Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tobacco Prohibition, Bit by Bit

It was a gentlemen's protest: Scores of cigar-smokers filed into an upscale steakhouse in Reston on Monday night to light up their stogies over cocktails and beef Wellington and lament that the smoking police had finally come to, of all places, Virginia.

Four hundred years after John Rolfe planted the nation's first commercial tobacco in Virginia, and decades after state leaders paid homage to the crop by carving its leaves into the ceiling of the old state Senate chamber, smoking officially becomes illegal Tuesday in the state's 17,500 bars and restaurants.
Smoking bans in restaurants make no sense for the simple reason that anyone who dislikes second-hand smoke can frequent non-smoking restaurants.  Market demand has produced large numbers of smoke-free restuarants because that is what much of the public wants.  Bans impose the preferences of some on the many, without justification.

A bigger cost of smoking bans is that they will evolve into prohibitions on tobacco.  When that happens, the tobacco wars will mimic the drugs wars in all but name.

15 comments:

Sam Alexander said...

Professor,

Sometimes your quest to declare liberty in all things appears to inhibit you from seeing the necessity of limitations in a diverse, elbow-to-elbow society. We accept such limitations to maintain minimal levels of cleanliness, health, etc. Is it the tradition of smoking in public that blinds you to the imposition that smokers place on others?

itsANHonor said...

To be fair to Professor Miron, he is mainly commenting on the prohibition of tobacco in restaurants (which are not public) which is a private space where people can choose to be a customer or not.

In addition, I think he's also arguing prohibitions on tobacco would cost too much given the minimal gains to the public.

NYC is trying to ban smoking in public parks, but a lot of people, including non-smokers, find it unreasonable since given all the other bans, where are people who choose to smoke going to be able to exercise that ability.

People may not like other people smoking, but I think the point is that there are other things we tolerate in society like drinking which also take a large toll on society (drunk driving deaths, etc.).

Sam Alexander said...

Good points, and perhaps worrying about prohibition of tobacco is too much for where we (US society) are at right now.
There does seem to be a thread of irresponsibility within libertarian philosophy however, that manifests itself in topics such as smoking or drug use. Libetarians extend the concept of personal liberty to activities that cause real harm to others or to self. As in smoking, the second hand effects for employees. As in drug use, the devastating results for those wretched individuals who cannot resist the addition.
It's a balance ... but it seems that often the libertarian position is all about personal liberty without aknowledgment of such limitations for mutual accomodation.

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