Scott Tibbs

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Smoking bans a violation of rights

A hot issue these days in many localities is whether or not cities should restrict or ban smoking in public places. Smoking bans have been passed in California and Indiana, among other places. In Ft. Wayne, IN, a huge controversy arose over Republican Mayor Paul Helmke's attempt to ban smoking. There was also a smoking ban passed in Bloomington in 1993, "grandfathered" so existing businesses did not have to change, but new businesses had to be smoke free from the start.

The justification people use for smoking bans is the apparent danger of secondhand smoke. Of course, there is a great deal of controversy about whether secondhand smoke is actually as dangerous as liberals claim it is. But even assuming secondhand smoke is as toxic as people claim, it isn't ample justification for banning smoking in public places.

If people do not want to be around secondhand smoke, they do not have to go to a restaurant that allows smoking. Nobody is forcing them to go there. People are free to petition a private business to eliminate smoking in their building, and if the business feels it will gain more in profits by eliminating smoking than allowing it, then it will ban smoking. If a mall, restaurant or other place wants to ban smoking, then that is fine with me, as that is the marketplace at work.

Personally, when I go into a restaurant, I ask for the first available seat, with the request that if there is an available seat in the non-smoking section I be seated there, but if not I will settle for the smoking section rather than wait. But even though I would prefer not to smell smoke, I do not have the right to use the sledgehammer of government to put legal penalties on restaurants for allowing it.

But the government should not be involved. It is a violation of the business owner's property rights to tell him he cannot allow smoking in the building he owns and pays taxes on. Whether or not the smoking ban will damage the local economy is irrelevant. Obviously, if it damages the local restaurants it is a bad thing, but if the market dictated non-smoking restaurants then more of those would exist, without the coercive force of government.

It simply isn't anyone's business if adults use a legal substance in a privately owned building. Everybody knows smoking is harmful to your health, and they choose to sue tobacco anyway. If someone wants to risk disease as a result of tobacco use, it isn't the government's business to forcibly stop him from doing so. The government should not be in the business of being our nanny and running our lives for us. What government should do is provide the atmosphere for business and individuals to be the best they can be and get out of the way.

One thing the city of Bloomington wants to do is ban smoking not just in restaurants, but in bars as well. This is laughable. When a person goes into a bar, they will likely be consuming another toxic substance, alcohol. Alcohol is actually much more dangerous than tobacco, because drunk drivers kill innocents along with themselves. Alcohol is often a major factor in violent crime -specifically rape- as well. Tobacco's effects are felt after years of use, and then only on the user: Alcohol affects many others much more directly. And yet nobody is proposing making Bloomington a "dry city" in public places. Granted, if the City Council wants to get 2500 Indiana University students at City Hall to protest the changes, that would be the way to do it. But if we're concerned with what's best for the chiiiiiiiiiilllllllllldren, should alcohol not be the first target?

No matter how good the intentions of a law are (and preventing illness caused by secondhand smoke is a good intention) every time the government passes a law it takes a little bit of freedom away. The analogy is simple: if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water the frog will jump out. But of you put the frog in lukewarm water, you can slowly raise the temperature and boil the frog. That is exactly what has happened with the ever-increasing number of laws and regulations at the state and local level. If all the laws we have on the books now were proposed all at once, they would have never passed. People would not have stood for such a drastic loss of freedom. So liberals have had to take our freedom away incrementally so we wouldn't break out in open revolt. The smoking bans are a perfect example of such incrementalism.