Why I’m a libertarian who supports smoking bans

May 19th, 2009

I believe one of the few legitimate purposes of a government is to protect people from one another.

Secondhand smoke is a form of assault.

Therefore, tadalafil cialis government can legitimately regulate smoking in circumstances where one person’s smoke is hazardous to another person.

(People try to make this into a private property rights argument and it simply is not. Restaurants and bars are not private property in the same way that private residences are. We try to restrict many other health hazards in restaurants and bars, viagra why does smoking deserve a special exemption?)

I also don’t accept the assertion that smoking bans are an illegitimate restriction of freedom.

The ONLY legitimate restrictions of freedom are those that keep people from hurting each other. Secondhand smoke clearly falls into that category.

To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Jones, check your right to smoke ends where another man’s nose begins.

(To be clear, my entire argument rests on the fact that secondhand smoke is hazardous to other people’s health. If this were not true, I would be in agreement with the people who oppose the bans.)

Entry Filed under: Observations

16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Matt  |  May 19th, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    What about mandating ventilation systems instead? Why is a ban necessary?

    Also, why is it okay to restrict the freedom of people to hurt each other in “public” but not in private residences? What if everyone in the bar wished to smoke, making SHS irrelevant? What if it was a “private” club?

  • 2. Chris from Racine  |  May 19th, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    I will have to respectfully disagree with you on this one Elliot. While I agree that we must restrict certain health hazards in restaurants and bars, these are usually things in which the patrons do not have a choice. Fire extinguishers, methods used in the kitchens, etc. are things in which a patron of an establishment has no say and of which he is usually unaware. Thus, regulating things like at what temperature food must be stored, in what kind of containers, etc. is for the good of all. A customer has no way of knowing if the food was stored at 32° or 52°.

    Smoking, however, is not in the same category. A customer is not FORCED to inhale second hand smoke, nor is he absent of knowledge. If a private business owner chooses to allow smoking, the patrons can choose not to enter the establishment. It’s up to the business owner, not the government, to decide which would be best for his business.

    I would have no problem with a law that states that a business owners who choose to allow smoking in his establishment must have a separate, well ventilated room (which many do already), but to ban smoking altogether is, in my opinion, an infringement on business owners’ rights.

  • 3. Elliot  |  May 19th, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    I think the private property argument is stronger when it comes to homes.

    But my logic would allow for complete bans and/or making tobacco illegal.

    What we’re seeing with the bans is basically an attempt to make smoking illegal without having to fight the powerful tobacco lobbies or give up the sin taxes.

  • 4. Elliot  |  May 19th, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Why respectfully, Chris? You should know no one around here respects me!

    And, by the way, your suggestion of a fully separated room would satisfy my concern. I have no interest in protecting people from themselves. (Although, waitstaff for that room would have to be completely voluntary.)

  • 5. Chris from Racine  |  May 19th, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Well, I attempt to be respectful! You don’t always make it easy!!

    So, you’re not for the smoking ban, per se, but for separating deginerates from normal folk?

    While I don’t have as much of an issue with that, I STILL think it’s up to an individual business owners to make that decision for his or her own business. I just don’t think the government should get involved in this one.

    I guess on this we’ll have to agree to disagree…

  • 6. Dan  |  May 19th, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Elliot, if the people only hurt people with their smoke, that would be one thing. But when you ban smoking from bars and certain restraunt, you will cause some people to lose their jobs. that has been demonstrated time and time again. Where are those people’s rights when they are laid off? Where are the rights of businesses that lose business and money because of the ban?
    I come down on the side of choice. If I want to go to a smoking bar, I will make that choice and if I don’t, then I won’t.
    Second hand smoke does not harm people who choose not to be around it.
    And no, I am not a smoker.

  • 7. Matt  |  May 19th, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    “Although, waitstaff for that room would have to be completely voluntary.”

    All employment is completely voluntary, otherwise it’s slavery. Any bar worker is free to quit and pursue other opportunities.

    I will agree with you that a complete ban of tobacco is more logical than the law Doyle just signed. If Tobacco use is bad then it’s bad all the time not just in restaurants. However all substance bans are anti-libertarian on their face.

    If bar patrons truly wanted smoke free bars, then they would only patronize smoke free bars (Milwaukee has a few nice ones) and more bars would become smoke free voluntarily.

    It’s hard to believe you’re a libertarian when you don’t believe that the free market works…

  • 8. Elliot  |  May 19th, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Frankly, I don’t think it would have come to this if more restaurants had been willing to create really separate environments.

  • 9. Chris from Racine  |  May 19th, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Oh yes it certainly would. If that’s true, why didn’t they draft legislation mandating separate environments? Doyle will do whatever it takes to create the nanny state that he so covets. It was only a matter of time. I’m still curious to see what happens when he loses the revenue from smokers. My e-cig is working wonderfully!! I get my nicotine, he doesn’t get my taxes, and there is no second hand smoke or carcinogens…a win-win for everyone but Doyle.

