A Libertarian Trying to Ban Smoking?

Bill Ferguson has one of those pro-nanny state articles up that tries to explain how we have to ban smoking… for the children of course. But what gets my goose is that he’s claiming to be a libertarian all the while:

That’s why this libertarian supports efforts to restrict smoking in public places not clearly designated as smoking zones. Smokers should have the right to smoke, and I should have the right to breathe clean air. That means no smoking in generally accessible areas like workplaces, restaurants, and stores, except in clearly designated, and separately ventilated, areas.

[…] Perhaps it is time to put the weight of law behind a child’s right to grow up without being exposed to toxic fumes by adults who cannot or will not curtail their smoking habit around children.

So I sent him the following email:

This email is in regards to your latest column. If you want to be an anti-smoking advocate who wants to tell me how to act on my private property, that’s one thing… but don’t try and claim that you’re libertarian all the while because that’s just plain lying. This is nanny-state supporting behavior and you know it… and no libertarian wants *more* government intrusion in their lives.

I would attack your argument in full… but you masquerading as a libertarian has me more fired up than the article itself. But here goes: you claim smoking around a child is abuse is just about as stupid and laden with slippery slope implications as you could want. Who’s to say letting your child eat too much of X is abuse, or playing around too much Y? We can all come up with ideas for legislation that protects children, but the fact is that it’s the parents’ job to do that, not the government’s.

You see, when you take the decision-making abilities away from the parents and put them in the hands of the government, it may lead to *some* good change, but the nature of government is to continue growing into these areas in pervasive ways. And eventually the most minor cut or boo-boo will get a child taken away. If you are truly a libertarian as you claim, you would know this… but for the life of me you seem more like a nanny-state republicrat here.

You’re free to send your own email to him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com

Update: Sean Lynch over at Catallarchy claims that smoking bans aren’t *that* un-libertarian. My point here isn’t to say there should be smoking allowed everywhere, just that the choice needs to stay with the property or business owner not with government (oh, and he totally ignores that whole child abuse canard). Lynch is free to pick his battles and I’m free to pick mine. I don’t want government coming into my business (in my case, my home office) and telling me that it’s a no-smoking zone for my own good. And I don’t want them bossing parents around through legislation.

Anyways… if they keep raising cigarette taxes the way they do now, I’ll be a non-smoker soon enough anyways (though I won’t be one of these anti-smoking pricks who wants to tell everyone else how to run their business or bar).

Another Update: Radley Balko imparts his usual wisdom on the latest second-hand smoke malarkey:

The case against public smoking bans was never based on how risky secondhand smoke actually is (though it’s certainly worth pointing out the exaggerated claims from the other side). The case against smoking bans rests on property rights, free association, and allowing people to manage and navigate their own risks, without all-knowing politicians and public health fascists doing it for them.

Stephen VanDyke

I've published HoT along with about 300+ friends since 2002. We're all Americans who are snarky and love our country. I'm a libertarian that registered Republican because I like to win elections. That's pretty much it.

  1. I could get behind smoking bans in truly public places, like government buildings, public sidewalks, etc. But “workplaces, restaurants, and stores” are generally located on private property and owned and operated by private individuals or companies.

  2. … and then from public sidewalks we can go to the public square and then from the public square to “public” businesses. etc etc etc.

    Government buildings may be permissible, but even that might not get us off the slippery slope. If not government buildings, then why public sidewalks? And if not public sidewalks, then why not “public” businesses? And if not public businesses, then why not private businesses? And if not private businesses, why private residences?

  3. Check your definitions. I was suprised to learn that in much legislation a “public place” is one where the public is invited in. In other words, if you open your doors up so that anyone can come into your building for business, pleasure or whatever, then it is a “public place” under many statues. This is true even if you retain and exercise your right to ask people to leave the premises for any or no reason.

    To make a place non-public, then, at the very least, you have to lock the doors of the building and only let people in selectively. But even in this case the building can be considered a public building if certain kinds of activities take place there or tickets are sold for entry to the building or any many other cases.

    I’m not saying I like this, but the truth is that an “owner” may think they own their place of business, but between Kelo, property taxes, business taxes and these broad definitions of “public places”, it really isn’t true anymore. The govt. is part owner too.

