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Monday, June 16, 2008

Smoking bans and individual rights

Given the title, and the link from GrassrootsPA, I expected Eric Heyl's column on the smoking ban to be a good read. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Heyl tries to use satire to mock the individual rights advocates opposed to the smoking ban. Here is the summary (with a bit of satire of my own).

Second-hand smoke will kill you instantly. Traffic lights are good, therefore government is justified to intervene in every aspect potentially making people healthier, including banning cheeseburgers. The only people opposing the smoking ban profit from cancer and death.

My satire-free response:

  • The harm of "second-hand smoke" is greatly overstated, mostly by those whose money comes from suing tobacco companies for the harms of second hand smoke.
  • The debate was never over banning smoking in truly public facilities such as hospitals, bus stations, and schools - even the most ardent opponents of smoking bans supports such restrictions (listen to Joe Bast on The BOX) - but private businesses, where customers voluntarily choose to visit.
  • Smoking bans have real economic consequences for many private businesses.
  • Over 80% of businesses are smoke-free, and many more are added to the list each day, without government mandates. That is, private preferences and the free market do the job Heyl thinks we need government to do.
  • While Heyl argues that government can restrict individual freedom (which is perfectly consistent with libertarian philosophy, i.e. to protect the safety of others) he offers no idea of the proper role for government, and no limit on its ability to restrict our rights. He makes individual rights and economic freedom the punchline of a joke. He is a nanny-statist.

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