Geezers hate the Butt Hutt

Via TMN, this story:

SPOKANE, Wash. — The state’s tough new anti-smoking law has an unlikely opponent: a retired doctor who argues the ban is forcing elderly smokers in nursing homes to take unnecessary risks.

Dr. Robert Guild, 71, says the law is forcing him and other smokers at the Maplewood Gardens Retirement Apartments — some in wheelchairs and walkers — to brave an ice- and snow-covered lawn to get to a structure that is far enough away from the retirement facility to meet the ban’s requirements.

The smokers have dubbed the structure “Butt Hutt,” and argue that it is a poor replacement to the well-ventilated smoking lounge management provided before the ban on indoor smoking went into effect in December.

“There’s overhead heating, but it’s very inconvenient, and there are no facilities,” Guild said, noting that restrooms are important for folks his age.

The state’s new smoking ban, which went into effect Dec. 8, is the strictest in the country. In addition to banning smoking indoors, it requires a 25-foot smoke-free buffer around doorways, windows that open and ventilation intakes.

Good job, nanny staters. Good job.

Why aren’t more bars smokefree?

There are seventeen comments on the previous post so far, but none defending the market failure argument as the basis for a complete smoking ban. Anyone want to jump in?

David Barzelay, who does believe there’s a market failure here, raises a good question: If the market were working as well as I think it would, why aren’t there more bars catering to non-smokers? I can think of six possible explanations:

1) The question is flawed. There really are quite a few smokefree bars, but they tend to be the ones attached to restaurants rather than high profile freestanding bars. Smokefree DC’s incomplete list includes nearly 200 non-smoking, non-fast food restaurants. Given time and growing anti-smoking sentiment, more would follow. So would non-smoking freestanding bars.

2) Consumer preferences are weaker than self-reported. Passing a ban is costless for non-smoking consumers, so when asked about their opinion of the bill they are vociferously anti-smoking. When actually choosing a bar to patronize, however, they give smoking policies little weight. Introspective preferences unconstrained by any opportunity costs do not reflect the preferences on which people actually act.

3) Non-smoking preferences are vetoed by smoking friends. People go to bars in groups, some of whom smoke and some of whom do not. The smokers insist on a smoking establishment and the non-smokers must follow along. (This is another way of saying that non-smoking preferences are actually quite weak. When a group of friends goes out for dinner and some people want Thai while others want Italian, neither’s preferences always carry the day. If non-smokers felt strongly about it, they could convince their smoking friends to go to smokefree bars at least some of the time.)

4) An imminent ban deters entrepreneurship. Sensing a rising demand for smokefree bars, perhaps a new or existing establishment would have launched a PR-heavy campaign advertising itself as THE smokefree bar to go to in DC. With a city-wide ban in the works, why bother taking the risk? Their competitive advantage, and perhaps their customer base, would vanish in a puff of… um… something besides smoke.

5) Bar owners see an opportunity in going smokefree, but are afraid interested consumers won’t find out about it if they do. Information in the market for bars does not flow freely enough for non-smoking consumers to be able to act on their preferences.

6) The bar market is inherently static and closed to innovation. The city council is better at discovering consumer preferences than profit-driven entrepreneurs.

I find explanations 1 and 2 the most persuasive. 3 and 4 are plausible. 5 is possible, but given the number of newspaper columns devoted to DC nightlife, the support of a well-funded anti-smoking campaign eager to promote smokefree establishments, and word of mouth, I think it’s unlikely. 6 is ridiculous.

England passes no compromises smoking ban

As of summer 2007, Brits will be forbidden from smoking in all indoor restaurants and clubs. This isn’t all that surprising, but what’s worth noting is how determined the banners are to impose their lifestyle choice on everyone, everywhere in the country. A compromise bill would have prohibited smoking in pubs while allowing England’s 18,500 private, non-profit clubs to make their own rules.

Proponents of the compromise argued that private clubs should be as free as people in their own homes to allow smoking if they so choose. Prohibitionists shot this logic down because — get this — it would have given clubs an unfair advantage over pubs. So when the government infringes on the rights of bar owners and forbids them from offering the kind of environment their patrons want, it justifies a further power grab as protection from the disadvantages it has itself imposed. Very disturbing.

A number of commenters on my site supported the DC smoking ban and will probably support the England one as well. The main argument they put forward in favor of the DC ban was that the city is suffering from a market failure in which most consumers really want smoke free bars, but for some strange reason bar owners aren’t providing them. In England the opposite logic prevailed: consumers really want to be able to smoke in pubs, so they have to ban it everywhere.

So, prohibitionists in the audience, time to show your true colors. If you really believe the market failure argument, tell me you think England should have compromised. Then tell me again why DC shouldn’t have compromised, even though the city council had a quite sensible compromise bill before it. Alternatively, feel free to admit that you just don’t like smelling like smoke and will support whatever argument is convenient for passing a ban. Comments, as always, are open.

[Note: I realize a few of you think smoking is soooo dangerous that it shouldn't be allowed anywhere except 5000 feet from the nearest building and possibly in one's own home, but not if children, puppies, or rare plants are present. I think you guys are crazy, but consistent. You're exempted from this exercise.]

[Like everything else I link to, link via TMN.]

Smelling the Starbucks

Dave Johnson runs the progressive weblog Seeing the Forest. He recently started a coffee blog called Smelling the Coffee, which is how we got in touch. He had the fun idea of inviting me to write a post or two on a “libertarian perspective on coffee.” It’s an intriguing prompt, so I took him up on it.

The result is a post on Starbucks’ ambiguous role in American cafe culture. When my love of the market battles my love of coffee, which comes out on top? Find out!

Then she ordered decaf…

This Washington Post article — “Picky, picky” — sums up my dating history just about right.

[Via Newmark's Door.]

I love this town

You know you’re in DC when you can have your laptop out at a bar with Bloglines open and nobody things you’re weird. You know you’re really in DC when the guy you’ve just met sitting next to you sees the laptop and asks you to check how his blog is doing on Technorati today.

They guy happened to be Joel Miller, author of the interesting looking book Size Matters: How Government Puts the Squeeze on America’s Families, Finances, and Freedoms. With him was Jeremy Lott, my former colleague and roommate once removed. Together they’ve started the new weblog 4Pundits.com. They’re technically only two pundits, but they drink for four.

Actually, two more secret pundits are on the way. It should be a good read. Subscribe now, before Jeremy gets in a Ludditish mood and switches off the RSS.

Puppies and pigskins

The only thing more brilliant than the Puppy Bowl is going around to lots of bars in NYC during the Super Bowl and asking the bartender to put it on instead.

Are you a coffee achiever?

This 1984 television ad for coffee is hilarious. It’s not for any particular brand of coffee, just for the coffee industry in general. I like how the marketing isn’t about taste, but about how drinking coffee can make you achieve like David Bowie, Kurt Vonnegut, and Kenny Anderson. The coffee world has come a long way since then.

My favorite moment is the slight wince on Cicely Tyson’s face as she takes a sip of the stuff during rehearsal. It’s so bad she has to slap her director in the face. Now that’s motivation!

[Via The Morning News.]