I know how Al Sharpton can make a better run for president.
The first thing he should do is adjust his calendar and priorities. Instead of running for president now, he should consider the “local” in Tip O’Neill’s famous dictum. The only way the irreverend could take Bush is with a pair of brass knuckles, and he doesn’t even stand a chance among the pack of yapping Democrats vying for their party’s nomination. But he’s not without hope. If Mayor Bloomberg keeps bollixing the job in Gotham, Sharpton might well have a chance at home.
One recent example of Bloomberg’s misrule — secretly hatched in a pleasantly lit, non-smoke filled room — is the citywide smoking ban in bars and restaurants. With sky-high cigarette taxes making him the butt (I couldn’t resist) of criticism, recent news about the gut punch to pub and chow-house revenues can’t look good either.
The smoking ban has been in effect since April 1, and, according to a New York Post survey, 34 out of 50 businesses queried are opening and closing the cash register much less since the ban began. Business in these establishments is down by as much as half, the average reported loss being 30 percent. Even the Four Seasons is reporting losses of 40 percent.
“If this keeps up,” said Richie Sporacchio, manager of Bill’s Gay ’90s in Midtown, “some of us might as well close up shop.” Danny Mills, owner of Staten Island’s Ruddy & Dean, credited private parties as the only source of revenue flush enough to keep his doors open.
The high-minded motivation for the ban is — what else? — saving lives. Bloomberg, who considers this policy flub one the most important of his public life, claimed after signing the ban into law that it would save “literally tens of thousands of lives.” With smokers leaving their secondhand fumes at the door, waiters, waitresses, bartenders and sundry wenches will be spared choking on their afterburn and suffering the cancerous conclusions of such a nasty habit.
This view is not without its problems, the first being that with tabagophiles staying home or splitting to more smoke-friendly environs (like, say, New Jersey) many of those “tens of thousands” will lose their jobs due to business slowdowns and will die of cirrhosis of the liver after Bloomberg’s grand scheme drives them to drinking.
Another problem is that the jury is still out on the dangers of secondhand smoke. In a May 17 paper for the British Medical Journal, James E. Enstrom and Geoffrey C. Kabat publish the results from a near-40-year study of adult Californians that “measure[d] the relation between environmental tobacco smoke [secondhand smoke], as estimated by smoking in spouses, and long term mortality from tobacco related disease.”
The results hardly fit the general perception. While “active cigarette smoking was confirmed as a strong, dose related risk factor for coronary heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease … environmental tobacco smoke was not associated with coronary heart disease or lung cancer mortality at any level of exposure.” Say Enstrom and Kabat, “These findings suggest that the effects of environmental tobacco smoke, particularly for coronary heart disease, are considerably smaller than generally believed.” While the two do not rule out some effect, it is not statistically significant and thus cannot be considered causal.
Drat! says the anti-smoking brigade, foiled again.
Not that they’re slowing down — and herein exists Sharpton’s best chance for national greatness.
Health Nazis are rallying across the republic, refusing to burn giant cigarettes in effigy.
Arizona, which in 1973 became the first state to limit public smoking in coerced deference to nonsmokers, has recently stepped up the snuff-out. After last year enacting the state’s strictest antismoking statute, Tempe is billowing less as bars and restaurants suffer revenue falloff. Dollars down in the till by as much as 12 percent, at least a dozen establishments in the city have closed their doors since the ban went into effect.
Other cities and locales are contriving similar bans. Last week Framingham, Mass., began enforcing a ban. Boston already has. Nearly 80 communities in Massachusetts have total bans on public smoking, and plenty others have partial restrictions. Georgetown, Kentucky, has recently OK’d a ban; the city council is only waiting for a vote. Tampa, Florida, has a ban in place now. Ditto for all bars and restaurants in the state of California.
So here’s the plan (Sharpton campaign advisers, ready notepads): After coming out in favor of repealing the ban in New York, Sharpton will be the champion of small businesses and those favoring smoke-scented congeniality. In contradistinction to Bloomberg, that Victorian throwback, Sharpton will appear open, liberal (in the older, nobler sense). Having vanquished the terrible tabagophobe, he can take his message of liberation nationwide, extending his support and sympathy to all once-smoldering, now-suffering establishments.
This is, admittedly, an iffy proposition. The reason these bans exist in the first place is that huge swaths of local electorates loathe basic property rights and are willing to use the state to enforce their tastes and desires on their neighbors. This presents a problem, to be sure, but certainly nothing as big as the obstacles Sharpton now faces.
Can you imagine Rev. Al stepping up as the savior of smokers and, by extension, the nation? Neither can I. But there is hardly a more amusing thought while mulling over a bowl of Turkish tobacco than Al Sharpton becoming a better kind of butthead than he is at present. Here’s hoping.