Smoking Bans Aren\'t *that* Un-Libertarian

Part 2, 3, and 4 of the evolution of my thinking on this topic.

Update: Since this article seems to have made it to STR's front page I should mention that people have managed to convince me that even if what I say about the government's reducing competition among employers is true, allowing further government intervention to compensate is a Bad Idea and well worth fighting against. Also, I was temporarily insane when I wrote this.

Stephen VanDyke attacks Bill Ferguson's support for bans on smoking in public places not clearly designated as smoking zones with ventilation, etc.:

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.

IMHO the whole smoking ban thing is one of those "pick your battles" situations. If employment were particularly competive and the government-induced overhead from finding a different job (or even opening a bar or restaurant) weren't so huge, then yes, smoking bans would be unnecessary intrusions into private property rights. But it's hard for me to imagine that smoking bans really produce something that's all that different from what a truly competitive workplace market would produce anyway. But that's not the situation we have, so really this is government trying to fix a problem that government has created. Sure, it's not perfect, but I think that it would be much more productive for libertarians to first work for a situation where it's easy to find or change jobs or open new restaurants, bars, etc., and then start worrying about smoking bans.

As a non-smoker it would be a serious problem for my quality of life to work someplace that allowed smoking indoors. But it's not like I really have that huge of a choice of places to work, what with worker's comp, the minimum wage, payroll taxes, excessive job protection, and the huge cost of health insurance. Given that there is no health concern whatsoever for a smoker to be not allowed to smoke in the cube next to me, I can't really argue with the ban on smoking in the workplace. If I had a choice of dozens of places to work with similar commute times and salaries, my employer probably wouldn't allow smoking anyway, even if all the execs smoked. However, since employment is still fairly noncompetitive, it's very possible that they *would* allow smoking, with the attitude that "hey, if you don't like it, find another job." Of course, this is Silicon Valley, so it's not all that likely, but I can imagine a lot of parts of the country or even California where it *would* be likely.

And yes, I'm a libertarian. If that bugs Mr. VanDyke, tough.

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Why do you assume "smoking

Why do you assume "smoking bans [don't] really produce something that’s all that different from what a truly competitive workplace market would produce anyway[?]" At the very least, that statement has to be qualified by a whole host of factors, location being first and foremost in my mind. Some areas have relatively low-smoking populations while others have relatively high-smoking populations, and this can vary widely even within a city. Given such, isn't your statement pretty presumptious?

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With this kind of thinking,

With this kind of thinking, nothing will ever get accomplished. It isn't feasible to only choose to end a state interference if a corresponding state interference is simultaneously abolished.

I understand the need to pick battles, but to actually SUPPORT the ban? Well that's different than simply being indifferent.

John: The reason I think

John: The reason I think they don't produce something that different from what a competitive marketplace would produce is because, like most laws, they tend to get enacted where things are already moving in that direction. You are absolutely right that it's highly dependent on location, and in large, diverse states like California there are certainly places where they are far from what the market would have produced, but for the most part I think I'm right.

*Local* smoking bans would certainly be better than state bans, and state bans would be better than a federal ban for exactly this reason.

Prior to the anti-smoking

Prior to the anti-smoking ban in California, I was not aware of any place of business that allowed its EMPLOYEES to smoke indoors while working. There may have been places in the 70's and 80's, but not since.

So the only ones allowed to smoke were the CUSTOMERS. Of course, it was always up to a business to make a decision if they wanted to cater to smokers or not (private property). Smokers never demanded government regulation forcing a business to offer a smoking section. Any employee, prior to applying for and getting a job, would have or should have known that the place of business had a smoking section. Most occupations carry some risk - construction, mining, power, mechanic, manufacturing, etc. Why should employees in businesses that typically cater to smokers receive special treatment? Are their jobs really more risky than other jobs?

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.

I came to read this blog

I came to read this blog entry as it was linked on Stephen VanDyke's HoT blog (which I regularly read but don't post much to). Anyways, I think Sean is right. Some Libertarians can not seem to see to forest but for the tress. If all the issus that Sean refers to in his entry were dealt with, then yes, smoking bans would silly and pointless.

Same idea with immigration. Open borders is a great ideal to shoot for, just not now. There are other issues to deal with first.

