Pizza: the widowmaker

Now that the DC smoking ban has gone into full effect, my hobby has turned from fighting it to just antagonizing the people who support it. My favorite way of doing this is getting them to admit that they don’t really care much about worker safety, their favorite rationalization for presuming to tell everybody else what to do. Nobody I speak with actually knows anything about the subject, so it’s not very hard to reach this point. Asking if there is any worker safety issue about which they are at all informed that doesn’t also happen to make their weekends out more pleasant usually does the trick.

If I’m going to be asking such questions, though, I figured I at least ought to know a few things about workplace dangers, so I killed some time last night doing a bit of research. In the process I stumbled upon a class of service industry workers in even greater need of protection than waiters and bartenders. I also got a new question to pose to anti-smoking crusaders: “Ever order a pizza?”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a handy list every year of the jobs with the highest fatality rates. The leaders are generally the kinds of jobs you’d expect to be dangerous: logging, fishing, mining, flying small planes, building stuff. But one job stands out as a surprise. Driver-sales workers — pizza delivery guys, vending machine stockers, etc. — clock in as the fifth most dangerous occupation with 38 deaths per 100,000 workers every year. The risks of traffic accidents and crime combine to make this one pretty perilous profession.

[The numbers come from 2003. From what I can tell, ever since then BLS reports have combined trucking and driver-sales work into one category. Trucking has a significantly lower rate of fatalities, so 2003 is the most recent year for which I could find useful data.]

In other words, dialing up a pizza from Domino’s is just as bad, probably even worse, than lighting up in a bar. If smokers can’t force bar and restaurant workers to inhale their fumes, then surely people too lazy to cook or pick up their own dinners shouldn’t be able to force drivers to risk their lives delivering food. No worker should ever have to choose between his safety and his livelihood. How many innocents must die bearing midnight snacks for the gluttonous and slothful before we put a stop to such irresponsible behavior?

The lesson is clear. For the sake of the pizza delivery guys, we must ban pizza delivery. Working together, we can have a Delivery Free DC by 2008.

Who’s with me?


22 thoughts on “Pizza: the widowmaker”

  1. they don’t include cancer from second hand smoke as deaths in this study. if this number were high (say 1,000 per 100,000) then you could make an argument against it and assume pizza delivery as ok.

  2. Anon,

    I tried to find comparable data regarding secondhand smoke. Unfortunately, almost everything I came across discusses relative disease risks rather than estimate of attributable fatality rates per year. Given that deaths supposedly attributable to smoke would occur far in the future, this is understandable. It’s also one more reason it’s better to be a bartender than a pizza driver.

    The only rate I found cited by smoking ban activists comes from an OSHA study conducted in the 1990s. It concluded that exposure to smoke raised the incidence of death from 7 to 16 per 100,000 workers, or nine extra per year. One would have to ramp that number up generously for employees in the smokiest bars to bring it up to the level of driver-sales workers. But I don’t know enough about the data, which is fraught with contention, so I’m not going to put too much weight on it.

  3. Gun-rights advocates bring up a similar argument against gun registration, because car accidents kill many more people a year than guns do, and yet no one talks about regulating car ownership. That argument overlooks the fact that cars aren’t supposed to be killing people. If everyone follows proper driving methods, accidents won’t happen. Guns, on the other hand, are designed for the purpose of killing.

    Likewise, the incidental risks associated with pizza delivery are the same that occur with most other jobs – injuries and deaths happen when people or machines fuck up. But we can’t eliminate industries or activities because accidents sometimes happen, or else we’d all be sitting in our bedrooms with the lights off and the covers drawn. A far better approach is to work to limit the frequency and severity of the accidents through regulation, technology, training, etc.

    Contrast this with cigarette smoking, an activity that harms the user and those around him when it is properly done. And even then, no one is demanding the prohibition of cigarettes, just a reasonable alternative: walk fifteen feet and smoke outside.

  4. I agree with you the that cars/guns comparison is idiotic, but the guns/cigarettes comparison is equally so. The problem with guns is that they impose dangers on nonconsenting, uncompensated random people. Smoking in a private bar does not. Whatever dangers cigarette smoke may present, they apply only to those who willingly work in or patronize smoking establishments.

    Smoking is not inherently harmful, just inherently risky. Lots of people smoke and never get sick from it. Others smoke and end up with heart disease or lung cancer. No one can know with certainty which group they’ll fall into, just as no one can know with certainty if they’ll be one of the unlucky drivers who gets in a fatal accident.

    Similarly, there’s no objective difference between hiring someone to drive a pizza to your lazy ass and hiring someone to serve you beer while you smoke a cigarette. In each case you’re compensating another person to assume a risk so that you can do something you enjoy.