  4. That part of what’s wrong, Chris. The erosion of private property rights has led to confusion between public property & private property. It’s sad how confused Americans have become. I would agree that the public can ban smoking in public places. It funny how people think because they & others have an open invitation to enter a building and they don’t know the owner, then suddenly that place is owned by the public, rather than privately.


  5. So then Chris, all we need to do is dramatically reduce the number of government buildings, public sidewalks, etc. by selling off government assets and returning these properties to the people, and then individuals can still make their own decisions on whether to allow smoking on their own property, which would consist of 99.9% of all property on the nation, reserving regulation for only a tiny fraction of government property. By (and in addition to) your rationale, of course. :-) Sounds ok to me that way. :-P Without the reduction, however, I’m not sure I want smoking banned on the public sidewalk, created without my consent, which goes through my front yard, interrupting my property. If someone is to ban smoking there, it should be myself.


  6. With the nose of the government camel clearly inside the private property tent, the question of rights becomes much less clear. With proper proding from deep money “charitable” organizations who engage in politics, it is easy to get people behind the notion that the right to breathe clean air may be equal to or even trump someone else’s property rights. That is what happens and we lose that debate time and again. Especially since money talks and the other side is the one gushing dollars.

    It is very easy for me to imagine someone being a pretty good libertarian but not prone to the slippery slope argument in this case due to a loved one with extreme smoke sensitivity or an over-inflated sense of concern for their children.

    At this point we are more likely to get decriminalization for some drugs when used in the home than we are to reverse some of the recent losses in rights regarding places to smoke. I don’t like it, but deal.

  7. I guess it’s always fun to attack people who vote LP every election with the good ole “stfu nanny-socialist, pwned!”

  8. DD and Curry, I’m all for shrinking the amount of true public spaces (and by public, I mean “commonly” owned).

    But if I’m standing on a public sidewalk, why do you have the “right” to blow smoke in my face? A smoke that has been shown to cause real damage to my body. Do you feel you have a right to walk down the street and spray poision in the air?

    Does a manufacturing plant have a “right” to pollute its neighbors land?

    Even if all sidewalks were private, your smoke will find its way into the air surrounding someone elses private property. You can eliminate government property completely, and the issue would still be there.

  9. >the “right” to blow smoke in my face? A smoke that has been

    If you’re standing on my property, I have the “right” to smoke there, and you don’t have the “right” to force me not to. If you don’t like it, please walk off my property.

    >shown to cause real damage to my body. Do you feel you have

    Please cite your sources. All of them. I mean the scientific papers themselves, not quotes from the NHA, the NCS, the Surgeon General, etc. I am skeptical there is any real science backing secondhand smoke hysteria.

    >Does a manufacturing plant have a “right” to pollute its neighbors land?

    No, it doesn’t. But if you visit my plant, you do so at your own risk. You don’t own it.

    >its way into the air surrounding someone elses private >property.

    Gases diffuse and concentrations greatly diminsh only a few feet from an emission source. Try the physics problem yourself. Some gases are highly dense and can damage body or property. Cigarette smoke, especially in small doses, is not one of them.

  10. Smokers will soon be arrested for lighting up anywhere, anytime. It will become another drug in the war on drugs. Oh, it already is. What the hell is wrong with you that claim to be libertarians? I don’t smoke but don’t give a rat’s ass if you do. I don’t care where and when you smoke. When I used to smoke, I smoked in Walmart, elevators, in the hospital, etc.

    Well, here we go again. I guess because people are sometimes shot with a gun, then I should give mine up either voluntarily or by force.

    Loss of freedom is incremential and demonizing smoking, thereby having an excuse to tell smokers how to live and act is not justification to limit freedom.

    I am the true libertarian. You transparent socialists that claim to be libertarians that are defining what libertarianism is yet you claim to be libertarians. Read “1984”. That is called doublespeak.

    I don’t drink. Should booze be banned because imbibers smell like rotten puke to me? No. I will avoid you.

  11. Graham said:

    I guess it’s always fun to attack people who vote LP every election with the good ole “stfu nanny-socialist, pwned!”

