Smoke 'Em While You Got 'Em

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Today's Cincinnati Enquirer carries this story about how El Paso's ban on smoking hasn't hurt local eateries. And here's a recent story from The Miami Herald about a brouhaha in Athens, Georgia about similar legislation.

The latter piece cites some data that suggests restaurants (or more specifically, bars that don't serve food) do in fact suffer lost revenue from smoking bans.

However, the larger point from this ongoing debate has to be that once you get into a cost-benefit analysis of smoking bans, the fight is essentially over. That's because those analyses are embedded in a public health model which proceeds from the assumption that risky behavior needs to be minimized. It may take a couple of years, but once the issue is being decided on something other than the right of a business owner or an individual to do what they want with their own property/person, it's only a matter of time before the scope of permissible behavior is severely restricted.

NEXT: I Blame Mosquitoes

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  1. “It is only a matter of time…”

    We’re already there, Mark, to some degree. Entities that receive federal funding have been barred from accepting advertising which criticizes the War on Drugs. Where there’s federal cash, there’s free-speech restrictions.

  2. The thing is, these folks DO see this as a case of individual rights, but the rights of those with whom they happen to agree, namely, politically-correct nonsmoking patrons, who by doctrine should have more say in how the restaurant is run than the one who actually runs it, and the so-called “working poor,” whom they are saving from being “forced” to inhale secondhand smoke,

    Most common quote I’ve heard from NYC politicians on Bloomberg’s ban: “Restaurant employees shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs and their health.”

    Leaving aside the fact that there’s no good evidence that ETS causes problems, the response to that statement is, why the hell not? We all have to make choices.

    The problem isn’t, though, that these politicians think waiting jobs are hard to come by; the problem is that they think that these jobs belong to the employees, rather than to the employers. “Their” jobs.

  3. David: Take it further. The jobs belong to the customers. The state has taken the power of choice away from the people at large.

    If I wanted to demonstrate my sensitivity and belief that workers are unreasonably harmed by customer action (smoking), I can’t. I cannot prefer a non-smoking venue without an alternate choice.

    The state has compromised my ability to act virtuously.

  4. Speaking as someone who sees no value, pleasure, or redeeming social or individual good in the practice of smoking whatsoever, have never been tempted to start, and who has nothing but pity for those hooked by it, and contempt for those who believe they have an inalienable right to foul the air breathed by others – these smoking ordinances are more than wrongheaded. They close markets for entrepreneurs who might otherwise provide havens for nonsmokers, and could otherwise charge a premium for a nonsmoking environment. If I were a restauranteur, I would have the following sign at the door:

    The management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, but does not wish to do so, therefore;

    – No smoking please. Enjoy the air, as well as your meal.
    – Please turn off your cell phone or pager so you and others may enjoy your time here uninterrupted.
    – Please remove your headgear so that other patrons can see past you to signal their waitperson.
    – Let’s all speak in civilized tones at reasonable volume, and use only those words you would use in front of your mother – or grandmother.
    – Your waitperson is here to serve your meal and see to your enjoyment, not submit to your abuse.

    My clentele would be very, very selective.

  5. “I cannot prefer a non-smoking venue without an alternate choice.”

    Interestingly, advocates of coercive smoking bans contend that business owners (and presumably their customers) are incapable of acting “virtuously. Therefore it is up to the “virtuous” non-smokers to do it for them by abrogating their property rights and freedom of association rights.

  6. “The management reserves the right …”

    Bingo, Jeff!
    It’s the loss of that right, not the right itself, which needs to be addressed.

  7. The law many not have hurt local eateries, but it would have hurt local customers. If my supermarket stops selling my favorite cereal, I will switch to another product — I do still have to eat, after all. But I am getting that much less enjoyment out of my food, despite my expenditure staying constant.’

    If you measure the effect of smoking bans in terms of money alone, you’re missing the point. But of course those who favor banning smoking are missing the point anyway.

  8. Here in Phoenix, smoking bans do hurt businesses. Say Tempe has a smoking ban, residents will eat or drink in a nearby town where they CAN smoke, and Tempe restaurants and bars lost customers. Smoking ban proponents use this to make the case for county or state-wide smoking bans.

