Smoking Bans as an Infringement on Liberty. The Comments Waft In.

October 8th, 2009

My previous post on my approbation of smoking in bars and bikers not wearing helmets has generated a mini-buzz.

A friend on facebook commented:

Bikers without helmets, fine…it is their own life they are risking. But I have a right and liberty to enjoy a drink or meal without literally breathing in cancerous fumes from second hand smoke. Your absolute right to liberty stops when you are killing me by your actions. So if we both have a liberty to be at the restaurant but our liberties are not compatible…then the person who doesn’t kill the other person with cancerous smoke should win out.

My reply? You are conflating your liberty to go to a restaurant, and a proprietor’s liberty to establish a business as he sees fit. You have a liberty NOT to eat at a cancerous restaurant. You infringe on a proprietor’s liberty to run his establishment as he wishes. You have no liberty to tell someone else how to run their bar. Vote with your feet and go to a different restaurant. When was the last time a Wendy’s or McDonald’s in a state that permitted smoking, allowed smoking? Never. Business arrange policy decisions to attract certain clients. Create a demand for a smoke free restaurant. If they build it, you will come. But don’t tread on a business owner.

From an anonymous friend on Google Talk:

In some fashion or another [banning smoking in restaurants] is causing less smoking or less secondhand smoke . . . which is reducing disease. [P]ragmatically, this seems as good a reduction of freedom as possible.

No my anonymous friend is not Richard Posner, but this statement could have come directly from the lips of the great Pragmatist. Pragmatism certainly has its value. Of the many “health” regulations the state imposes, this may have one of the most rational purposes; reducing disease. But this aim could be accomplished through more narrowly tailored means (I know strict scrutiny does not apply, I’m just using the lexicon). Outright banning smoking is Draconian. Perhaps create tax or other incentives for establishments that ban smoking. Or allow establishments to apply for variances if a certain proportion of their clientele smoke indoors. Much less strict means to accomplish these goals.

And from Paul in the comments:

Josh, North Carolina HAS banned smoking in public places….. it’s all over.

I guess it is all over. What do we do. Shrug. Who is John Galt?