    I seriously doubt this guy has ever voted Libertarian, but my view is limited only to this article so I could be wrong. That said, proposing legislation that limits freedoms for the good of society (AND DON’T FORGET THE CHILDREN!!!) falls smack into authoritarian realms, not libertarian.

  12. Right on, Curry! Every study I’ve actually looked into involved exposing rats or some other animal to upwards of 10000 times (over the experiment’s timeframe) the amount of second-hand smoke from one cigarette (concentrated in 1 cubic meter or less of airspace). That level is administered for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Then the poor animals are “studied” as they die of cancers, many times months later. A few of these even cited asphyxiation as the leading cause of death. That would be like living in a smoky bar, and never leaving, for months or even years.

    Obviously, somewhere the logic is faulty. We are being intentionally misled “for our own good”. Strangely enough, many of those opposed to cigarettes being smoked in public continue to drive SUV’s and ‘land-yachts’, spewing countless particulates and poisons in the air.

  13. I posted a reply on his blog. In short:

    Sean, I agree with Stephen VanDyke. I don’t understand how you can call yourself a libertarian. You argue that government regulation is the cause of limited job mobility, and a non-competetive market, and here you are advocating for more regulation.

    As a libertarian, you should know that government regulation begets more government regulation, begets more laws, begets corruption and payola, which begets even more regulation resulting ultimately in the loss of freedom of choice.

    I do understand bans on smoking in government buildings, but that is the limit. Businesses should make their own decisions.

    Although I wouldn’t advocate it, if a law had to be passed to placate the nanny statists, it would be more palatable to have REASONABLE standards for air quality, and let the market find a solution to meet it, for places that both allow and don’t allow smoking. I guess this is my compromise solution.

  14. Actauly, Mike, I consider myself more of an anarcho-capitalist. Government regulation in general causes harm. But it’s not a simple black and white issue of “more regulation means more harm.” It’s quite possible to have more regulation cause *less* harm if the existing regulations cause imbalance in the direction of harm. And I think the argument that regulation is a slippery slope is a fallacy. If people truly believe that, how can anyone think a libertarian society would last? Well, unless you’re a Jeffersonian I guess (which is the direction I lean actually).

    In addition, I think VanDyke’s reference to a home office is a straw man. Given that I call myself a libertarian it should seem fairly obvious that I should support as limited and as local a ban on smoking as possible. I don’t see how anyone would think I supported a ban on smoking in a home office or even a small business just because I said that I didn’t think smoking bans were really that unlibertarian.

  15. Sean Lynch: I guess what I’m missing is what your line in the sand is.

    As for me, I’m content to let them ban it in government and publically-owned buildings only. And anyone who tries to masqeurade anti-smoking government intrusion into private property as a public health and child safety issue is pulling a fast one by claiming it to be a libertarian cause (not you, Ferguson).

  16. Stephen, I understand your frustration. However, I’d like to suggest a different tact next time. We need people to identify themselves as libertarian. We need people to be out promoting libertarianism. Rather than attack this uninformed fellow, I would suggest we try to educate him as to why smoking bans are not libertarian and how a libertarian would approach the issue. If the author had be a Democrat or Republican you could attack him without ramifications. However, this person identified himself as a libertarian. Attacking him can have only one result. He will become disheartened with libertarianism and the LP and probably go join the Green Party. We need to embrace him and persuade him to embrace the full concept. If a baby is taking his first steps but doesn’t quite make it to you, you don’t yell at him for not going all the way, you woo him, encourage him and entice him.

  17. I just love it when people use the “protect the children” argument to take away freedom for all of us. I think many people use it when they don’t really give a damn about children and are just trying to advance their own agenda.

    I propose a compromise on this smoking issue. I think all smoking bans on private businesses should be removed. However, any businesses that are open to the public that choose to allow smoking should be required to put a sign on their door visible to people before they enter to say something like “Smoking is allowed in this establishment. Children under 13 not permitted without parent or guardian.” This way, anyone who doesn’t want to be exposed to toxic cigarrette smoke wouldn’t need to be. And the “protect the children” argument would be accounted for as well.

  18. Leroy — why bother with the “children under 13” bit?

    Simply have “no smoking” signs that people can choose to put up or not. If they don’t, then you have to assume smoking’s okay there and then if you go it it’s your choice, your loss, as it were.

