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Stogie Commentary: Smoking Bans Revisited

7 Apr 2009

With traditionally cigar-friendly locales like Dallas and North Carolina set to enact smoking bans soon, today presents a good opportunity to revisit our case against these unjust and tyrannical laws.

No SmokingRegular readers will recall that, over the years, we’ve written a great deal about the lamentable spread of state and local smoking bans. While my colleagues and I try to keep our web magazine focused more on tobacco and less on politics, some issues—predominantly taxes and bans—cannot and should not be avoided.

So, here I intend to piece together many of the arguments we and others have made against the draconian smoking ban movement. My goals are threefold: (1) to potentially convince those who remain unconvinced, (2) to refresh our memories, and (3) to provide fellow brothers of the leaf with ammunition for their own debates on the subject.

Protect Whom?

One of our first commentaries on this subject was written back in May of 2006. It was prompted by city officials in Calabasas, California, who had approved a law that prohibits all smoking outdoors (except for in city-approved designated “smoking areas”). Given the complete lack of scientific data regarding outdoor secondhand smoke, I concluded that Calabasas officials weren’t trying to “protect” nonsmokers—they were trying to “protect” smokers, the very people who are consciously choosing to smoke.

That realization shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, the aim of every smoking ban, whether outdoors or inside private buildings, is for the government to control the actions of consenting adults.

The argument that bans are needed to protect the waitresses, bartenders, busboys, etc. who work in smoking facilities is also ill-conceived. As our friend Jacob Grier (a bartender) recently pointed out in an op-ed, there are many jobs that expose workers to riskier activities (such as Oregon’s requirement of full-service gas stations, which exposes attendants to harmful gas fumes). Besides, if secondhand smoke is a main concern, one can simply opt for a career or an employer that self-regulates tobacco use in the workplace.

Funny Science

In the open air or inside a bar, “health concerns” seem to be a mere ruse to disguise a movement of politicians, bureaucrats, and busybodies who would simply rather not smell, be near, or tolerate tobacco. Keep in mind that the notion of secondhand smoke as an epidemic is totally overblown.

While the AFL-CIO claims that “secondhand smoke is estimated to cause 65,000 deaths per year in the U.S.,” that number is just plain wrong. It’s 20 times the estimate of the Center for Disease Control, and even the CDC estimate was roundly rejected by a federal court. Thomas A. Lambert’s “The Case Against Smoking Bans” summarizes how various agencies and groups used biased “scientific” studies to make secondhand smoke appear to be risky enough to merit “a significant intrusion on the personal liberty of business owners and their customers.”

It’s Economics, Stupid

Famed George Mason University economist Walter E. Williams argues that smoking bans persist and spread despite common sense because “the cost to nonsmokers to impose their will on smokers, say, in a restaurant, bar, or airplane, is zero, or close to it.” The act of voting for politicians who will impose majority rule over minority rights is inexpensive, and zero-priced activities have sub-optimal outcomes.

Allowing the market to dictate smoking preferences, however, provides for choice. Some establishments will cater to smokers. Others, if demand merits, will spring up as profit-motivated business owners ban smoking to cater to desired preferences. Here in northern Virginia, in the absence of any smoking ban (though a statewide ban is forthcoming), many if not most restaurants are currently smoke-free.

Choose Liberty

The most compelling argument against smoking bans, in my opinion, is the notion that consenting adults have rights to do with their bodies what they so please, and private business owners have rights to offer the accommodations they so choose. Whatever the perceived social ill, government regulation and intervention is usually a “cure” worse than the disease.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

6 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: Smoking Bans Revisited”

  1. George E. Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at 5:11 am #

    There's a column in today's NYT science section on efforts to limit people's salt intake that makes for very interesting — and related — reading:….

  2. ed Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at 3:19 pm #

    Banning salt, fats, cigars, guns, etc. is all related. The pleasure police are never happy. Read these words and stand up when the pleasure police go after something that you may not partake in because your enjoyment may be next. "In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist; And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up ecause I wasn’t a trade unionist; And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;

    And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

  3. dmjones Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 8:04 am #

    Well said, ed. I have used that same argument many times and I think it's one of the strongest, specifically with the SCHIP funding issues.

    History has shown that raising taxes on tobacco products (or anything, for that matter–what you want to discourage, you tax) causes people to quit. So, they have based their expected revenues for SCHIP taxes based on more people smoking and paying the taxes than will actually be the case. Therefore, the funding will not be enough to cover the (liberal) politicians have promised. In the world of "Big Government" there is no such thing as shrinking a budget, no matter what the teachers' unions may say, so instead of cutting back and making the program work with less money, they will expand the taxes to provide more funding. When tobacco tax money has dried up, they will be coming for your "sacred cows," non-smokers! Don't expect me to feel sympathy for you when they raise taxes on your bottled water or your Prius.

  4. 738668 Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    What a lovely day for a 738668! SCK was here

  5. Mobile Giving Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 8:18 am #

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  6. George E. Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    Welcome aboard! Glad you found the site.