Friday, August 29, 2008

Smoking Bans Are Bad for America's Health

Main points:
  • The dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke is scientifically established, however
  • Smoking bans are an infringement on property rights
  • Consumers possess economic clout to combat public smoking
  • Smoking bans open the door for further, more extreme breaches of Constitutional Rights
In light of a consistent stream of research citing the dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke, public smoking bans are seeming to become increasingly popular. I live in a town that passed a ban on public smoking last year. The city ordinance was written as follows...

a. Smoking is prohibited in all bars, city operated facilities, recreation facilities, restaurants, amusement places, bed and breakfasts...

The debate leading up to the decision was extensive and passionate. The public record for the city meeting leading up to the decision is much more interesting than public records usually are. The arguments in favor of the ban were varied and compelling, as seen in these excerpts from the record.

Tom Mayer... works at the lung health clinic. He tests people who have been exposed to second-hand smoke. He has to talk to people who are experiencing health problems due to a smoking environment.
Nicole Stevens... worked two years in a smoking area of a restaurant. She did not have a choice since she needed a job. She asked that smoking be banned.
Fred Peterson... said he is tired of paying for smoker’s diseases. His father, step-father and mother died of smoke related diseases. One-half hour of smoke exposure affects us.
Sarah Shelton stated this is an opportunity for Kirksville to become a pioneer city by passing an ordinance to ban smoking.
Alana DeCooyer... stated it is her right to go into a business without there being smoke there. She does not go into those businesses that allow smoking. Kirksville should set a standard by banning smoking here.

The arguments demonstrate the fact that smoking is indeed dangerous and has had a devastating history of damage. They certainly demonstrate an intellectual progress in that the majority of the participants in the public hearing recognized the dangers of smoking and wanted to halt its destructive effects.

However, was a ban on smoking in public buildings the best course of action to combat smoking? Consider two more excerpts from the record.

Brenda Sewell, owns Uptown Café, presented a petition signed that says business owners should have the right to choose. She said that 80% of her patrons are smokers.
Jan Collins, Washington Street Java, said that her business became smoke free in 2001, and she believes their business has grown.

First of all, let's consider two opposing claims from the record. From the final excerpt from the Pro-Ban group, a citizen claims that she has the "right to to go into a business without there being smoke there." Yet, the owner of the Uptown Cafe states that "business owners should have the right to choose" whether smoking is allowed on the premises.

Whose right is it to determine whether smoking is allowed on a property- the owner of the property or the visitor to the property? I believe that most of us would agree that this is a property right of the owner. Traditionally, the owner of a property determines its use. In addition, many of us agree that it is a constitutional right. It is implicit in the "Nor shall private property be taken for public use" phrase of the Fifth Amendment.

This is not to say that the citizens of Kirksville were obligated to enter smoke-filled public buildings. They still had a right- not the right to "go into a business without smoke being there"- but the right to choose not to go into buildings where smoking is taking place. No one forced them to eat in smoky restaurants- they ate there for reasons of convenience.

This doesn't mean that Kirksville citizens had no say in the use of private buildings. Actually, they had available a means of promoting non-smoking businesses just as profound as the city-wide ban would be. They had an economic vote.

All it would take to bring non-smoking businesses to Kirksville would be for the non-smokers to quit patronizing smoking establishments. The non-smoking establishments like the above-noted Washington Street Java would bloom with such action. Those businesses that continued to allow smoking would be forced to consider prohibiting smoking in their establishment or face the consequences of a smaller customer base.

Within a short amount of time, the policies of businesses would be proportionate to the tastes of the consumers. There would be adequate businesses to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers.

Consider the two votes that Kirksville citizens had. They had a democratic vote, one in which they could compel an entire populace to accommodate to the preferences of the majority. The use of this vote was an attractive option- with it they could significantly decrease public smoking in a single stroke. They also had an economic vote- one in which the local economy would respond to the tastes of its citizens.

Note that by using a democratic vote to establish a smoking ban a precedent would be set. Property rights would be infringed upon by a majority wielding "scientific data" showing harm- a majority enforcing what they felt was "right" and "healthy." But once these rights are infringed, they are forever in jeopardy to the next data-wielding majority who believes they are promoting something "right" or "healthy."

Think of the possibilities-a majority of the population with data showing that organized religion promotes depression, or conversely a religious majority determined to shut down businesses on Sundays. How about a health conscious majority forcing restaurants to serve vegetables with every meal? The action solely depends on a majority view and a rationale.

So even though we understand why Kirksville residents adopted a smoking ban, we must insist that it was bad- bad for the health of America. Freedom, even if it is the freedom to allow smoking in your business, must be preserved. Freedom must encompass the power to choose the wrong. By protecting this freedom, we preserve the power to do right.

Rusty Scalpel

(A final point to consider: how did the smoking ban affect businesses that had already prohibited smoking on their premises. Did they benefit from the ban?)

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