Let's all guess what a truly

Let's all guess what a truly competitive market would produce (it's quite beside the point that it pleases us, the guessers) and then pass legislation commanding it into existence! That's the libertarian thing to do.

IMHO the whole smoking ban

IMHO the whole smoking ban thing is one of those “pick your battles” situations.

Picking your battles usually means that if you oppose A, B, and C, and A and B are much more important than C, then you should concentrate on opposing A and B. It does not usually mean that you should support C.

Local smoking bans would

Local smoking bans would certainly be better than state bans, and state bans would be better than a federal ban for exactly this reason.

And per building smoking bans by the owners of the buildings would be best of all.

Picking your battles usually

Picking your battles usually means that if you oppose A, B, and C, and A and B are much more important than C, then you should concentrate on opposing A and B. It does not usually mean that you should support C.

I was suggesting that VanDyke just shut the hell up about it :)

I agree 100% with

I agree 100% with libertarians picking dumb meaningless battles.

The biggest problem with our economy is that housing costs are too high, because of too much zoning and bureacratic land use regulation. Poor people can't afford a place to live because of these regulations.

Returning housing construction to the free market would be a huge benefit for our economy, and instead liberatarians nitpick over things like smoking bans and a small increase in the minimum wage.

Oops, I replied to Mike R's

Oops, I replied to Mike R's comment on Stephen's blog, here's what I posted (with a silly typo corrected):

Actually, 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.

Also, I wasn't saying I really support the ban. My attitude is more of a "who cares?" and that it's at best a waste of time to call someone who *does* support smoking bans unlibertarian.

My town recently passed a

My town recently passed a smoking ban and the county was considering one. Perhaps my letter to the editor helped on the county ban. The crux of tha matter isn't that smoke harms you, but that you're free to enter a building whose owner allows smoking or to stay out. You're also free to choose whether or not stand around a smoker. Clearly a smoking ban is a bitch slap on Lady Liberty's cheek.

Sadly Bill Ferguson burnt his Lib badge the minute he started typing by forgetting that he could move out of my fist's path. If he wasn't inhaling the smoke from his badge, he would have argued that children are not free to leave their parent's house as they smoke, and thus need to be protected from dumb parents.

I actually conceded this to who I think was my county's director of health when he brought it up. As a consequence, forcing parents outside of their homes while their children are present is really the only type of smoking ban I support.

Unfortunately implementing such a protection would be horrible. I doubt it would have room for the case in which the parent grants their child a huge leash and actually gives them the choice of leaving home while they puff away.

If such bans to become reality, where the hell do I smoke? I doubt public smoking bans would be repealed. :beatnik:

There's actually a smoking

There's actually a smoking emoticon. How appropriate.

He is unlibertarian. "You

He is unlibertarian.

"You support a ban on smoking, but evidently banning pornography is over the top?!?!"

(/End StrawMan Argument)

Smokers are offensive to Non-Smokers. Non-Smokers are offensive to Smokers (because they keep harrassing them to stop smoking). This does not answer the question of "Who" should be banned. Or are we accepting an assumption that "the more natural the better!"?

If so, what happens when it isn't something you can quit doing, such as someone in desperate need for reconstructive surgery? Is it not best to allow individual owners to ban discusting people in their establishments while leaving the door open for a "Broken Us" bar to open down the street where all such individuals can meet? Sure, the needs of the worker's need considering, so hire some dysfigured workers.

The optimal solution is thus: owners ban smoking in half the establishments and the rest ban non-smokers (by ignoring their complaints). However messed up the free market has become it will still work, primarily because wages for bartenders and servers are above the minimum wage, leaving plenty of wiggle-room for people to respond to incentives.

City-wide smoking bans do not get us any closer to this potential solution. Worse: some businesses may only existed because they allowed smoking. A city has two sports bars, one is very high quality but because of it's high-class clients bans smoking; the second bar is poorer but allows smoking, drawing on a completely loyal client list that don't care it is of lesser quality. Yes, the workers in the smoking bar may prefer if it was non-smoking, but judging from their observed decisions they do not prefer unemployment.

Smokers are offensive to

Smokers are offensive to Non-Smokers. Non-Smokers are offensive to Smokers (because they keep harrassing them to stop smoking). This does not answer the question of “Who” should be banned. Or are we accepting an assumption that “the more natural the better!"?