    The only difference is a subjective moral one. Like early Muslims banning coffee or recent Christians prohibiting alcohol, the immoral vice for the modern liberal to combat is tobacco smoke. Want to sit at home in your PJs and have a pizza brought to you? No problem. Want to sit in a bar and enjoy a smoke with friends? You degenerate heathen.

    Simply put, socializing over cigarettes and alcohol is an activity that many people enjoy. You and I aren’t among them, but I at least recognize their preference as legitimate and believe they ought to be allowed to find venues in which to pursue it.

    I suppose you’ll probably respond that restaurant and bar workers aren’t really compensated because there’s some kind of market failure preventing them from acting on their preference for smokefree workplaces. It’s hard to imagine a labor market more fluid than the service industry in a major city, so I think this is a pretty silly argument. Even so, let’s assume that it’s true. Why ban smoking entirely when you can just make it more expensive? A compromise bill was introduced in DC that would have done precisely that by giving tax breaks to smokefree businesses and requiring places that allow smoking to install expensive ventilation. Lots of places would have chosen to go smokefree, waiters and bartenders would have more options open to them, and, if workers really care about smoke exposure, smoking venues would have had to pay a higher risk premium to get employees.

    Predictably, that compromise bill got nowhere. Not because it would have failed to protect workers, but because the smoking ban was never about them in the first place. Worker safety is merely the noble cover anti-smoking crusaders and non-smoking opportunists use to impose their will on everybody else.

  5. As somebody who has read more than he would like of the scientific literature on the effects of second-hand smoke, I’d like to point out that there is still a lot of controversy over how large the effect (if any) of second-hand smoke is. For example, see the Congressional Research Service’s meta-analysis study. (The CRS is the public policy research arm of Congress). I forgot the exact number, but less than 1/4 of the studies they analyzed found statistically significant effects.

  6. Don’t forget that smoking bans are not really about worker safety — mostly they’re a reaction to smokers’ ridiculous notion that they have no obligation to internalize the cost of their habit and not force others to share it with them. By contrast, while one of my hobbies involves hitting people, I don’t force everyone around me to participate, and I certainly don’t say to people in bars or restaurants, “Well, if you don’t like being hit, you should go somewhere else.” Since that’s precisely what smokers do, it should hardly come as a surprise to them that even nonsmokers are finally getting fed up enough to push back.

  7. Sloth,
    Your analogy is somewhat flawed. While I don’t know of anyone who would remain indifferent if the person next to them at the bar suddenly turned and hit them, there are plenty of people who wouldn’t be bothered at all if that same person lit up a cigarette.

    A better analogy would be a guy who goes into a bar on karaoke night and complains about the noise. And then, after the bar owner tells him to get lost, he goes to the city counsel and tells them that they should ban karaoke because it causes hearing loss among the workers in karaoke joints.

  8. Ah, dueling analogies — fun. The karaoke example is even more flawed because the point of a karaoke bar, after all, is to do karaoke. Your hypothetical patron would be just as absurd as someone who goes to a boxing match and complains about the violence. By contrast, smokers make up only about 20-25% of the population, but still force others in close proximity to participate in their habit. Just because the bar owner — or the law — permits it doesn’t make it right or legitimate.

    Try this one: A black guy (or gay, or Chinese, or Jewish, or Polish — you get the idea) goes into a redneck bar somewhere in the Deep South and the white patrons start calling him the n-word. They have a legal right to do it; the owner allows it; it doesn’t bother any of the other customers; and given the location and culture of the bar, the black customer should have expected it. And he can always leave if he doesn’t like it. Still pretty low-class, as far as I’m concerned.

  9. To be clear– I oppose smoking bans because they clearly do violate the private property rights of bar owners. I just don’t have any sympathy for smokers who have brought this on themselves through their years of rude, presumptuous, and anti-social behavior. I don’t fart in a car full of people because I assume most of them will find the smell obnoxious. Some smokers show a similar amount of consideration; most do not.

  10. I am a non-smoker and I live in TX. I love places that allow smoking. On any night I can walk in a restaurant and find tables available in the smoking area whereas there’s a 15-20 min wait for the non-smoking area. I have choice and I make it. Don’t need no government intervention to ‘protect’ me.

  11. Sloth,

    Why do you presume that the “point” of a “karaoke bar” is to do “karaoke”, but you presume that the “point” of a tavern might not be a place to smoke, and drink.

    Your second example is why I love listening to ban proponents talk, eventually you betray your true feelings. You think smokers are “low-class” and don’t even deserve a tavern to hang out in, even comparing them to racists. While at the same time you are willing to bandy about pejorative terms like red-neck. The irony is too rich. Now that you are feeling so morally superior why don’t you go off and joking the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

  12. The private property rights of business establishments are not the same as our homes. when dealing with the public there are factors to be considered when dealing with the masses. Many building codes, etc. are in place that are not the smae as for our homes.

