First they came for the cigarette smokers

Today the Boston City Council approved its measure banning the few remaining smoke-friendly businesses in the city. How bad is the new ban? Here’s City Councilor Michael Ross and restaurant owner Lydia Shire writing in the Boston Herald against it:

In these difficult times every small business is important. There are but six cigar bars in Boston, all of which undergo an annual local licensing process, exhibiting that 60 percent of their sales are from the sale of tobacco-related products and that the appropriate signage reflecting the risks of tobacco use is visible.

All six small businesses will be shut down if the regulations are passed as written. Even if these regulations are altered to temporarily grandfather in these six establishments, it is not reasonable to ask small business owners to maintain their significant investment in their communities, only to be shut down despite their commitment to be good businesses and neighbors.

They also note that the ban will extend to outdoor seating areas, unfairly punishing business owners who invested in patios to comply with the original smoking ban four years ago. Ross and Shire deserve full credit for opposing this rampant paternalism. Yet they’re a little late to the party. Note that they both support the earlier ban on smoking in bars and restaurants; they’re only stepping up now because they’re among those “who care to enjoy the pairing of a cigar and a glass of wine following dinner at one of Boston’s excellent restaurants.” Well la dee dah. If they’re not willing to be equally vigorous in their support of the property rights of sports bar owners or smokers who want to have a cigarette while they take in a music show, they have no right to be surprised when the city steps in to take away their precious postprandial maduros. The difference in the new ban and the original is one of degree, not of principle, and this is exactly the sort of thing we libertarians warned governments were heading towards when the original, less restrictive bans came into force. Now they expect city councils to draw a line protecting elitist cigar smokers like themselves? Give me a break. (And I say this as a fellow elitist cigar smoker.)

There is one interesting wrinkle though. The cigar and hookah bar ban was amended to not go into effect for ten years, with the possibility of one ten year extension after that. Twenty years is a long time, perhaps long enough for cooler heads to prevail; for now it lets the council look tough without actually hurting the businesses. Even so, how sickening is this excerpt from the AP report?

Roger Swartz, who heads the commission’s community initiatives bureau, said the panel lengthened the grace period for the bars because of hard economic times.

“We wanted to give them a bit more time to get used to the idea that they’ll have to close,” Swartz said.

Oh, how very nice of you Roger. You say that as though the bars’ closing was an inevitable event delayed only by the grace of Boston’s benevolent politicians, when you in fact are the ones driving them out of business. How does a person become so self-righteous that they can take credit for protecting small businesses on the same day they forbid their existence?

Today the Boston Public Health Commission justifies the slippery slope arguments made by property rights defenders many years ago. We were told that we shouldn’t worry, that the smoking bans in bars and restaurants were reasonable, and that sufficient accommodations for smokers would be made. Now we see that no ban is strict enough for the public health nannies, that even six cigar bars in a city of more than 600,000 people is too many. The regulators will, perhaps, finally overreach and create a backlash, but by then much of the damage to business owners will be done.

[Hat tip: The Stogie Guys.]

Not a war on smokers?