Yeah right. Here's a clue: It's not the smok-er who is "offensive" to the non-smoker, it's the smok-ing. There is no activity called "non-smoking" so your attempt to frame this as a "both sides" issue falls flat.

Libertarian Heresy

Libertarian Heresy Watch
Over at Catallarchy, Sean Lynch says libertarians can be cool with smoking bans. As you might guess, I think he's...

Government regulation

Government regulation creates an unstable situation where where it is necessary to introduce more regulation to right the problems of the regulated state, or to deregulate. I.e. a virtuous cycle or a vicious cycle of government interference with private property. We have to move in the right direction, deregulation, no matter how undesirable the consequences are, so that the cycle moves in the right direction.

Supporting smoking bans, even if smoking would be prohibited in most places under a real free system is a move in the wrong direction.

However, since employment is

However, since employment is still fairly noncompetitive, it’s very possible that they would allow smoking, with the attitude that "hey, if you don’t like it, find another job."

Why are they more likely to say that to the nonsmokers than to the smokers? In any case, I think this is an easily testable hypothesis: What do we see in places which have no legal bans on workplace smoking? My understanding is that they often have designated smoking areas or rooms, which strikes me as a reasonable compromise. Washington state's smoking ban makes this illegal.

In any case, I think that smoking in non-entertainment workplaces is generally a non-issue; the debate almost always revolves around bars and restaurants, where smoking is often an integral part of the customer experience. These are highly competitive industries, so there's no reason to expect a blanket ban to produce more efficient a outcome than allowing proprietors to set their own policies.

Brandon, In any case, I

Brandon,

In any case, I think that smoking in non-entertainment workplaces is generally a non-issue; the debate almost always revolves around bars and restaurants,

Bars are more likely to lose customers as a result of a smoking ban than employers are to lose workers, but how does that make the property rights of the employer a non-issue?

These are highly competitive industries, so there’s no reason to expect a blanket ban to produce more efficient a outcome than allowing proprietors to set their own policies.

When do you favor blanket state imposed bans?

Sean, "And yes, I’m a

Sean,

"And yes, I’m a libertarian."

Meaning what?

We have to move in the right

We have to move in the right direction, deregulation, no matter how undesirable the consequences are, so that the cycle moves in the right direction.

I agree.

To support a government ban on smoking is to support the larger idea that government has a right to impose such bans, and it is to support the habit of imposing such bans. It causes not only direct harm to smokers but indirect harm by encouraging the arrogant mindset and practice of government intervention.

Pretty much agree with Mike

Pretty much agree with Mike R. Except, I think the norm should be no-smoking unless otherwise contracted. That is smokers cannot just start smoking if there is no ban but must actually seek permission. I think it is pretty clear that smoking is trespass unless the second hand smoker gives explicit permission.

For instance, I went to take a drivers education course at a private location. It's not a bar so I wasn't expecting their to be any smoking, but the place allowed smoking and it was small and cramped. Their was so much smoke in the place that I actually had a much worse time on my run at the track meet the next day. I was actually gasping for air where I had no problem before.

To me this is a clear case of trespass into my lungs. I contracted for drivers education and not emphysema. I was on the

So this is one libertarian who things that their should be legal conventions to reduce transaction costs and those conventions should err on the side of protection against trespass. If individuals want to contract otherwise then it should be possible, but must be explicit. In other words the assumption should be that the drivers education class was non-smoking unless otherwise advertized in a promenent way. Failure to inform someone in print ads, or over the phone would be a violation as far as I'm concerned. You can just stick a sign up in the room for people to read after they arrive. That's bait and switch.

The only question that need

The only question that need be answered in this debate is, Who is initiating force against whom.

To take the side of those who initiate force is to place oneself outside the borders of the libertatian philosophy. If there is one crucial point with which one must agree to be it's that one must always stand in opposition to the initiation of force by anyone, including government.

It doesn't mean one has to make this or any other issue one's primary battle, but it does mean one must condemn it at every opportunity.

The fact that government action has also made it harder for an employee to change jobs is very true, but irrelevant.

[...] ng else. Stephen van

[...] ng else. Stephen van Dyke takes issue with this, Sean Lynch of Catallarchy responded that fighting smoking bans should be about #258 on a libertarian t [...]