Smoker's Market


New at Reason: If smoking is banned in the forest and nobody knows it, did it make a sound? Or rather, what is the sound of one hand smoking? That is, if a smoking ban doesn't appear to hurt business, does that mean it didn't have an economic effect? Julian Sanchez looks into it.


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  1. “Instead, they’ve been forced to resort to the argument that workers who … do mind [smoke] must be protected from the hassle of either making a trade-off or seeking a more congenial job”

    You’re giving them too much credit. Leftists are oblivious to the fact that workers even have a choice. They think their only other choice to working where they do now is starving to death. They see employers as parental figures. Unfortunately.

  2. A smoking ban may or may not reduce revenue at D.C. bars relative to the status quo…

    A smoking ban may also increase revenue, relative to the status quo. The overwhelming majority of Americans don’t smoke tobacco and dislike breathing in second-hand smoke from those who do.

    The chance of me going out to a bar or nightclub in a city that allows smoking is very close to 0%; the smoke, for me, leads to asthma attacks, and frequently bronchitis as well. I know I’m not alone in avoiding bars and nightclubs for this reason, because I have friends who feel the same way. But here, in California, it’s different. Here, a minority population of drug addicts is not allowed to poison the air I breathe.

  3. Well there you go, Julian, your sophisticated economic and philisophical analysis is entirely debunked by Dan — it’s what the majority wants, duh!!

  4. (that last post was sarcasm)

  5. Sounds like Dan needs to invest in a portable oxygen supply. 🙂 One of my favorite restaurants has a meat-smoker smack in the middle of the dining area. Any cigarette smoke affecting the waitstaff, bartenders and cooks is likely to be trivial compared to the exhaust from all the ribs, chicken, etc. being smoked. A sane regulation might test ambient air, and require restauranteurs to keep smoke below certain levels, either by using technology to ventilate their space, or by changing their cooking methods, or even their smoking/non-smoking policies.

    I’m prone to respiratory problems, myself. That doesn’t give me a claim on anyone else to make the spaces they visit to enjoy themselves so pure that I won’t be irritated. If it isn’t my property, I don’t get to make the rules.


  6. Kevin,
    Your favorite restaurant with the big-ass smoker right in the middle got me wondering if a restauranteur might promote an “eekers allowed” restaurant.
    It would be hard to imagine that particular comfort of home being acceptable at a French restaurant, eh?

  7. “The chance of me going out to a bar or nightclub in a city that allows smoking is very close to 0%”

    Well, I guess you’ll have to voluntarily spend your money at some other establishment, huh? Ain’t capitalism fun? Or are we infringing on your right to go to a bar?

    “Here, a minority population of drug addicts is not allowed to poison the air I breathe.”

    Yeah, well, I think you’re ugly, and I vote you have to wear a paper bag over your head to stop poisoning my view! Let’s make a law! Who’s with me? Majority rules! ‘Cause it’s not like I could just, y’know, choose not to be in the same room with you… or something…

  8. Excellent article, by the way. Nice to see a logical refutation of the only non-blatantly selfish argument the ban proponents have. The idea that bigger chains may be helped by the bans while smaller restaurants are hurt is extremely bad news, though–especially if it convinces the big boys to lobby for more bans.

  9. From what I understand, the levels of second-hand smoke considered “safe for workers” (by the state) are about one hundred times lower than the allowable levels of toxins in factories.

    A chemist I know covered himself with sensors, walked into a closet, and smoked an entire cigarette. The thick smoke registered much lower than even the allowable government standards.

  10. Airlines, before government told them what was best, used to allow smoking…it bugged some passengers, but as the complaints grew, the airline suits caught on and Boeing and McDonnell Douglas and Airbus all came up with amazing filtration systems that allowed smoking and non-smoking seatmates to fly almost completely without having to ask/put out the cigarette…but they never really had a chance to implement them.

    I don’t like smoke, nor do I like smelling like a greased pig when I leave a restaurant (if you go to any chain, you will notice a funk on your clothes when you leave and brother, it ain’t smoke), but I believe in smokers’ right to light up everywhere (oxygen tents notwithstanding). I also believe that the market will solve.

