Remarks delivered to Wichita City Council, May 6, 2008. Listen here.
Smoking ban supporters claim that they have the right to go to bowling alleys, bars, and other such places without having to breath secondhand smoke. That’s false. No one has the right to be on someone else’s property on their own terms. The property owner controls those terms. If the bar owner lets the band play too loud (or maybe not loud enough), or the restaurant is too dimly lit, or the floor of the steakhouse covered with discarded peanut shells, do we want to regulate these things too?
Some have compared a smoking section in a restaurant to a urinating section in a swimming pool. This comparison is ridiculous. You can’t tell upon entering a swimming pool if someone peed in it. You can tell, however, upon entering a bar or restaurant if there is smoking going on.
Some make the argument that since we regulate businesses for health reasons already, why not regulate smoking? Without agreeing with the need for these regulations, the answer is this: First, these government regulations don’t necessarily accomplish their goal. People still become ill from food, for example. But there is some merit here. Just by entering a restaurant and inspecting the dining room and the menu, you can’t tell if the food is being stored at the proper temperature in the restaurant’s refrigerators. But you can easily tell if there’s smoking going on.
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. Markets -– that is, people freely making decisions for themselves -– will let property owners know whether they want smoking or clean air.
The problem with a smoking ban written into law rather than reliance on markets is that everyone has to live by the same rules. Living by the same rules is good when the purpose is to keep people and their property safe from harm. That’s why we have laws against theft and murder. But it’s different when we pass laws intended to keep people safe from harms that they themselves can easily avoid, just by staying out of those places where people are smoking. For the people who value being in the smoky place more than they dislike the negative effects of the smoke, they can make that decision.
This is not a middle-ground position, as there really isn’t a middle ground here. Instead, this is a position that respects the individual. It lets each person have what they individually prefer, rather than having a majority — no matter how lop-sided — make the same decision for everyone. Especially when that decision, as someone said, will “tick off everybody.” Who benefits from a law that does that?