thought that now is the perfect time for the bill, passed 24-13 in the Senate and 75-30 in the House, because all more important matters of the state are settled, education is fantastic, the roads are in excellent condition, Michigan’s economy is on the up and, by golly, small businesses—bars and restaurants—are booming!
Most irritatingly, the bill exempts the gaming floors of Detroit’s three casinos. Advocates of the ban view the exemption as a compromise without which the bill would not have passed. This admission is true, but it seriously undermines the premise of the bill: combating the dangers that secondhand smoke poses to Michigan workers. Granholm and legislators care about workers’ health, just not workers whose employers rake in lots of money for the state.
I take issue with the bill itself for multiple reasons, and I think Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill would too. Burke would not appreciate such a heavy-handed government approach to protecting people’s lungs. And with his affection for nice and traditional things, he seems like a man who would enjoy a cigar and a glass of bourbon (my shallow political theory at its finest). There are plenty of smoke-free bars to which more health-conscious patrons may flock.
And there’s something to be said for this tradition of smoking in bars: we’ve been doing it for centuries. Would Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca be the same shady, wonderful venue without a cigarette dangling from Humphrey Bogart’s mouth?
Mill has a more compelling philosophical argument. We could think that his utilitarianism would compel John Stuart Mill to support the impending smoking ban in Michigan bars and restaurants. But we would be wrong.
It’s hard for me to reconcile Mill’s utilitarianism with his liberalism, but I think Mill’s idea of utilitarianism is more individual. What can I, as an individual, do for the greater good? Mill might advocate people to individually not smoke indoors to protect bartenders and waiters/waitresses. He would probably not support a bill that impedes on so many people’s rights to, you know, destroy their own lungs, to lower health risks for others.
“The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign,” says Mill in On Liberty. That’s my stand on victimless crimes.
A final argument against the ban concerns the money bars and restaurants will lose—and the jobs they may have to cut because of this. Inhaling smoke all day for a paycheck sucks, but a paycheck might be better than no paycheck. However, this style of thinking is similar to the argument against raising the minimum wage: jobs might be cut to compensate, and a low-paying job is better than no job. And I hate that argument. But perhaps a reader can rationalize it for me.
Sources: Mill, On Liberty, and http://www.mlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/12/granholm_gets_smoking_ban_will.html