Monday, April 25, 2011

Smoking Bans

Smoking bans in private buildings, including bars and restaurants, are becomming increasingly common in Western countries. These bans are typically based on the idea that smoking is optional but breathing is not. There's no doubt that breathing second-hand smoke is unhealthy, so the function of the law is to protect those who do not want to inhale.

These laws seem to imply a right to be inside the building in question. There are some buildings with which the public is clearly entitled to have an association: court houses, public schools, or public transport stations to name a few. In fact, I can see the justification for smoking bans on outdoor public property like sidewalks or parks. If citizens are required to pay taxes to support these properties, why must they breathe second-hand smoke when they want to use them?

On the other hand, there appear to be no movements to ban smoking inside personal homes. This is presumably because the public doesn't have a right to enter somebody else's home, and it would be an injustice to violate a person's freedom to smoke so long as it's on his or her own property. Whether other people enter someone's home is considered to be up to the property owner, not the desires of the anonymous public. Why, then, is the law different for so-called workplaces? As I see it, this nonuniform application of the law can only make sense if you regard the public—whether employees or customers—as entitled to use these properties on their own terms. 

This appears to be a rather blatant example of public appropriation of private property. It seems entirely irrelevant to me that a majority of citizens support the bans. What's going on here is the public is voting themselves broader access to smoke-free restaurants, bars, and workplaces by forcing an eccentric minority—those weird indoor smokers—to conform to the dominant lifestyle. I find it hard to claim we live in a free society when some majority consensus can dictate whether you light a cigarette in your own building.

1 comment:

  1. It is relevant, however, that a majority of citizens support the bans. We don't live in a society with the degree of freedom to which you allude, and in my opinion, this is just. Those eccentric minorities will just have to grumble!