Monday, January 14, 2013
Why is it that well-meaning city governments invariably fail to heed the lessons of the past?
Goose Creek is about to make this same mistake as it rushes headlong to pass a no-smoking ordinance. History has demonstrated time and again that these ordinances do little to further public health and that they eventually prove to be economically inefficient. These ordinances are, in fact, thinly disguised attempts by city government to impose social control on smokers.
The stated purpose of most no-smoking ordinances is to further public health by limiting a non-smoker’s exposure to second hand smoke. A vast majority of these ordinances prohibit smoking in public buildings and workplaces including bars and restaurants. While many employers have already banned smoking in their workplaces, there are a number of bars and restaurants in Goose Creek that still permit smoking. These establishments would, presumably, bear the brunt of any no-smoking decree.
The free market place is an amazing concept. Goods and services are available for purchase 24 hours a day for one simple reason – there is a demand for those goods and services. If the free market had identified a demand for smoke-free bars and restaurants in Goose Creek, don’t you think we would have a considerable number in operation today?
By passing a no-smoking ordinance, city council members are inferring that they are better qualified to determine the profitability and economics of local businesses than the actual owners of those businesses.
Anecdotal arguments offered by some council members stating that “80 percent of the people I talk to are in favor of a smoking ban…” are nullified by the scarcity of smoke-free restaurants and bars in the city. If a demand for non-smoking bars and restaurants existed, a supply would naturally and eventually follow.
It becomes increasingly apparent that those 80 percent in favor of a smoking ban do not routinely frequent Goose Creek’s bars and restaurants; yet, they target those establishments for change. Why?
In their paper entitled, “The Economics of Smoking,” Professor Robert D. Tollison of Clemson University and Professor Richard E. Wagner of George Mason University provided the following rationale:
“The answer is fairly clear and can be summarized by paraphrasing the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules. Smoking is more customary among the working class and the poor; lawyers, college professors, and legislators are not usually smokers … Smoking is often conducted in public places and hence offends the sensibilities of many upper-income people … Rules prohibiting smoking in public places are an effective means of discrimination without violating anti-discrimination laws.”
Smoking ordinances, then, are not motivated by a concern for the public health; rather, they are a means of controlling a socially undesirable behavior. Social control motivates smoking bans and the “public health” is simply a weapon used by those asserting this control.
The professors further assert that no-smoking ordinances presume that people are “systematically stupid” and that they don’t possess the faculties needed to make rational decisions related to where they seek employment. If an individual working in a bar or restaurant decides that second-hand smoke is affecting his or her health, he or she would simply seek employment elsewhere.
The fact that individuals continue to work for establishments that permit smoking on premises indicates that those employees have determined that the work is financially viable and worth the risks associated with exposure to second-hand smoke. By considering a no-smoking ordinance, city council has determined that these workers need to be protected from the personal choices they made pertaining to where they work – and that simply isn’t true.
Let’s face it: if the city council of Goose Creek was truly motivated to protect the health of its citizens it wouldn’t pass a no-smoking ordinance; rather, it would ban tobacco use in the city altogether. Any action short of a total tobacco ban is an admission that the true motive for the institution of a no-smoking ordinance is social control by individuals who consider themselves morally superior to smokers.
In terms of economics, it is always better for the city council to support laws that strengthen and support property rights. It is also better to permit employers, employees and patrons to make their own decisions because people are smart enough to do what is best for them without government intervention.
Michael J. Mueller
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