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Guest Commentary: Virginia’s Senseless Smoking Ban

30 Nov 2009

[Editors’ Note: Tomorrow, Virginia’s smoking ban goes into effect. The following guest commentary was originally published in January 2008 when Virginia Governor Tim Kaine began pushing for the statewide smoking ban, but the reasons it gives for opposing the smoking ban remain just as valid today.]

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine recently announced that he’ll renew his fight to ban smoking in all Virginia bars and restaurants. He defended this push by citing the dangers of secondhand smoke, saying, “The scientific evidence about the health risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke is clear and convincing. Recognizing the negative health effects and high public costs of secondhand smoke, Virginia must act to protect the workers and consumers in its restaurants.”

virginiaWe’re pleased the governor has such command of the epidemiologic literature. Usually, when politicians make such statements, they have little if any familiarity with scientific research. Kaine should cite the empirical studies showing the health effects of bar and restaurant patrons’ occasional exposure to tobacco smoke. We’re not aware of any such studies; even the much-cited recent surgeon general’s report on secondhand smoke offered no statistical evidence of diminished health from occasional exposure. The findings on health effects that we’ve seen involve people who are chronically exposed to secondhand smoke—people such as the spouses and children of smokers who’ve had decades of regular, concentrated exposure.

The governor further claims that he has “clear and convincing” scientific evidence that a ban would decrease health risks and reduce “high” public costs. Can he tell us what those costs were and how they were calculated? How much will Virginia’s current trends in mortality and morbidity change as a result of his prohibition? Will he promise to repeal the law if no such change materializes?

Of course, people have a right to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, no matter what studies show. But they don’t have the right to force everyone else to live according to their preference. Fortunately, the world can accommodate their desires along with those of people who don’t mind tobacco smoke, just as it can accommodate people who like Chinese food and people who prefer hamburgers. Restaurant and bar owners want to make money, and they do so by catering to different market niches. In Northern Virginia, many restaurants and bars advertise that they are smoke-free, while others cater to a smoking crowd. This offering of many different choices is a virtue of open markets. So why would Kaine override the smoking choices of different people and instead impose his preference on all Virginians?

The governor noted his concern for the health of hospitality workers, who may have more exposure to secondhand smoke. But when bar and restaurant owners set their smoking policies, they must consider the preferences of their staff or else they’ll find themselves facing rapid turnover and paying higher wages. Why should all Virginia bar and restaurant workers be forced to work in a nonsmoking environment that only some of them demand?

Liberal societies allow people to make decisions that others don’t like. If some Virginians want to eat and drink in an establishment that allows smoking, and some workers want to work there, and some entrepreneur wants to finance that business, why does the governor think he should overrule them?

Tom Firey and Jacob Grier

[Tom Firey is editor of Regulation magazine, which is published by the Cato Institute. Jacob Grier, formerly of Cato, is a friend of He blogs at]

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14 Responses to “Guest Commentary: Virginia’s Senseless Smoking Ban”

  1. Tom Laprade Monday, November 30, 2009 at 7:16 am #

    The controversy of second hand smoke could be ended quickly by a simple act of legislation. Anyone presenting information represented as science or health reliant information, which is later found to be false or misleading, would be rewarded with a mandatory ten year jail sentence.

    I can guarantee the bandwagon of smoker hatred would end overnight and the profiteers would be making deals in self preservation convicting each other. Similar to the last time their ilk rose to prominence and Doctors were hanged at Nuremberg. The laws of Autonomy created in the wake, are largely being minimized by the bigots and zealots of Public Healthism, they are laws we found at the expense of millions who died without them. No one has the right to make health choices for others and no one has a right to demand rights to the detriment of others, especially with the convenience of a lie, as we find in the “toxic effect of second hand smoke”.

  2. Alex S Monday, November 30, 2009 at 8:32 am #

    With all the smoking bans going into effect, and with NYC recently making flavored cigars illegal to sell, where do politicians think they are going to get the SCHIP money from? They are taxing and banning themselves out of this Act.

  3. mighty Monday, November 30, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    Remember people, the government knows what is best for our lives. The government originally bestowed our rights and should be able to take them away as they please. Also, let's not forget that many of the "liberal" people today espouse the mantra of "live and let live" and "what and who you want to marry is fine," and finally, "we want everyone to have a voice and be heard." But, too bad that they immediately "kick you out" of their group if you say anything THEY don't agree with.

