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More on Smoking Bans

This post is a response to the multiple, thoughtful comments on my post yesterday. As I began to write, it got too long and I decided make it a different post altogether. Here are some additional thoughts on smoking bans:

I don’t think that cigars in general will be regulated out of existence; Swisher Sweets and other mass-produced, mass-marketed products aren’t going anywhere. The cigars I like though, generally made by smaller operations in unpopulated or largely undeveloped places focusing more on quality and tradition than on marketing and lobbying, probably won’t be able to compete as the laws grow harsher. They will be the ones regulated to death.

I also doubt that the government will declare any kind of official tobacco prohibition in the near future. I’ve read a fair amount, and the new enactments aren’t that outrageous or awful in the grand scheme of things. That’s why they’re so scary to me. Like in many other areas, the government will slowly whittle away at what is and isn’t allowed until we can’t smoke anything decent at all.

The time of blanket prohibitions, at least by name, is over. The encroachments by those we elect to govern us will be gradual and timed to match our ever-changing societal norms. They’ll be properly labeled to command mass-support. Our rulers are sophisticated enough to know that excessively broad strokes usually don’t paint a pretty picture. Tiny usurpations over a long period of time slowly acclimating us to their plan will get better results.

Personally, I think that banning smoking on sidewalks and in public places makes more sense than banning it in bars, but I dislike both bans. Every time they outlaw something I don’t do, they get one step closer to banning something I do. Cigarette smoke gives me a headache, but I’m never going to support limiting cigarette smokers’ right to smoke in public or private locations because something I like is probably going to be the next thing appearing in their sights.

I’d like to say that I hope for middle ground, but what I tend to see in government is a constant struggle for middle ground where the state advances 100% each time and we retreat 50% each time. Starting with 100% liberty, it won’t take many “compromises” before we end up with a very tiny fraction or a percent of liberty left. I can’t say for sure if it’s intentional or not, as government is usually incompetent beyond belief, but the state just keeps taking. It goes too far.

Why not just make it illegal to allow smoking in places not containing the word “smoking” in the title? Even better, why not just require that they put a sign saying “smoking establishment” on the door? Let people choose where they go.

Smoking bans prevent places that should clearly be smoking establishments from functioning. I remember one of my favorite bars in Boston going through hard times after Boston’s smoking ban came into effect because it didn’t fit the special tobacco and alcohol sales requirements in the law. It was a cigar bar. I think it went out of business altogether.

Do you really want to shut a cigar bar down because their food and alcohol sales start exceeding their cigar sales too much? Should people’s livelihoods depend on whether customers’ preferences conform to the law? What if they start making a mean appetizer or two? Should they go out of business because people start enjoying their food more than their smokes? What if their cigar revenues allow them to stock the best selection of bourbon or scotch in the area and liquor sales skyrocket?

Arizona’s ban isn’t a local law. I don’t think most future laws are going to be local laws. Once the state or the federal governments realize they can do something, they generally don’t stop doing it.

My biggest concern arises from the fact that private, indoor establishments in Arizona now can’t allow smoking and drinking except in certain circumstances.

When I walk down my street to get the mail, I smell all kinds of backyard barbecues and indoor dinners cooking. I’m willing to bet someone in my neighborhood occasionally catches a whiff of my smoke when I’m enjoying a cigar in my own backyard. I don’t live in the middle of nowhere, and while I have a block fence and some distance separating me from my neighbors, they aren’t that far away.

If the government has already forbidden bars geared towards smokers from allowing smoking when doing so in those establishments in no way affects anyone other than those voluntarily choosing to spend their time inside, what’s stopping them from banning me smoking my cigar in my own backyard when some poor innocent bystander might happen to smell it?