    Same goes for kids. Parents can tell them not to go into places all they want; the kids will either listen or not depending on how strong the parent’s force of authority is.

  19. Good suggestion Leroy. I would change the posting requirement to “prominently displayed at the main entrance” but that is really just being nitpicky. Nice compromise, saves the children :)

    Sean, thanks for the reply. I understand that regulation is not always a slippery slope. However, in this case, I believe there is ample evidence. Look at the tax on cigarettes. What started as a tolerable excise tax has increased again and again and again in order to control individual choices. I don’t believe that we have seen the end of this. It will continue to ratchet up.

    The same thing goes with the ban. First businesses, except restaurants and bars. Then restaurants and bars. Then public places (entire beaches). Then entire cities on any public property (Calabasas, CA). It has already gone too far – the only place left is the home.

    Like almost every govt reg., this one is not designed in a way that addresses the specific harm in the least or minimally intrusive way = BAD.

  20. There is very little evidence of any merit to smoking bans. The so-called “public-health” scare is more concoction than substance. It’s odd because here in Omaha, where a ban was just passed, the mayor was turning to UNMC (neb. med center) who was in part a member of one of the anti-smoking groups in town. The sad fact is there was no consideration of smokers or business owners.

    The fact remains, a business in the private sector is a private business, private establishment. I believe insofar as a business provides fair and recognizable warning via signage that smoking is permitted in the entire establishment or in select spaces, it is at the business owner’s discretion of how to best serve their customers.

  21. Sorry, it’s UNlibertarian to permit smoking in an enclosed public area, even if privately owned. Smoking causes injury to those who don’t smoke – this goes against the whole “live and let live” philosophy…doesn’t fulfill the second part of the bargain. Further, when weighing who is deprived more (non-smokers not being able to patronize certain events/establishments or smokers not being able to smoke), the non-smokers are clearly the ones whose freedom is the most restricted, as you cannot recreate certain atmospheres/events but the smoker can smoke in his own home or anywhere outside (I am not for the banning of smoking outside).

    I know I go against the majority libertarian opinion here, but libertarians need to stop thinking about the smoker’s freedom to smoke and start thinking about the non-smoker’s freedom to not have their health affected by others, be it by second-hand smoke or kicks to the groin.

  22. Chris Hickman:

    The solution to your shallow and concocted dilemma is simple – those who do not wish to be exposed to smoke need not patronize that establshment. Or are you asserting that they have some moral right to do so? You are in no way, shape, or form a proponent of Liberty, in any of the guises which that advocacy may take. Speaking for myself, I would request that you refrain from identifying yourself as such. I, in return, will refrain from hurling the allegations and epithets merited by your feeble attempt at deception.


  23. BMD –

    Again, why are you ignoring the fact that you and I as human beings should be able to visit public places without risking our health? Would you find it acceptable to be required to get punched in the face to enter a bar? No, it’s illegal, it endangers the safety and health of individuals, as does second-hand smoke (admittedly to a lesser extent). Further, if the Rolling Stones are in town, I can’t exactly choose not to attend and see them somewhere else at that time. The smoker, however, can smoke just about anywhere other than that particular enclosed space at that particular time. They could also chew tobacco (or eat acid for all I care) without endangering my health (though I can’t see a venue allowing that due to the mess, just showing that I’m not against vice as a whole, just ones that hurt me without my choice in partaking in them).

  24. To deny that smoke from a cigarette is not harmful is to deny reality. To deny that smoke from a cigarette is not at least a nuisance to those who do not smoke is to deny reality.

    If I don’t want to smell like smoke, then I don’t visit the bar. I understand that when I go in, I’m going to be exposed to smoke. But it’s the bar owners decision to allow smoking or not, and my decision to enter. Just as each individual has the choice to allow smoking in their homes.

    But if you stand on the edge of my property, or outside my establishment, and blow unwanted smoke at me or my customers, then you ARE invading my property. And just because there shouldn’t be public property, doesn’t mean that there isn’t. Why does the guy sitting next to me on the bus stop get to choose whether or not I smoke.

    And, by the way, I have voted LP in nearly every election.