Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Once More Round the Wheel


I crossed the line. My last shot, certainly got someone’s attention. What I thought was just a spirited debate, is starting to blow a few circuit breakers. My recent post about anti-smokers being power hungry control freaks hit a nerve over at Respectful Insolence, and the normally emotionless and rational Orac has actually gotten angry.

Let me note first, that I never said that proponents of the smoking bans are geeky kids trying to get even with the cool kids that smoke. That’s just reducing my original argument to the point of ridiculousness. What I’ve been saying, is that kids who grew up being bullied, sometimes grow into adulthood with a tendency to bully. The fabled Napoleon Complex is one example of this phenomenon. The way I got treated by scientists, for suggesting that a bicycle emits the same amount of CO2 per mile as a Moped was another. (I still have a few bruises, from what happened on THAT playground.)

I believe that people who were bullied, sometimes grow up to be bureaucrats who use the power of government to push others around, and lose sight of the human aspect. This example certainly fits the dictator I mentioned in my last post (He who Cannot be Named). I did not mean to associate the horrors of his regime with smoking bans. But when you start making the decision that public health is more important than the investments of small business owners, you are invoking tyranny. Sure it’s just a small step towards dictatorship, but it is the same concept.

I think some scientists might also harbor a version of the Bureaucrat Complex. I think when a person spends too much time in the laboratory, he starts looking at everything as a lab experiment. People become less like individuals, and more like figures on a report, that can emotionlessly be pushed around to achieve a favorable result. So what if a few people lose their livelihoods, if it will marginally increase public health? (Orac suggested as much when he inferred that he might have succumbed to the legendary surgeon’s “god complex.”)

I stated that a lot of people in the Minneapolis Food and Beverage Industry have suffered material hardship. (Others have suggested that the link I provided was biased, and without a proper control). In response, Orac pulled up a few “studies.” But before we move on to those, lets look at what the author of that “biased” link (a non-smoker) had to say about his motivations for jumping into the debate:

“My career of 15 years, selling Smokeeter air filtration equipment to bars and restaurants came to an abrupt end once the debate for smoking bans began ...

During that time period of being unemployed, without the ability to continue making car payments my vehicle quickly fell into repossession status, and eventually was surrendered. Without the ability to continue making child support payments a family court judge decided I was in contempt and ordered me to jail. Without the ability to continue making mortgage payments our home quickly fell into foreclosure status, the sheriff's sale ocurred on May 5, 2006, and as it currently stands we are to be evicted”

Ouch. That’s kind of hard to look at when you get real close isn’t it? This kind of suffering never shows up in “studies.” And his story is only one of hundreds. I’m telling you, the loss is real. I’ve talked to a lot of the people with stories similar to the ones on his list.

A friend of mine owns a restaurant connected to a small bar. Since he is a bit of a gourmand, he made the restaurant portion of his establishment non-smoking, long before the ban. The bar side of his restaurant, catered to an entirely different crowd. A factory down the street was a boon for his business, since workers could walk there for lunch, and after shift drinks. It also served as a place where diners could enjoy a cigarette with their aperitif, or a smoke after dinner.

When the ban passed, the bar went entirely empty. No more lunch crowd, no shift change, and the smokers all rush straight outside after dinner. He told me that the ban has cost him close to $125K per year in lost revenue. Fortunately, his restaurant is successful enough to keep him afloat, but as he told me, “If I had been just a mom and pop, beer and a shot bar (like most of the ones that closed are) the ban would have devastated me. None of those smaller operations could bear a loss like that.”

But if you want statics. Let’s take a look at some of the links Orac provided in his response:

This one was from a group headed by Dr. Stanton Glantz and “supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.” Pardon me, if I don’t take that one seriously. I would be laughed out of the room if I sent anyone to a link on the Phillip Morris website, for a study compiled by Richard Lindzen. I trust Orac will grant me the same courtesy here.

His second link, cites a New York Times article. It is a questionable study done by comparing tax revenue and employment in restaurants before and after the ban. I don’t really put a lot of credibility in this methodology. However the study concluded, that by those proxies, that New York Food and Beverage business is up. But deeper in the article is a suggestion why:

''The increase in tax payments and jobs must be weighed against the restaurant industry's emergence from the post-9/11 recession, said David Rabin, president of the New York Nightlife Association”

A perfectly reasonable criticism since the study compared tax revenues from 2003 to 2002; less than a year after 9/11. It seems to me that this would have set off a big red light for a scientist as skeptical as Orac. But what makes it even more questionable is the following statement:

“The report does not reflect the harsh realities faced by the city's bars, which catered to a smoking-heavy crowd before the ban, said bar merchants, who questioned why bar data was not separate in the report. The city's answer is that data that separates bars from restaurants is not reliable, said Sam Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Finance.”

Not reliable? Or maybe it didn’t fit well into their agenda. Such a possibility seems to be proven on the third link. I don’t even think Orac bothered reading the original report this article was based on. (Bad Orac!) If he had, he certainly would have had his interest piqued by the following:

“For the remaining two categories of businesses, revenues decreased from 2004 to 2005. The rate of decrease for neighborhood bars was 4.15 percent, and for downtown clubs, 0.09 percent. “

Furthermore, during that same time frame, bars and restaurants had raised their prices around 15% to pay for the Minnesota minimum wage hike. So actually, tax revenues should have been up 15% over that time frame. If statistics were compiled from bars and restaurants outside of the Twin Cities, it would have given a much better perspective on the true state of the Industry. Comparing revenue to the previous year is an inferior control.

It seems my claim of a recession in the Twin Cities Food and Beverage Industry isn’t specious. I ask again: Why must every bar be smoke free? There is obviously a market for smoking bars in America. Orac, as a non-smoker, might not understand the concept; but it is real. His insistence that all bars must become smoke free, (just because that is how He chooses to drink) is why I accused him of tyrannical behavior.

Here’s the Slagle Compromise: Currently 20% of the population in the United States are smokers. Why not allow States to allow 20% of all liquor licenses to be designated “Smoking Allowed.” They could originally take bids for the licenses, after which they become property of the establishments. Ultimately they could trade smoking exemptions amongst themselves. So a bar that relies on smokers for it’s business could buy an exemption from an establishment that wants to open a non-smoking restaurant. This way, 80% of the bars and restaurants would be smoke free, and smokers could still find a bar or two where they could light up. Non-smoking waitresses who didn’t want to expose themselves to the 1.2 risk of heath complications, would still be able to find work in the other 80% of the bars and restaurants. (I still think some non-smoking waitresses would rather work in the smoking bars, because it is my understanding that smokers are much better tippers).

I think this is a perfectly reasonable solution to the dilemma. However, it runs contrary to what I believe is the ultimate goal of the Anti-Smoking Lobby: Complete Tobacco Prohibition. Those who doubt me, need to reacquaint themselves, with the concept of incrementalism.

Correction: I originally misread the New York Times article. I thought the tax revenue was averaged over the amount of restaurants. Most certainly, a closed bar would be reflected in total tax receipts, which was how the study was conducted. I have applied changes to the article to reflect this realization.

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