Sunday, April 29, 2007

"There Oughta Be A Law": A conversation with someone who just doesn't get it

A few months ago, Arizona passed a statewide comprehensive smoking ban in all work places and public gathering spaces, excepting private clubs, or those that earn 51% or more of their revenue from tobacco.

Essentially, as of May first, it will be illegal to smoke in public in Arizona; except on the sidewalk (away from bus stops), in your own car, in a private club, or at a smoke shop.

Mel and I went to a casual Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale for lunch today, and when we asked to be seated they asked us the normal question, "Smoking or Non-Smoking". A bystander said "Ahh no more smoking as of May first thank god".

I answered "Non-Smoking", and then I turned to the gentleman who had spoken and said "Well sir, I don't smoke, and I would prefer to not have people smoke around me, but this law is a bad thing".

The gentleman responded "Why's that?"

"Well sir" I replied "It's a violation of property rights".

"Property rights? How can it be a violation of property rights. I just don't want people smoking around me when I eat".

"Sir, It's a question of self determination. A private property owner should be able to determine on his own, whether people can smoke on his property or not. If the government can tell you that people can't smoke on your property, they can tell you anything"

"Ok" he replied "I understand what you're saying and I agree with it as far as it goes; but I don't want people smoking around me".

"Well sir, then you should choose non-smoking sections" I countered.

"I do; but why should I have to put up with other people smoking around me at all?" he asked; seeming genuinely puzzled how I (as a non-smoker) could disagree with him.

"Sir" I politely and patiently explained "It's not your property, it's not your decision; or the governments for that matter. If you don't want people smoking around you, you can always go to restaurants that don't allow smoking. If it is profitable for restaurants to make such restrictions, then they will do so".

"Some of them already do, and I don't see why they all shouldn't".

At this point I'd given up on the idea that the person could see the problem with what he was saying, but I gave it one more effort responding with "Why should the government, or you for that matter sir, decide what a private property owner can do with his property?"

"But smoking is bad. I just don't like it. I don't want people smoking near me"; was his final argument (actually his first, final, and only argument).

He just didn't get it. He didn't understand why the government shouldn't step in and force a private property owner to do whatever HE personally wanted them to do. He thought it was entirely reasonable that his preferences should be made into law, and should infringe on the rights of the property owner. As far as he was concerned, because he didn't want people smoking around him while he ate, then no-one should ever be allowed to smoke in a restaurant.

As we were about to be seated I turned and made one final statement: "Sir, d'you know what the most dangerous words in the English language are? 'There oughta be a law'"