  • 10. Elliot  |  May 19th, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    I’m more of a reformed libertarian. When I was young and believed in the basic goodness of humankind I was a complete anarchist.

    When I grew older and discovered that “people just ain’t no good” as Nick Cave says, I realized that some concessions needed to be made to curb the negative effects of completely free markets and completely unrestricted human nature.

  • 11. Dan  |  May 19th, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    “Frankly, I don’t think it would have come to this if more restaurants had been willing to create really separate environments.”
    No, that is not true. Liberals, time and time again have shown that if something harms only a very small amount of things, they will try and ban it. Look at enviromentalists- they want to ban everything that may harm a bug. Look at the global warming alamists. They want to ban everything may cause global warming, even if it has nothing to do with global warming.
    Doyle and other liberals want the nanny state and they want to control people lives. They believe people are too stupid to live their life without government interference. Of course, since that is true with a very small minority of people cannot live their lives with out government help, then liberals think everyone is stupid and must protect everyone from themselves.

  • 12. Jenna  |  May 19th, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    The problem is that your argument essentially endorses a “heckler’s veto.” Under 1st Am. jurisprudence, we don’t allow crowds who dislike what a speaker is saying to force his silence merely by voicing their disagreement. This is exactly what happens under a regime of smoking bans: those who don’t like cig. smoke force those who do, or bar owners who merely allow it in their establishments, to comply with whatever they want. It’s not about private property, but about allowing one segment of the population, whether a minority or a majority, to force actions or nonaction by another segment of the population. And that is where my problem lies. If we allow folks to use a “heckler’s veto” on this issue, there is no limit to other issues on which it may be used.

  • 13. Matt  |  May 20th, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Capitalism doesn’t require people to be good. In fact, capitalism works by people pursuing their own self interest.

    Notice how there are very few stores that sell mud pies, this is because there is no market for mud pies. For similar reasons there isn’t a huge market for smoke free bars. There are a few, so if you want more smoke free bars then patronize the existing ones exclusively! Write letters to the owners of smoking bars telling them why you’ll never spend money at their business. If there is a market for smoke free bars then there will be smoke free bars without needing a law.

  • 14. Elliot  |  May 20th, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Pure free markets can create monopolies that can then temporarily undercut any competition to freeze them out and then the market is no longer free.

    Pure free markets with no regulation would make it easier for companies to sell tainted food or other products with hazardous components and conceal that they were doing so.

    You just refinanced, if there was no regulation of banking, what would keep lenders from colluding and price fixing ruinously high rates?

    History has shown again and again, when people can do those things, they will.

    I believe in free markets, but I recognize that there still needs to be a referee.

  • 15. Matt  |  May 20th, 2009 at 9:12 am

    I’m not talking about pure free markets. I’m talking about reality. There are options for people to go to bars in Milwaukee that are smoke free. The fact that those businesses aren’t destroying the competition indicates there there isn’t a demand for smoke free bars among the bar going public.

    If there was a monopoly creating crazy high interest rates it’s true I wouldn’t have refinanced, but I also probably never would have bought either and I’d probably be better off. And it’d be easier for me to vote with my feet and move out of this state.

  • 16. fishaddict  |  May 26th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    According to the CDC, between 250,000 and 500,000 people die annually from flu and yet infected people are allowed to eat, sit, touch, and thereby infect others every minute of every day. Billions are lost in the US alone due to missed days of work and so on…Why is it that we can ban smoking in public and yet we cannot keep sick people from going out? If you are sick, what right do you have in leaving your house and possibly infecting and subsequently killing me or someone I love. Why do we not register folks with AIDS and make public the fact that they have a disease that will kill you if they pass bodily fluids? Why is it that they have a right (and we trust, sometimes badly) to privately carry this danger when it could result in the death of my wife, myself, and our children. She is a nurse and by law she is not allowed to know if a patient on her floor has the disease. In fact if there is an incident like a needle stick, the patient still does not have to say anything or submit involuntarily to testing.

    When I walk into a bar I can see the smokers, I can smell it, and I can walk out. If my wife goes to work and a crackhead goes nuts and she gets stuck, the crackhead has more rights than she does…If we want to have no more smoking then make it a scheduled drug and allow it only for research purposes. Do not take my tax money, subsidize the tobacco farmer, sue the industry and tax the heck out of the product and then tell me it is still legal, I just can’t use it anywhere.

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Being in a wheelchair gives you a unique perspective on the world. This blog features many of my views on politics, art, science, and entertainment. My name is Elliot Stearns. More...

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