    My biggest concern is, when will the government stop taking away so many of the little and large freedoms that have made our nation great? Let's not forget that Germany prior to WWII, did the same sorts of things to people "they" didnt like. Little by little personal freedoms were whittled away until one day they woke up and asked, "Hey, how did we get in this terrible place?"

    What's next on our government's agenda? Controlling what we eat?…oh wait they do that too….certain fatty oils cannot be used to cook some of our fried foods anymore in some restaurants.

  4. cj Monday, November 30, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    I will never consider an elected official "elite" in any way.

  5. Padronnie Monday, November 30, 2009 at 11:36 am #

    Despite what Tim Kaine says, this isn’t about “science” or protecting workers. It’s about one thing only, controlling the lives of individuals and the elite imposing their choices on us.

  6. marbee Monday, November 30, 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    This is a very dangerous road the public is taking in regard to enacting smoking bans with false science as the basis! Tobacco Control organizations like the American Cancer Society, ASH, Tobacco Free Kids, etc., have become nothing but Perception Management firms. They are PAID to CREATE "truth". Created truth is controllable. Perception Management, aka social engineering, uses select information involving falsehood and deception. Really smoke and mirrors to get people to believe what they want the "truth" to be. Perception Management techniques influence emotions to an end. The difference between real and perception is like a stick of dynamite and the A-bomb. Wars can be created! Small business owners are experiencing this with legislation against their Constitutional rights. The truth about second-hand smoke is readily available to those who believe in freedom. It was never about health, just money, as witnessed in NYC.

  7. History Buff Monday, November 30, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

    The old story of 'FOLLOW THE MONEY' should be done by the VA gov. I'll bet there's a LOT he doesn't know!!! … Hit him with tobacco is IN the same food group as potato, tomato, cauliflower, chili's, green peppers, egg plant and other foods, ALL containing nicotine and I'll bet he denys it.

  8. RLBII Monday, November 30, 2009 at 6:44 pm #

    I was at J Gilbert's in McLean tonight. A good time, but also sad.

  9. John Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 3:42 pm #


    Some friends and I had a few cigars last week (for the last time) at J Gilberts. The place will never be the same.

  10. Joe Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 5:30 pm #

    I like cigar’s as much as the next guy.. I mean, I am reading a cigar blog.. but I for one hate it when I go somewhere without a smoking ban. Restaurants and bars are not a place that should be filled with smoke regardless of the health effects. When my family and I go out, or I go out with my girlfriend or friends, I don’t need to be bombarded by smoke while I eat or drink.

    I definitely do not go out as much if I am in a place where the bars are filled with smoke. I have some allergies that get worse in those areas and it is just not worth it to smell like smoke when I did not make the choice to have a cigar.

    I also don’t like cigarettes and it bothers me much more than cigar smoke (especially allergy-wise). This tends to make it worth it to me to have smoking bans since the large majority of indoor smoke at public places comes from cigarettes.

    As a cigar smoker, I understand that it is nice to smoke indoors but it is selfish to disregard other people at a bar or restaurant and light up.

    Outdoor smoking bans, on the other hand, are definitely a step too far.

    Back to the health concerns, I would sincerely like to see peer-reviewed scientific journals saying that second hand smoke is NOT dangerous. Although I smoke cigars and accept that risk, I doubt there is no negative health effects towards others around that smoke. This argument strikes me as akin to the “global warming is a myth” people who have one or two studies that they flaunt around in order to better their own self-interest.

  11. Ken Hill Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    Anti-Smoking Facade Crumbling

    The conclusions of the following information coincides with the fact that the Ontario Liberal government's demoralizing, dictatorial smoke-free legislations make people emotionally/psychologically ill. Good emotional/psychological health makes physical health work, not the reverse.

    'Councilman James Gennaro is introducing a bill to ban smoking in automobiles if a minor is present,' New York, August 15, 2007. Robert Madden, M.D., Former President of the New York Cancer Society wrote in The New York Sun, "He wants to control everyones behaviour. And he can't, he can only try. These efforts are based on data, both old and new, on the effects of secondhand smoke. This data is scientifically weak and controversial. The most recent example of this is found in the 2006 Surgeon General's report on the effects of secondhand smoke."