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10 Responses to "More on Smoking Bans"

  1. mahtso says:

    To me, a lot of the smoking regulations are natural outgrowths of other regulations (i.e., we have been on a slippery slope). Restaurants and bars are workplaces, and the government has regulated worker-safety for years. So prohibiting smoking around the employees of these establishments is not a stretch. Of course, one could argue that people can choose not to work in places that allow smoking, but the same could be said about (virtually) all OSHA regulations (e.g., don’t work in a factory that has removed the safety equipment from its machines if you don’t like it).

    (The health department also regulates restaurants. One could argue that this regulation is not necessary and if I don’t want to eat in a dirty, roach infested place, then I should stay out of such places.)

    You are also not free to do what ever you want at your home or in your yard: loud music and parties have long been subject to regulation. Similarly, although I can use Round-up or other poisons in my yard, I am subject to penalties if I allow these to go into my neighbor’s yard.

    I believe people should be able to smoke where ever they would like, but that does not mean that they should be allowed to subject others to the second hand smoke (regardless of whether it is dangerous or not). It is when the smoke fumes reach other people that the problem occurs. I think that most people would agree that I should not be allowed to sniff glue (a legal product) on a bus or at a bus stop, because the fumes will affect others. The same is true of smoking (in my opinion).

    My gripe with smokers is not just the litter, but the lit cigarettes that I see thrown out of cars almost every day. (But I do see irony in the lengths that smokers will go to, to keep the smoke out of their own cars, while subjecting the rest of the world to it.)

  2. Jay says:

    You’re welcome. To be fair, I’m with you on the whole litter thing, regardless of what it is. It’s filthy, inconsiderate, and uncivilized. I live in London (the UK one), and litter is pervasive, not to mention dog fouling (these people who don’t pick up their dog’s shit ought to be drawn and quartered, but that’s just my opinion). Worse, some of London’s councils have simultaneously (and surreptitiously) removed trash bins and upped the fines for littering, clearly as a means for increasing revenue while also laying off a number of street cleaners to reduce overhead. It is asinine. It is depressing.

    Although I don’t chew gum, I couldn’t abide a public ban on gum any more than a ban on tobacco or alcohol or civil liberties. This neo-puritanical era has gone too far and I hope the pendulum swings the other way sometime soon.

  3. Gavin Peters says:

    Jay, and thank you for carrying an ashtray with you and giving them out!

  4. Gavin Peters says:


    I agree that there’s too much fearmongering about the dangers of cigarettes; either from occassional exposure to secondhand smoke, or the suggestion that cigarette litter is toxic. We should be so lucky that cigarette butts were our most toxic litter!

    Unfortunately, I’m sorry to say though that I’m also sympathetic to a prohibition on chewing gum in our streets, and so while I find your argument persuasive, it’s not in I think the way you’d like. In many large cities you’re hard pressed to find a sidewalk block that is not defaced by at least one essentially unremovable chewing-gum stain.

    Perhaps I’m overly upset by litter; but I do think that if a prohibition in public of an activity doesn’t really make the activity untenable (say, like a prohibition on public flyering, picketing etc… would be), and that the activity has demonstrated significant negative externalities not otherwise mitigatable without any public benefit, why let it be done on our sidewalks and roads?

  5. Jay says:

    dang, I left off a word. It should have read “Cigarette butts […] will NOT leave permanent marks …”. Apologies.

  6. Jay says:

    Gavin: Cigarette litter is not particularly egregious; it does not attract vermin, it *will* either mostly or completely degrade over enough time, or more likely it will be picked up. There has much been talk about “harmful, toxic chemicals” in cigarette butts that somehow damage the environment, but it’s not based on scientific evidence nor fact. It’s allegory, devised and spun for maximum effect by anti-smoking groups who endlessly misinform to further their anti-tobacco agenda.

    That said, what is more troubling is the far greater evil of discarded chewing gum on sidewalks, or those who thoughtlessly spit saliva onto public walkways and pavements. Chewing gum removal without expensive equipment is next to impossible, and can lead to permanent damage to concrete and stone. Cigarette butts, however, can be swept up handily and will leave permanent marks on most stone surfaces. But I wouldn’t advocate banning chewing gum because the world is filled with a bunch of idiots.

