When I smell smoke, I smell Liberty. Why I love smoke in bars and bikers without helmets.

October 8th, 2009

My former home state of Virginia (and my real home state in my mind), recently enacted a ban on smoking in ALL restaurants and bars in the Commonwealth.

The General Assembly passed and the Gov. Tim Kaine signed legislation to ban smoking unless the businesses have a designated smoking area with a separate ventilation system, if it’s a private club or if there’s an open air patio.

I grew up in NYC, where the statists banned smoking in the mid-1990s. So this is nothing new. but when a state like Virginia bans smoking, it gets me suspicious.  Once North Carolina bans smoking in public places, its all over.

For the record, I do not smoke. I have never smoked, and I particularly dislike the smell of smoke. But, whenever I walk into a bar and smell smoke, I relish in the sweet breath of liberty. Ask my friends. I seriously smile whenever I smell smoke in a smoker-friendly restaurant, because I realize they are a dying breed (no pun intended).

Laws banning smoking in private establishments is a classic example of paternalism and state control of private concerns. If a restaurant seeks to ban smoking for a host of reasons, that is their prerogative. If they want to look out for the health of their employees, or provide a cleaner environment for patrons, banning smoking would give them a competitive advantage. Similarly, if an establishment wants to appeal to a smoking clientele, they will understandably risk losing customers who abhor smoke. But, for the government to force private business to change their business model, and exclude paying customers makes me furious. Now, this is no different than the countless other health and safety requirements imposed on businesses, but the smoking ban is the most flagrant, and the most visible (pungent?). That is why these laws enrage me so.

While in Virginia, I would actually choose to frequent places that allowed smoking to make sure Atlas keeps shrugging.

I have a similar reaction when I see motorcyclists without helmets. In my new home of Pennsylvania, motorcyclists are not required to wear helmets. And anecdotally, in the home of Harley Davidson, many bikers go dome-free. Helmet, and seat-belt laws are paternalistic.

Some raise the argument that requiring bikers to wear helmets cuts down on visits to the emergency room, which ultimately reducescosts for everyone. I have a solution! If you choose to ride your bike without a helmet, and you get into an accident, you automatically waive the receipt of any public welfare as a result of the accident. Same goes for seatbelt laws. If you want to do something idiotic, don’t make me pay for it!

That really grinds my gears!

Update: See this post for my response to some of the comments.