    Also stated by Dr. Robert Madden, "To me the most offensive element of the smoking bans is the resort to science as "proving that environmental smoke, second-hand smoke, causes lung cancer." Not only is this unproven, but there is abundant and substantial evidence to the contrary. It is frustrating, even insulting, for a scientist like myself, to hear the bloated statistics put out by the American Cancer Society, of which I am a member and the American Lung Association used to justify what is best described as a political agenda.

    'Medical Journal critcizes WHO for neglecting evidence, The Associated Press, May 7, 2007.' When developing evidence-based guidelines, the World Health Organization routinely forgets one key ingredient: evidence. The medical journals (Lancet) criticism of WHO will shock many in the global health community, as one of WHO's main jobs is to produce guidelines on everything from fighting the spread of bird flu and malaria control to enacting anti-smoking legislation. WHO's director of research policy Dr. Tikki Pang said that some of the WHO colleagues were shocked by Lancet's study, but he acknowledged the criticism had merit, and explained that time pressures and a lack of both information and money sometimes compromised WHO work.

    The actual result of the Liberal's "pet project," anti-smoking, is increased fear, anxiety, depression and therefore mental and physical illness. It affects smokers, their families, and other children whose minds are being preyed upon by constant government attempts to control their smoking behaviour.

    Anti-smoking is not only a loss of rights…it is the foothold of Fascism! Do we care?

  12. Ken Hill Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 2:56 pm #

    Government Will Make Smokers, Children, Families, Sick

    Government’s that foster anti-smoking policies lead the real health epidemic, government interference. They are not using science as their competent guide into the future. Instead they use the deep festering envy of politicized environmentalists (those unable to compete on a level playing field) to revisit remnants of the dark ages. The profound statement of philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand echoes the truth that smothers us, “Today, we live in the age of envy.”

    I am a life-long non-smoker, who has lost the four most precious people in my life. Cancer was the effect, a consequence, but not the cause. Yet, I will not help to propagandize health into dictatorial policy through anti-smoking. I do not wish to repeat the 1930’s, 1940’s. Do you?

    Exactly how can our government “create a healthier society for all” when they betray the smoker’s sense of trust, demoralize their self-confidence, disrupt their employer-employee relationships, upheave their family life, and undermind their efficacy by alienating them from their own human nature?

    This destructive mind/body dichotomy will subject smoker’s to long-term emotional and mental disorders, thus leading to serious physical ailments. In reality, our government is making them sick.

    A particularily foreboding feature of the mind/body dichotomy is the government’s suffocating negative influence while aggressively restricting young people from making their own decisions. Government aggression will severely jeopardize each young person’s struggle to form a necessary sense of self-confidence. This fragile process is usually a traumatic experience, especially when that negative influence is hidden under the misconception of government benevolence.

    In reality, our government lacks the knowledge of the trigger mechanism that sets off most cancers or most other major diseases to then become a critical danger for human beings. It is not smoking, nor second-hand smoke. Then why does government pathetically use smoker’s as their scapegoat, perhaps they require an example in order to intimidate other industries?

    Chicken Littleism is no longer a silly joke. It is now a snarling threat. Stamp out politicized environmentalism, not smokers.

  13. Joe Friday, December 4, 2009 at 10:11 am #

    "This destructive mind/body dichotomy will subject smoker’s to long-term emotional and mental disorders, thus leading to serious physical ailments. In reality, our government is making them sick."

    Bullshit with big words is still bullshit.

    "The actual result of the Liberal’s “pet project,” anti-smoking, is increased fear, anxiety, depression and therefore mental and physical illness. It affects smokers, their families, and other children whose minds are being preyed upon by constant government attempts to control their smoking behaviour."

    Really? Do you feel that your "minds are being preyed upon"?

    These arguments are far weaker than the weak to moderate connections that have been claimed to link cancer to secondhand smoke. Even without a link to cancer, it is still an irritant to peoples eyes, throat, and lungs, as well as an allergen and a danger to people with breathing problems, young children, and elderly. I am not saying it will kill anyone, but only 20% of the US population smokes cigarettes (as per the American Heart Assoc.) I will restate my prior comment that it is selfish and there is no need for allowing smoking in restaurants or bars. There are also places that simply get around the bans by creating "open air" rooms with space heaters and seating. This is a perfectly acceptable solution.

    Multiple states have smoking bans and the world hasn't ended. It also saves me hundreds on dry cleaning bills.

    Please cite articles that aren't from blogs and college newspapers when trying to link Anti-smoking, Fascism, and the Government causing mental illness.

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