    The property rights issue, at least in Phoenix, is pretty much buried by the public-health do-gooders. You know, we all have a right to breathe clean air. That seems to trump property rights.

  9. I don’t know about Arizona, but in the US Constitution I can find no guarantee of the right to breathe clean air. There is some language about the government not taking valuable stuff from citizens without compensation, and not interfering with local affairs. If it wasn’t for that damned document, I’m sure the state could arrange a perfect outcome for everyone.

  10. {Soon it will be against the law to die of anything other than Ripe Old Age.}

    Which of course ignores that all the cost-benefit analyses are false. The single most expensive course an individual can select is to follow all the rules, go on Medicare at 65, live to 95, then spend ten years in Medicaid-financed long-term care. Social Security and Medicare are going broke, but it isn’t because people are dying too soon.

    {Those who promulgate these sorts of ordinances have a blind-spot regarding individual choice. It’s not that they don’t believe in it, they simply don’t think it is possible.}

    Sure they do. They just want to make sure everybody makes the right (their) choice. Reminds me of growing up in the 60s. The “free spirits” would look at me and sincerely say that I couldn’t be “doing my own thing” because it didn’t look like their thing.

    Unfortunately the folks who give the government the power to snuff out their neighbor’s unpopular behavior don’t think far enough ahead to see the regulators turn around and look back over the fence at their own doings.

    As in:
    I shouldn’t have to go into a restaurant and worry about someone carrying a concealed handgun.
    I shouldn’t have to go into a restaurant and see two men kissing.
    I shouldn’t have to go into a restaurant and watch someone eat meat.
    I shouldn’t have to go into a restaurant and see anyone fat.
    I shouldn’t have to go into a restaurant and watch someone say grace.
    I shouldn’t have to go into a restaurant and…
    in the end, see anyone who isn’t like me.

  11. Soon it will be against the law to die of anything other than Ripe Old Age.

  12. “…once the issue is being decided on something other than the right of a business owner or an individual to do what they want with their own property/person, it’s only a matter of time before the scope of permissible behavior is severely restricted.”

    Yes.
    No further comments necessary.
    Except whether a gang has the “right” to take away the rights of an individual.

  13. “…whether a gang has the “right” to take away the rights of an individual.”

    Unfortunately ed, the gang (government) thinks they do have that right.

  14. The thing is, these folks DO see this as a case of individual rights, but the rights of those with whom they happen to agree, namely, politically-correct nonsmoking patrons, who by doctrine should have more say in how the restaurant is run than the one who actually runs it, and the so-called “working poor,” whom they are saving from being “forced” to inhale secondhand smoke,

    Those who promulgate these sorts of ordinances have a blind-spot regarding individual choice. It’s not that they don’t believe in it, they simply don’t think it is possible. They erroneously see nonsmoking restaurant goers as having no recourse if those at the table next to them light up. They don’t see getting up and leaving as a valid option, they see it as coerced behavior. Likewise, they don’t understand that waitperson jobs are vast in number and relatively easy to come by. They think waiters and waitresses are forced to load up on airborne carcinogens whether they want to or not.

    It is a peculiar form of myopia they suffer, this inability to see things as they really are, which, unfortunately, tends to have grave consequences for the rest of us.

  15. All valid points, Jeff.

    To clarify, by “gang” I mean the majority, whether it’s national, municipal, or your homeowners association.

  16. Slippery slope arguments are so often mocked or discounted, yet that seems the way of the world; one step provides momentum to continue on a path. Each successive step makes the next easier.

    The reasoning behind the state’s case for limiting freedom to minimize risky behaviour also leads to the state controlling discussion and thought. It is only a matter of time before we are not allowed to openly question smoking policy, or any other aspect of state brilliance.

  17. Jeff,

    I’m eating in a restaurant with my family. The people at the next table start smoking. My kid starts having an asthma attack. We have to leave.

    Our leaving is not coerced?

  18. Joe-

    Nope.

    You knowingly chose to expose your child… I’d smack you upside the head and take you to jail for endangerment.

    If you feed your six month old child steak and he chokes to death on it, are you going to sue the supermarket… or the butcher?

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