EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – JANUARY 23, 2008
By Rich Trzupek
To quote Ayn Rand: “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities.”
It may be unpopular to say so, but Smoke Free Illinois represented the kind of majority oppression that Rand envisioned.
It is reasonable, indeed desirable, for the majority of non-smokers to be spared the annoyance of smoke-filled establishments. At the same time, does not this particular minority have some rights too?
The sight of forlorn smokers, huddled in the cold outside of bars and restaurants, is like something out of George Orwell. Was this really the best solution: to exile an entire minority, from every single public place? Doesn’t everyone deserve a refuge or two of their own?
I believe that most reasonable non-smokers would agree that they do, if a way could be found that limited reasonably limited the amount of smoking establishments to a small number. Clearly the state is not willing to leave the choice of smoking or non-smoking up to the free market. OK. But it should be able to find a way to regulate this activity, just as it regulates so many others.
State Representative Randy Ramey has authored an entirely reasonable solution that would do just that. House Bill 4184 is a common-sense compromise that would allow communities to create a limited number of “safe-havens” for the smoking minority, while maintaining the status quo in the large part.
Under Ramey’s bill, local liquor commissions could issue smoking licenses to “eligible establishments” that meet certain requirements.
And what is an “eligible establishment”? Those would include:
•Bars where less than 10% of their total revenue comes from the sale of food.
•Riverboat casinos and horse racing tracks.
•Adult entertainment venues.
•Private clubs that can document that 3/5th of its members approve of smoking on the club’s premises.
•Establishments hosting conventions or expositions for the specific purpose of exhibiting or selling tobacco and tobacco-related products.
In addition, any establishment receiving a smoking license would be required to put up prominent signs that identify it as a place that allows smoking, and would have to provide full disclosure to all employees.
No doubt some alarmist groups will try to characterize this bill as “backsliding”, and will claim that it will rip the heart out of Smoke Free Illinois. That’s silly. A calm analysis of this reasonable, carefully-crafted bill can only lead to the conclusion that it will lead to the establishment of a small number of smoking establishments in a limited number of communities.
Undoubtedly, many towns will forgo issuing any smoking licenses. Some will grant licenses, but by definition the number they could issue would be small. Restaurants, the workplace and the vast majority of other public venues would remain smoke free.
Ramey, not a smoker himself, should be applauded for his courage. Championing smokers rights, even in this modest way, will undoubtedly provide fodder to his opposition in the upcoming election. No doubt we’ll see literature that claims he is trying to dismantle Smoke Free Illinois, is in the pocket of Big Tobacco, or other such nonsense.
Voters should not be fooled. HB 4184 merely establishes the mechanism by which some communities can create a limited number of isolated outposts where an unpopular minority can find some peace. And, in the final analysis, is that not democracy at its best?