Thursday, October 27, 2005

Initiatives... and battling propaganda

Initiatives... in Washington State they constitute the right of the people to enact laws outside of the legislature's failure to do so. As we come down to yet another voting crunch time, the propaganda keeps flying. You see it on the news, you see it in advertisements, you may have even seen it in your mailbox. On general principle, I usually vote no on nearly every initiative, on the grounds that they are usually just an abuse of the legislative system in this state. The power of initiatives were given to people to enact laws that the legislature was failing to recognize for whatever reasons. But, the majority of the initiatives you see these days have never even passed through Olympia, but are rather attempts to introduce entirely new legislation straight from a small minority with a loud voice. Take this year's competing medical malpractice reform legislation, neither of which are anything more than extreme and poorly thought out laws to benefit the parties that are proposing them.

However, there's one initiative this year which received my support. Initiative 901 will extend the statewide "Clean Indoor Air Act" to remove exceptions for bowling alleys, skating rinks, casinos, and bars; and additionally limit all smoking withing 25 feet of entrance ways. This one isn't anything new to the legislature. On multiple occasions the lawmakers in Olympia have taken up the discussion, but for whatever reasons (which I think are strongly related to the constant pressure from the tobacco and business lobbyists), they have yet to take any action. I believe that the initiative process exists just for this purpose.

Of course, now that I've established, at least in my own mind, that the initiative is worthy of consideration, the question of whether or not it's worth supporting comes into question. As expected, there are two competing camps here, both conveniently with their own websites:

No On 901:
Healthy Indoor Air for All Washington:

This is where the war of propaganda comes into play. On the pro side, the main argument seems to be that everyone has the right to work and live without the hazards of breathing second-hand smoke, plain and simple. Any other remarks are simply responses to refute the claims of the competing camp. On the anti side, the argument is not so concise. On the front page of their website, I was first presented with a conspiracy theory that the initiative is motivated entirely by the big pharmaceutical companies in order to boost sales of their tobacco-quitting drugs. Now I'm all for a good conspiracy theory, but this is utterly ridiculous. First, it implies that this law will cause a significant increase in the number of smokers trying to quit. I honestly do not think that it's going to change very many people to stop smoking. It's an addiction, they'll simply find new places where they can smoke and go there. If they do decide to stop smoking, it won't be because they were told they had to... heaven knows they've gotten that same message countless times in the past and they're still smoking.
Conspiracies aside, the "No On 901" website makes quite a statement on nearly every page:

"This is not a debate on the merits of smoking. The debate is whether we wish to
give our government the right to outlaw smoking by adults on ones own personal
property, private business or vehicle while at the same time knowing all tribal
lands and businesses will be exempt."
While for one, this sounds like something they conveniently garnered from some well-conceived campaign material, it doesn't hold much water when further down the same page they present a collection of ill-conceived statistics and soundbytes extoling the supposed lack of a link between smoking and cancer, claiming cancer is all genetic. I was trying to find the kitchen sink on their website, but they seemed to have stopped just a hair short of throwing that at me.

Filtering through the smokers propaganda though, there really is a reasonable argument against the law, and that is the one presented by the businesses affected. The claim is that by prohibiting smoking in said establishments, business will suffer as customers go elsewhere--most notably to the bars and casinos on tribal lands unaffected by the initiative. While there may be some merit to this idea, I first believe that the potential influx of new customers to these establishments would far outweigh the number who stop patronizing them. Plus, realizing just how relatively small and far-between the tribal casinos are, I don't honestly believe that everyone will flood the reservations just to smoke and gamble, because of the crowds would be enormous and the air, well, toxic. It's just change, pure and simple... people will get used to it, and in a few years won't think anything of it.

All things considered, I voted no on every initiative, except I-901. I already mailed by absentee ballot in, but on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, we shall see what happens. Hopefully most other voters can filter through the propaganda and make their own educated votes too, whether they are the same or different than my own.

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