Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Freedom is bad for you

I hate cigarette smoke. As an ex-smoker, I'm pretty vocal about it, too. Yeah, that's me, the guy at the table next to you who says (in my best Bill Murray), "Hey, you with the oral fixation -- the sign says no smoking." You catch more flies with Raid than honey, I always say. In truly public places, such as parks and sidewalks, a smoking ban addresses the balance between the right to smoke and the right not to breathe smoke. I'm not addressing that here.

But the great State of Illinois, and probably other States, are mulling the idea of a smoking ban for all public places, including bars and restaurants. Proponents try to cast it in terms of the health of workers, citing secondhand smoke as a health hazard. But the debate comes down to the majority getting its way. We're all supposed to want the majority to rule, right? The trouble is that this time the wrong majority is having its way over the wrong minority.

Now, I don't know whether the health effects of secondhand smoke are as bad as activists say. But for the sake of argument, I'll grant it. As I said, I hate cigarette smoke.

The debate is being fought to trick the non-smoking majority into believing that it is imposing its will on the smoking minority. But that's not what's happening at all. Smokers will still be able to smoke..

The smoking ban is indeed about the rights of the majority. This majority is made up of both smokers and non-smokers alike, and the minority is everyone else.

Did you catch that? The minority in this case are the restaurant and bar owners, a group on the order of zero in size compared to either their smoking or non-smoking customers. It is not the rights of smokers or non-smokers in question, it is the right of the majority, the roughly 100% of us who do not own restaurants, to dictate policy to the minority, the 0% of us who do.

The question would be better decided by people voting with their wallets. If restaurant and bar owners want to attract non-smoking customers like me, and want to attract non-smoking staff, and save money on air filtration and cleanup, they can go smokeless. Those wanting to allow their guests to smoke could do so.

Those pushing the ban cite employee health concerns. And yes, it's good to have clean air in the workplace. However, a smoking ban artificially limits the ability of those employees to take risks in exchange for greater reward. They, too, should be allowed to vote with their wallet, and to bargain with their employers to maximize profit, health, and customer satisfaction.

Instead, holding the vote at all increases the power of government to regulate our lives, to keep us from taking risks in search of reward. Right now it's ostensibly for our own good. But it doesn't take long for 'ostensibly' to become 'supposedly', then for 'supposedly to become 'plausibly', until finally any pro forma reference to the good of the many will suffice to impose the government's will on the few.

The Tyrant is stirring, and that scares me a lot more than secondhand smoke.


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2 comments:

KnightErrant said...

I remember going into an eatery before California banned smoking in resturants. I asked for their "no smoking" section and, when told they didn't have one, started to leave. To keep me as a customer, they opened up their banquet room and gave it just to me.

There is an enclosed shopping mall in San Diego that I refuse to use because I have to walk past a gauntlet of cigarette smokers to get to the doors.

Using California as an example, many businesses wanted a universal ban on smoking so they didn't have to deal the the public relations aspects of banning, or allowing, smoking. "It's out of our hands" is a easy excuse.

Loren Heal said...

Right. And in my rambling incoherence, I failed to note that the businesses who don't want smokers (because the owners don't like smoking for various reasons) want to use a smoking ban as a way to stifle competition.

I predict the appearance of "smokeasies".

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