Smoking ban stupidity

There are too many smoking bans in the works these days for me to even try keeping up with them all. Indiana is one of the latest attempting to hop on the ban wagon:

State Rep. Charlie Brown is bracing for a fight.

He expects his third attempt to pass a statewide bill outlawing smoking in all public places to face opposition on several fronts.

And with the economy in a tailspin, advocates for bars, restaurants and casinos are preparing to let the Gary Democrat’s colleagues in the General Assembly know this is a particularly bad moment to force them to go smoke-free.

Yet Brown insists the time is right.

“Until somebody shows me concrete proof restaurants and casinos are hurt economically by being smoke-free, I won’t believe that,” said Brown, who chairs the House Public Health Committee.

“I would think, given that there are more non-smokers than smokers, this would be an economic benefit,” he said.

Do we really need to talk about this? Let’s try that argument in some other contexts:

“I would think, given that more people prefer hamburgers to Thai food, there would be an economic benefit to banning Thai restaurants.”

“I would think, given that more people prefer clothed servers to naked ones, there would be an economic benefit to banning strip clubs.”

“I would think, given that more people prefer quiet music to loud, there would be an economic benefit to banning loud music in bars and lounges.”

In any other circumstance this argument clearly makes no sense. Businesses cater to diversity. Thai restaurants cater to people who like Thai food, strip clubs cater to guys who like boobs, and yes, some bars and casinos cater to people who like to smoke. Regardless of what happens to the hospitality industry on net after a smoking ban goes into force, there are going to be some businesses that are adversely affected. Arguing otherwise is painfully stupid and anyone who does so ought to be ashamed of themselves.

For Rep. Brown’s sake, let’s try one more version of the argument:

“I would think, given that more people prefer smart leaders to dumb ones, there would be an economic benefit to banning self-righteous idiots from the Indiana House of Representatives.”

What do you say, eh Charlie?

The magic of politics


5 thoughts on “Smoking ban stupidity”

  1. I’ve always been baffled by the fact that I’ve never seen a non-smoking bar in a city without a smoking ban. Ever.

    There MUST be a market for it, why is nobody catering to it?

    Am I wrong and they’re just doomed to fail? I don’t understand.

  2. That is a difficult question. One response is that you’re not looking hard enough. Here in Portland, where there is as yet no smoking ban, non-smoking bars abound. And it’s common for local anti-smoking groups to keep lists of smokefree businesses in given areas. DC’s listed more than 200 smokefree non-fast food establishments prior to the ban passing there. Many of these were bars that were attached to restaurants as opposed to freestanding nightlife spots, but they did exist.

    Another issue seems to be the age of businesses. Old bars with established clientele are understandably reluctant to kick out regular customers who smoke. Newer places, though, seem much more willing to be smokefree from the beginning. I think this is one reason supply for smokefree bars lags behind demand.

    But I think the biggest reason is that the popularity of smoking bans has made it acceptable for people to be much more anti-smoking than they used to be. There have always been people who disfavored smoky environments, but it was the social norm to tolerate them. Fears of secondhand smoke have provided people with a justification for shunning smokers, making it socially acceptable to claim a high unmet demand for smokefree businesses.

    As I argue in the “Magic of politics” post linked above, I think this demand is exaggerated and people’s revealed preferences show that they’re actually willing to tolerate some degree of smoke and don’t go to great lengths to avoid it. It’s the new opportunity of using government to coercively provide the environment they weakly prefer at no cost to themselves that makes smoky bars seem so unpopular now.

    That said, I agree that there is a lag. If government must step into correct it, less restrictive policies such as offering tax breaks to smokefree businesses would be a way to do so while still respecting individual autonomy.

  3. There have always been people who disfavored smoky environments, but it was the social norm to tolerate them.

    Doesn’t the fact that it was the social norm indicate that there was extra influence on people to just put up with the smoking, outside of their actual preferences? The point here being, I suppose, that even if people are overstating their preferences through regualtion (and I certainly don’t conceed that), weren’t they also understating those preferences through the market?

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