A system of absolute respect for private property rights is the best way to handle smoking. The owners of bars and restaurants have, and should continue to have, the absolute right to permit or deny smoking on their property.
Not everyone agrees with this simple truth. Some ask why is there no right to clean air when there is the right to smoke. The answer is that both breathing clean air and smoking are rights that people may enjoy, as they wish, on their own property. When on the property of others, you may enjoy the rights that the property owner has decided on.
It’s not like the supposed right to breathe clean air while dining or drinking on someone else’s property is being violated surreptitiously. Most people can quickly sense upon entering a bar or restaurant whether people are smoking. If people are smoking, and patrons decide to stay, we can only conclude that they made the choice to stay. The owners of bars and restaurants do not have the power to force people to stay and breathe smoke.
Employees may make the same decision. There are plenty of smoke-free places for people to work if they don’t want to be around smoke.
Some think that if they leave a restaurant or bar because it is smoky, then they have lost their “right” to be in that establishment. But no one has an absolute right to be on someone else’s private property, much less to be on that property under conditions that they — instead of the property owner — dictate.
Property rights, then, are the way to solve disputes over smoking vs. clean air in a way that respects freedom and liberty. Under property rights, bar and restaurant owners will decide to allow or prohibit smoking as they best see fit, to meet the needs of their current customers, or the customers they want to attract.
A property rights-based system is greatly preferable to government mandate. Without property rights, decision are made for spurious reasons. For example, debate often includes statements such as “I’m a non-smoker and I think that …” or “I’m a smoker and …” These statements presuppose that the personal habits or preferences of the speaker make their argument persuasive.
Decision-making based on personal characteristics, preferences, or group-membership happens often in politics. Lack of respect for property rights allows decisions to be made by people other than the owners of the property. In the case of a smoking ban, the decision can severely harm the value of property like bars or restaurants that caters to smokers. This matters little to smoking ban supporters, but as we have seen, they have little respect for private property.
By respecting property rights, we can have both smoking and non-smoking establishments. Property owners will decide what is in their own and their customers’ interests. Both groups, smokers and nonsmokers, can have what they want. With a government mandate or majority rule, one group wins at the expense of the rights of many others.