    It is amazing that the airlines turned to the market to solve and it would have (building and marketing those filtration systems would have given a lot of people jobs) until government decided against it…and now some intelligent or lucky person who came with an even better filtration system will lose all his hard work because of government paternalizm (when it is government being fascist, always use a ‘z’ in paternalizm).

    Can’t believe how far backwards this nation is retreating to…we used to fight fascism, and now we encourage it, albeit through intellectual dishonesty…Good piece JS.

  11. I favor a scheme of transferrable smoking licenses. A restaurant or bar could purchase a license to allow smoking on their premises. That way some places would be available for smokers and those who love them while other places would be smoke-free. If these licenses were truly property rights, as I would prefer, then busybodys could even buy up a smoking license and not use it, much like some people buy pollution licenses now to keep them off the market.

    Personally I hate cigarette smoke, and I would much rather have the tobacco smoke inside the damn bar than polluting the air out on the sidewalks where it’s actually harder to avoid.

    I live in California so I don’t really know how things are in the rest of the country, but isn’t the market deciding this issue for the most part?

    When my favorite pizza restaurant in Connecticut went smoke-free, it was because they decided to do it, not because the government forced them.

  12. Though it has naught to do with his ultimate point, I must take exception to Julian’s flip comment that “Nobody, after all, ever claimed that smoking bans would mean that ‘no one will ever’ go out carousing, ‘ever,’ or that it would ‘wipe out all’ bars.” — as this was, in point of fact, the argument made against the smoking ban when it was invoked by referendum in my city.

  13. Yo Julian!

    You’ve got this economic analysis thing all wrong. If you want to impress, you don’t write “imagine an inverted U”. You write something like, “…assume for the moment that the mix of smoking and non-smoking establishments is normally distributed, with a mean of 0.53, and a standard deviation of 2.1…”.

  14. It.s not usually the never smokers who mind so much, as us ex-smokers who find the smoke so offensive.

  15. (I think Dan is just a ruse to get the libs agitated.. but I’ll bite anyway)


    I, like others who posted here, hate cigarette smoke. But many moons ago, when I waited tables, I always wanted the smoking section because:

    1) Smokers tend to be a lot more laid back
    2) They are more likely to order drinks (thus higher bills)
    3) They tip at higher percentages

    The customers at the non-smoking sections tended to be demanding bastards and tipped much lower.

    I know first-hand how this ever-increasing prohibition is destroying the livelihood of people trying to make an honest living. I live near a once-thriving neighborhood of restaurants/bars that is being crucified because people are taking their business to DC.

    What kills me even more is that owners are hoping that the prohibition spreads so it “levels the playing field”. We are getting so brainwashed that the victims are starting to accept it as a fact of life.

  16. Smoking is not allowed in NYC subways. However, second hand smpoke actually smells better than the coffee/piss/shit/blood stench that permeates the subways as it is now. I know drinking coffee, pissing, shitting and bleeding are not allowed on subways (well, i’m unsure about bleeding), but I have seen quite a few people do those things without anyone complaining to them, but if someone smoked a cig they would be strung up on the nearest I-Beam support!

    Don’t even get me started on the body odor of the passengers!!!!

    If we’re talking about forcing people to do what is good for them, can we have a law that forces everyone to smell nice and take a daily shower? Or at least put some industrial strength air fresheners on each subway car?

  17. I notice that Dan used the phrase “a city that allows smoking.” It seems as though arguing with him is a lost cause if he thinks that the city is the entity that allows smoking and not the owners of businesses.

    People like Dan think, “Well, the city is the body that allows smoking. Therefore the city should be responsible for legislation that bans smoking.” The very notion that the business owners are the ones anti-smoke crusaders should be appealing to doesn’t even enter his head.

  18. What does “The Merovingian” think about this? Smoking seems more prevalent in Paris than here.

    Jean Bart?

  19. All gregarious animals have a love-hate relation with fellows of their species. They intuit the advantages of flocking, but don’t like their smelly neighbors. It’s like Groucho Marx’ thought: I don’t want to be a member of a flocking species that would flock with me.

    So the phrase, “Don’t flock with me” rings hollow.

  20. Personally I hate Somking and I dislike people who smoke. It does nothing for you but kill your insides. I think cigarettes should be banned all together!!

  21. EMAIL:
    DATE: 02/01/2004 07:33:57
    Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.

  22. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 11:39:26
    There was no immunity to cuckoo ideas on Earth.

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