Smoking bans should be amended

Theodore J. King Author, The War on Smokers
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Now that the midterm elections are over, the political climate should begin to be more business-friendly than it has been in recent years because, beginning in January, there will be many new Republican governors and state legislators who should be more favorably disposed to individual rights and freedom than their Democrat predecessors were.  Among the states that will have new Republican governors are Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wisconsin, all of which have draconian indoor smoking bans.  These bans should be either repealed or revised, especially concerning bars, restaurants, and hotel rooms.

In Michigan, the ban even extends to private clubs like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion halls.  In Wisconsin, a traveler cannot even get a smoking room in a hotel.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Ohio had spent $3.2 million since 2007 enforcing the voter-approved indoor smoking ban.  Of that $3.2 million, only $1.2 million in fines had been issued, and of that $1.2 million in fines, only $400,000 had been collected.  If all the fines are collected, taxpayers would still be left holding the bag for $2 million, all to ensure that adults are not indoors, misbehaving with tobacco.

In September, when the Cincinnati Reds won their division championship, several people complained after seeing the Reds on television celebrating their victory with cigars in the clubhouse because they were in violation of the Ohio Clean Indoor Air Act (a.k.a. a smoking ban).

This happened after a poll commissioned by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati found in August that 53% of Ohio adults surveyed want the ban lifted for bars. (I don’t think that was the response the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati wanted).

In Michigan, the smoking ban enacted May 1, 2010 has had a profound impact.  According to numbers obtained from the Michigan Department of Labor, which oversees the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, 176 bar licenses have been lost and an additional 63 liquor licenses have been placed in escrow with the Liquor Control Commission since the law went into effect.  According to The Protect Private Property Rights in Michigan Movement, which obtained these numbers, since May 1 bars have suffered a 50 to 85% drop in revenue compared to previous years before the ban, resulting in the loss or suspension of these liquor licenses.

In Minnesota, the state auditor’s office recently released their report on liquor revenues for 2008.  Among their findings was the following on page seven: “Among on-sale operations [bars], net profits totaled $1.9 million in 2008, which was a decrease of $913,333, or 31.9 percent, from 2007.”  Why a 31.9 percent decrease in bar revenues?  Minnesota adopted a comprehensive smoking ban in 2008.

This is not hard to understand: smokers are a disproportionately large segment of bar patrons.  Once they are no longer legally allowed to smoke in bars, they stay home to smoke and drink.  People do not go to bars to “live healthy” any more than vegetarians go to steakhouses.  No attempt by governments at social engineering will change that.  Small businesses like bars suffer under smoking bans.

Recently, the new government in Holland partially lifted its indoor smoking ban for owner-operated bars.  These are small establishments, numbering about 3,000.  According to Wiel Maessen, who led the fight against the ban, up to 80% of the Dutch approve of the partial lifting of the ban.

Why do so many of the Dutch, most of whom are probably nonsmokers, favor this change?  Because at the end of the day, most of the public doesn’t really care if people are smoking in bars that they simply choose to avoid.  It’s the marketplace, and we must get back to the freedom to choose what the marketplace provides.

Closer to home, in Galveston, Texas, the city council reversed itself on an indoor smoking ban for bars.  The ban had been in effect since the beginning of this year.

In my book, The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, I reprinted excerpts of a report done by two researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the University of South Carolina.  The Adams and Cotti report, named after the two researchers, looked at the effect smoking bans have on bars.  Their conclusion was that smoking bans hurt bar business big time.

Tobacco is a legal product, and it is going to stay that way so long as governments can collect taxes on it.  The hospitality industry should have the right to cater to those who smoke, while ensuring they can do so away from those who don’t want to be exposed to smoking.  This can be done by constructing separately-ventilated smoking rooms in restaurants.  The construction of such rooms would create jobs for contractors.

The anti-smoking zealots have achieved their goal of promoting public health by making the public aware of the possible hazards of smoking.  Now, they are trying to snuff out smokers who want to continue smoking.  Those zealots and our federal, state, county, and city governments must no longer be allowed to tell us what to do regarding smoking or any other legal activity.

I sincerely believe now is a very good time, a propitious time, to amend the smoking bans, and they can be amended if you and others like you demand that public officials amend them.

Theodore J. King is the author of the book The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books a Million.  He has been a columnist for the conservative quarterly The Oklahoma Constitution newspaper since 2000.