Scott Tibbs
blog post
July 1st, 2005

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Health board supports widening the smoking ban

I attended the Monroe County Health Board meeting on Wednesday night, where the seven board members unanimously voted to recommend that the County Commissioners extend the smoking ban to cover places of employment. I printed out several copies of the letter I wrote to the County Commissioners regarding the ban and handed it out to the board.

When I heard about the meeting on the radio and decided to attend, I knew that I would probably be the only voice for limited government in the meeting. I was not surprised. The rest of the audience supports extending the ban, as does the board. Sometimes, though, it is important to take a stand on principle even when you know you are not going to "win".

One of the board members said he thought the argument that the same logic could be used to ban alcohol in "public places" was a poor comparison because a person drinking one beer would not affect someone sitting next to him the way tobacco smoke does, and another pointed out that driving while inebriated is already illegal. While both of these arguments are true, banning drinking in "public places" would significantly reduce both public intoxication and drunk driving.

As with the original smoking ban, this is yet another restriction on private property rights. If you have a small business with one employer and one employee who both smoke, they will both be prohibited from consuming a legal substance under the expanded ban. Since neither person in this scenario has an incentive to report the violation, the law would be ignored.

A representative of city government was there to argue that an expanded county ban would make the city ban easier to enforce by making both bans the same. This is silly. Does anyone really think it is that difficult for people to understand the boundary between the county and the city in terms of the smoking ban?

County Commissioner Joyce Poling, as usual, will be the deciding vote on whether or not the smoking ban should be extended. Herb Kilmer, an advocate of economic liberty, opposes the smoking ban while Democrat Iris Kiesling supports the ban. When the Commissioners passed the ban earlier, "Republican" Commissioner Poling voted with Kiesling while Kilmer dissented. Republicans should let Poling know that further restricting economic liberty is not acceptable.

The county health board, meanwhile, needs more ideological diversity. While the vote was no surprise, it was disappointing to see all seven members vote as one. To be truly representative of the citizens of Monroe County, the board should include more advocates of economic liberty.

Both the city and county bans on smoking in "public places" benefit me personally. When I saw Junior Brown in concert last fall at the Bluebird, I thought to myself that it will be more pleasant the next time I see him perform because I can enjoy the music without the stench of tobacco smoke. It is not my right, however, to restrict the freedom of other people so I can be more comfortable. I despise smoking, but it is not the business of local government to prohibit the consumption of a legal product on private property.