Monday, February 05, 2007

Smoking Out Weak Arguments

The JT's arguments in favor of a smoking ban deserve a smoking out.

The JT claims that the smoking ban issue is "not an issue of personal freedom. It's an issue of public health." OK, let us assume that that is true. If true, smoking would cause public health problems wherever it occurs. In other words, any smoking would be detrimental to the public health. Therefore, smoking, anywhere, should be illegal. If the JT were to be logically consistent, they would argue for the complete prohibition of smoking.

The JT's other main argument is that everyone else is doing it. The French are banning smoking, the European Union is considering a ban, many US states have bans etc... therfore we should jump on the ban wagon. I find this to be among the most disturbing argument that can be advanced by adults. Don't think, just follow.


eric said...

Is the air in the vicinity of private property a "public good" or a "private good"? Your answer to that question should determine your position on smoking bans.

Denis Navratil said...

Eric, with respect to the air, the air being discussed is within the establishment in question. Now if the issue were smoke billowing out of a restaurant onto the sidewalk, we would need to have a different discussion. Even there though, I don't know if a smoking ban or pollution ban is the wisest course of action. We should resist the temptation to consider policy issues an an either or proposition. Rather, we should think about incremental changes and trade-offs. If we conclude that we have an absolute right to clean air, then the obvious solution would be to shut down all electric plants, ban automobiles etc... and go back to the stone age.

With respect to the air quality within a bar/restaurant, I clearly think it is a "private" issue. In fact, I have yet to hear anyone advance the argument that the air contained within a private establishment should be considered "public" air. If we go down that road we will really be in trouble. Then all air will be subject to public regulation, including the air in your home. Would you like the public air police to investigate your home on suspicion that you lit up a cigarette?

eric said...

Just pointing out that in our law and international law there are "public goods", and the air is the most common example, a public good being something that is indivisible and benefits all. This suggests the air police could indeed regulate my air and yours ... and his and hers, because ... you guessed it, it's really our air. Catalytic converters, factory filters, and new regulations on small engines are examples of the air police already in action. I know this argument is being broached along minority rights and private property rights, but I'm not so sure the "public good" doesn't trump in the smoking ban argument.

Denis Navratil said...

Well if you are going to make the argument that it is public air, then the policy response should be to outlaw all smoking, not just the smoking that occurs in bars and restaurants. Prohibition has been tried, with alcohol. Not many serious people would advocate the prohibition of alcohol again, as the unintended consequences were organized crime that plaugues us to this day. I don't think we want to go there again, do you Eric?