    Most smokers seem to be clue-less as to their behavior and habits. Smoke is not pleasent for many. Cigarette butts strewn everywhere is just a very minor part of the thoughlessness.

    My wife and I were raised around smoking parents. we seemed to get by just fine, but as adults we developed health problems. Asthma for my wife and other probelms for me. We both get very sick immediately, being exposed to smoke. We do the best we can to avoid it. We are talking immediate health problems, not the possible cancer thing, or it’s for the children. We’re tired of that ourselves.

    We think the anti-smoking groups are going overboard, but there are things to be considered. No one says you can’t smoke, just not in our faces. You don’t have the right to do others harm.

    When you eat out or other public activities, it is difficult if there are not regulations in place, as sadly, most smokers are as stated, clue-less. And this is not meant rudely.

    The comments made on this site are some of the most civil I have read about this issue. I’m impressed!

  13. I never realized that non-smokers were being forced at gun-point to patronize or work at privately run businesses that allow smoking.

  14. What an amazing discussion, if you consider it was only 250 odd years ago a bunch of us Americans got real pissed off and threw the King’s tea into the harbor. Don’t tread on me! was the catchphrase of the day. Today’s? Don’t annoy me! or I’ll call the police.

    Considering that second hand smoke has been attributed to ZERO health risks in any scientific study (and not for lack of trying) can someone please explain why there’s a smoking ban? I understand the ‘it’s icky and I don’t like the smell’ arguement. But considering we are talking LAW in a free country (and freedom is a two-way street) I don’t think a man ought be in violation of the law if he makes the air taste bad to another man…

    Then again, I don’t think its a matter for law to decide that I can be held ‘criminally negligent in protecting myself’ aka seatbelt laws, so what could I know.

    Well, at least we’re still free from the English crown…

  15. >The private property rights of business establishments are not the same as our homes.

    This is becoming an irrelevent distinction. See Belmont, Ca and Dublin, Ca.

    So smoking has become socially unacceptable behavior. Fine, so be it. Just don’t offend me by regulating it on false pretenses. Smoking bans exist because non-smokers find smoking annoying. Wait until they ban smoking outdoors next year (it’s still annoying).

    Sloth, I agree it can be difficult to sympathize with smokers, but bear in mind they haven’t been rude, presumtious, and anti-social for years. It’s only been a decade or so since we declared smoking anti-social. Social change takes time because society’s tolerance for risk evolves over time. Regulations are a quick fix, but they’re a permanent solution to an evolving problem.

  16. The analogy is hopelessly flawed.

    Pizza delivery seems to actually be a risk. Second-hand smoke, according to the actual studies and experiments I’ve seen, isn’t even a health hazard by our medical standards.

  17. Dakota —

    Your points are well-made and well-taken. It appears the only major disagreement between us is whether it is rude for smokers to engage in an activity that they cannot (or will not) internalize and that many nonsmokers find highly unpleasant to endure. As noted in my previous post, I strongly disagree with smoking bans from a legal perspective. As a matter of common courtesy, however, I’m still convinced that smokers tend to seriously underestimate the extent of their imposition on nonsmokers and would probably have a hard time staying consistent if nonsmokers started engaging in similar behavior by, say, spritzing people in bars with a fine mist of urine or some other offensive (but not demonstrably harmful) substance — just because we enjoyed it. Don’t you think most smokers would find that offensive, and if so, how would they reconcile it with their own conduct?

  18. Was this decision made by referendum? If not, one must ask why not. Here in Alabama we often have city, county, and state referendums on the ballot. Yet strangely, the hot issues in the news never appear as a referendum. I guess our legistlators believe the people are good at making decisions on obscure issues written in legal-ese but are completely ignorant when it comes to hot issues in the news. Anyway, if this had been a referendum decision, it would, like so many other issues, reduce to an argument about the advantages/disadvantages of democracy.

    I fear we enjoy arguments so much that we neglect that they are not resolved efficiently. In fact, I wonder if some of us subconciously prefer they not be resolved efficiently (assuming referendum is efficient) so that we can have a good argument about them.

    Assuming democracy is a good idea (i.e. a people deserve what they ask for), then it should certainly involve discussion. However, the reason most unpopular decisions are made by government isn’t so much because we need more discussion on each particular issue, its because we need more discussion on the decision making process in general. In this case, we can argue about the merits of referendum. (I’m still assuming this was not done with referendum, because my experience is that such things rarely are–plz correct me if I’m wrong here).

  19. Flerb,

    That was actually a complicated situation. If I remember correctly, the ban initially passed as a referendum, but a court later ruled this was not a legitimate way of passing the ban. I don’t remember the details of this offhand. The current, effective ban was passed by the city council.

Comments are closed.