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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ban Smoking in Oregon Bars?

Oregon has taken the first of three steps toward an outright ban of cigarettes in indoor spaces -- including pubs and taverns. Senate Bill 571 passed the state senate and will go to the House and governor (bill's text is here).

BlueOregon has a post urging people to contact their state reps and push for the bill's passage:
Time to call your State Representatives. You know they will be hearing from loads of tavern owners, and the cigarette industry will definitely pull out all the stops lobbying against this bill. Our Legislators shouldn't give another inch to restaurant and bar owners. They already get one of the sweetest and most ridiculous state subsidies ever devised (about 25% of the gambling profits from every machine), and frankly, the case that a smoking ban will actually lower their profits is flimsy.
I'm generally ambivalent about smoking bans. I have a pretty strong libertarian streak, and I don't believe in legislating behavior codes. In America, you don't have a right not to be offended. There is one issue that stands out, though, and a few minutes ago, Kari Chisholm posted a second (somewhat more nuanced) opinion that cuts directly to this point:

But for high-school dropouts, especially middle-aged women with minimal skills, there are very few jobs out there that pay a living wage. One of the few is serving food and drinks, a job that combines the minimum wage with tips.

Many under-educated older women have very few occupational options -- and working in smoky bars pays comparatively well. Right now, we're asking them to trade their health for a living wage.

I'd add that working the late shift is good for moms who don't want to be away from their kids too long. So, on balance, I guess I'll back the legislation. Mostly I go to non-smoking bars, anyway.

PHOTO: JD Pooley [link]


  1. My feeling has generally been that I'd prefer to see tobacco scheduled
    (as in narcotic) than have a proclamation of no smoking.

    However, with the advent of the new law, and seeing the classist exceptions (cigar bars?) I've given the issue a bit more thought...I'd like to see the law pass with no exceptions. After a grace period (1- to 6-month), bars can then go through a process to be exempted. Inspect smoke eaters, interview employees, fire inspect, whatever.

  2. I think Kari's argument is a bit thin.

    If you are a libertarian, you should also be consistant. Why should we tell people where to work? If working at a smoking est. is undesirable, then wages should be bid up as compensation. In other words a bar owner should be able to hire workers more cheaply if he/she banned smoking on his/her own. This hasn't happened in the past probably because the costs of secondhand smoke were not well understood, I would expect this conpensating wage differential to emirge as the awareness increases.

    I think the real reason to ban smoking is twofold:

    One, because bars are in a prisoner's dilemma, to wit, each individual bar owner may want to have a smoke free workplace but the individual incentives are too strong to ban smoking unilaterally (too many lost customers to smoking places). However, it the ban were universal, all bars would compete again evenly and all workers would be better off. This is exactly why the NHL had to mandate helmets even though it was so obvious that all plaers are safer when they wear them. When it was no mandatory no single player wanted to waer it and be seen as 'soft.'

    Two, because smoking imposes a large externality on society: increased health care costs for all who suffer due to exposure to second hand smoke that are not born by the smokers themselves. The correct policy would be to levy a very heavy tax consistant with this cost, but we reall have no idea how big this is. In the absence of such a remedy, the obvious second best is to limit the amount of hazordous exposure incidences.

  3. If working at a smoking est. is undesirable, then wages should be bid up as compensation. In other words a bar owner should be able to hire workers more cheaply if he/she banned smoking on his/her own. This hasn't happened in the past probably because the costs of secondhand smoke were not well understood, I would expect this conpensating wage differential to emirge as the awareness increases.

    This seems like one of those arguments economists make based on reams of data I will only ever dimly comprehend. So rather than meeting the argument head on, I will cast about with hypotheticals.

    Bartending is among the few well-paying, low-skill jobs in the marketplace. Leaving aside the contentious question of 12 million immigrants, the market is already awash in low-skilled workers. (I think the 5% unimployment figure misses a lot of them.) An economist would say that a worker in this enviroment is in the position to balance short-term gain against long-term risk and make an informed decision.

    But when the bottom of the employment pool is living in grinding poverty, this may not be an option. Furthermore, the worker may not be the only person in the equation--I don't have the stats, but an appreciable percentage of waitstaff have kids at home. They are balancing their welfare versus their kids'. No contest. And no choice.

  4. So I wrote pretty quickly and wasn't able to weave my arguments together very well.

    Here is the point I was trying to make:

    An economist would beleive that a compensating wage differential should arise, meaning that two types of wait staff jobs should result: less well paid jobs at a no smoking place and better paid jobs at smoking places. Your (and Kari's) contention is that the former does not exist and thus wait staff types are stuck doing 'dirty work.' If this is true, why? And, why should it be government's role to step in? A true Coase-ian would say it doesn't matter who you give the right to (the smoker the right to smoke at will or the server the right to work free from a smoky invironment), a socially efficient result will arise.

    I propose an answer: the prisoner's dilemma problem. It would hurt so much in terms of lost custom that no one individual bar/restauranteur would want to institute a ban, even though they all would be happier if they were non-smoking. Thus imposing a ban would lead to a pareto-improving outcome: everyone would be better off and no one worse off (we are talking now of the bars and workers, not smokers).

    A ban has the added advantage of reducing the social cost of smoking (the externality problem). The Coase view is that as long as you create a market based on private rights, this will sort itself out. This fails when costs are not well known (we don't know exactly how bad secondhad smoke is, how much is too much, and how costly the adverse helth affects are). Also, since we have a public health safety net, these costs are NOT private and so the Coase view falls apart.

    So when I said Karis argument was thin I meant that it is not enough to say well these workers need to be protected, but to justify government intervention on the basis of market failure (I am an economist, after all). I was trying to provide 'thickness' not a critique.

    To be absolutely clear: I am for a ban. As an economist I want to be clear in my justification though, government intervention should only occur when there is a demonstrated market failure and when the costs of government intervention are outweighed by the benefits. In this case I think this policy meets these two standards.

  5. As someone who is definitely not an economist but certainly enjoys smoking cigarettes in bars, I would be happy to pay an extra 75 cents per beer for the privilege to smoke in said bar.
    I am, as a smoker, of course against the ban but recognize the health risks for employees.
    Full disclosure: I just had my first kid so I don't really have time for bars anymore but I would like to get back to one someday. And when I do, I'd like to relive the full tavern experience with about six cigarettes.

  6. Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) causes disease in non-smokers. Workplace bans on smoking are interventions to reduce exposure to ETS to try to prevent harmful health effects. The Irish Government on the 29th March 2004 introduced the first national comprehensive legislation banning smoking in all workplaces including bars and restaurants.