Tuesday 21 June 2022


The draft legislation for the coming changes to the smoking rules are out.

There's a lot of nuttiness in there: a cap on the number of tobacco vendors that will create rents for incumbents as the lid presumably sinks; a lifetime ban on smoking for my daughter but not my son (and a fine for me of up to $50k if I handed her a cigar in a public place; and, a requirement that a cap on nicotine content in smoked tobacco be set.

But let's ignore all that for now.

Section 3AA just updates the numbering of some parts, including rules around smoking and vaping indoors.

Some time ago, I'd argued that the whole mess around defining an outdoor area, for purposes of the Smokefree Environments Act, should be flipped. Instead of taking out measuring tapes and figuring out whether 50% of an area has a ceiling, or what fraction is enclosed by walls, just set an air quality standard. Stick a CO2 monitor in a prominent spot. If it stays under 600 (say), it's an outdoor place. The air cycles frequently enough that everyone's cumulative exhaust doesn't hit the sensor. 

And I'd noted that you could do away with all the rules around indoor smoking and vaping on the same basis. 


There has been reasonably compelling argument in favour of updating air quality standards to deal with the pandemic. Whatever was considered good enough for indoor air quality prior to Covid - the optimum has to be higher than that now, right? Now it might not meet CBA for retrofitting existing places, but it's definitely in the realm of things worthy of more detailed analysis. It could make sense.

Nobody except for the public health people have been pushing this barrow. Government has basically given up on Covid and I expect would recoil at anything of this sort that would impose costs on businesses. 

But what if we could set an air quality standard that, if met, meant indoor smoking couldn't possibly be a problem - and simultaneously protected against Covid? Either maintaining a low CO2 level by cycling air through frequently enough, or running the air through a set of filters including a proper HEPA filter frequently enough, would do the trick. 

Define that standard, then say that smoking and vaping are allowed in any place that meets the standard. 

By definition, smoking can't impose any noticeable harm on others if you've set that standard appropriately. And it would give venues a reason to want to meet the standard - they could cater to a broader set of customers. 

Now it's a pig of a thing relative to a first best. 

There was never any case for regulating indoor vaping. It should always have been left to the decision of property owners, and then people could choose which venue to attend based on their own preferences. And really, the same holds for indoor smoking. 

And if a tighter air quality standard meets CBA, it shouldn't matter whether the venue wants to cater to smokers and vapers. And really, restaurants and bars should be competing on this margin if they don't want to have staff that are constantly out sick and if they want to attract Covid-averse people like me. Their failure to do so suggests, strongly, that my Covid-aversion is increasingly idiosyncratic and nobody else cares about it. A tiny number of venues might start competing on this margin - but I've yet to really find one. 

But if there are places that would like to be able to cater to vapers and the tiny number of remaining smokers, and if this kind of setup would let them do that, and if the marginal cost of simultaneously making it safe from Covid is pretty low if you're upgrading anyway....

Maybe there's a smokatunity here. 

I'd actively seek out cigar bars, because the rules making them safe for smoking would simultaneously and more importantly protect me from Covid.

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