    I smoke, and I carry around a small, personal tin ashtray (approx 1.75″ in diameter). I give these to all my friends who smoke, and they love them and use them all the time. That’s a far better solution than considering banning smoking, else we may as well just ban chewing gum and everything else people can toss to the ground.

  7. Government power the real health hazard

    The bandwagon of local smoking bans now steamrolling across the nation has nothing to do with protecting people from the supposed threat of “second-hand” smoke.

    Indeed, the bans are symptoms of a far more grievous threat, a cancer that has been spreading for decades and has now metastasized throughout the body politic, spreading even to the tiniest organs of local government. This cancer is the only real hazard involved – the cancer of unlimited government power.

    The issue is not whether second-hand smoke is a real danger or is in fact just a phantom menace, as a study published recently in the British Medical Journal indicates. The issue is: If it were harmful, what would be the proper reaction? Should anti-tobacco activists satisfy themselves with educating people about the potential danger and allowing them to make their own decisions, or should they seize the power of government and force people to make the “right” decision?

    Supporters of local tobacco bans have made their choice. Rather than trying to protect people from an unwanted intrusion on their health, the bans are the unwanted intrusion.

    Loudly billed as measures that only affect “public places,” they have actually targeted private places: restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops and offices – places whose owners are free to set anti-smoking rules or whose customers are free to go elsewhere if they don’t like the smoke. Some local bans even harass smokers in places where their effect on others is negligible, such as outdoor public parks.

    The decision to smoke, or to avoid “second-hand” smoke, is a question to be answered by each individual based on his own values and his own assessment of the risks. This is the same kind of decision free people make regarding every aspect of their lives: how much to spend or invest, whom to befriend or sleep with, whether to go to college or get a job, whether to get married or divorced, and so on.

    All of these decisions involve risks; some have demonstrably harmful consequences; most are controversial and invite disapproval from the neighbours. But the individual must be free to make these decisions. He must be free because his life belongs to him, not to his neighbours, and only his own judgment can guide him through it.

    Yet when it comes to smoking, this freedom is under attack. Smokers are a numerical minority, practising a habit considered annoying and unpleasant to the majority. So the majority has simply commandeered the power of government and used it to dictate their behaviour.

    That is why these bans are far more threatening than the prospect of inhaling a few stray whiffs of tobacco while waiting for a table at your favourite restaurant. The anti-tobacco crusaders point in exaggerated alarm at those wisps of smoke while they unleash the unlimited intrusion of government into our lives. We do not elect officials to control and manipulate our behaviour.

    Thomas Laprade

  8. Gavin Peters says:

    When I contemplate negative externalities of cigarettes, I focus mainly on the litter. It’s less effemoral, and its harm is definite.

    I am not a lawyer, so I cannot speak to the legal basis, but I am comfortable with bans on smoking on sidewalks and in motorcars on public ways simply because of this litter and nothing more. I obviously feel differently about restaurants and people’s homes on this basis.

  9. E. Honda says:

    Do I sense a little cigar-induced paranoia here? If our rulers’ long-range “plan” is to conform to social norms, I don’t know if that’s particularly dangerous to our “freedoms.” That’s more a product of government being full of elected representatives that ostentsibly do what their constituencies want in order to keep their jobs.

    It’s more nefarious if the plan is to INFLUENCE social norms, and that may be happening in certain arenas, but I believe the backlash against smoking is a true widespread personal opposition that government is trying to adopt rather than promote.

    Let’s not forget that legislative adoption of social norms can lead to deregulation as well… for example, while tobacco is being attacked, we’re having the first serious national conversation about lifting the ban on marijuana.

  10. Clooch says:


    Its not just the gov’t. This country is full of people all too willing to litigate and/or legislate away freedoms if they don’t like them.

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