Business and Industry

Just Can't Quit

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California became the first state to ban smoking in bars a decade ago. Since then, smoking bans in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, universities, you name it, have flourished.

But there was a time when Americans would have been outraged at the idea of politicians telling business owners how to run their own bars. Today, most gladly allow nanny state cops to snuff out smoking in bars, cars, beaches, stage plays-almost anywhere. Years ago comedian Dennis Leary quipped, "What's the law now, you can only smoke in your apartment, under a blanket with all the lights out?"

It seems like plenty of politicians would love to ban that too, but they could never ban smoking in private homes…or could they?

Recently, the Bay Area city of Belmont passed a law that targets people who smoke in their own homes. "I'm pretty sure I still live in America," says smoker and Belmont resident David Scott.

But if Scott lights up once the new law takes effect in January, he might just get a visit from a police officer. The mayor who championed the new law declares, "It is our responsibility to take care of everyone!' and a pro-ban councilmember who worries about smoke wafting into neighboring units compares smoking in an apartment to shooting a gun through the wall.

Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body, but how dangerous is second-hand smoke? Are banners saving lives or battering science? Are they progressive champions or plunderers of property rights?

Citing the proliferation of privately enforced bans, reason.tv host Nick Gillespie says, "I actually like smoking bans; I just don't like it when the government does the banning."

Indeed, smoking bans have already set the stage for all sorts of other nanny state policies to save us from ourselves. The nannies have already barged through our front doors. Just how much farther will the banners go?

"Just Can't Quit" was written and produced by Ted Balaker.

As a bonus double-feature, click below to see 2002's Talking Butts: A Smoking Documentary, which was made with the help of reason's Paul Feine, Jesse Walker, Jacob Sullum, and Charles Paul Freund. The 25-minute film explores why people smoke and why attempts to regulate and punish smokers have unintended consequences. And it features a cameo by filmmaker John Waters that is absolutely unforgettable.

To embed Talking Butts on your site, go here.