Whether or not Michigan should ban smoking in public places (bars and restaurants) is a big topic in today's (12/20/2007) Detroit News' Letters to the Editor. One of the common points supporters of the ban like to make is that both California and New York have banned smoking in bars and restaurants and their hospitality industry hasn't suffered. Statistically they may be right, but for the wrong reasons.
Banning smoking throughout all a state's bars and restaurants means the consumer has no choice in the matter. Imagine if today Michigan passed a law saying all cars must be black. Michigan dealerships would still sell cars because people still want new cars--even if they must be black. Without choice (or limited choice or limited resources to exercise choice) is it really any wonder entire states' hospitallity industries don't appreciably suffer?
But what if a single city banned smoking? I think it would be a great boon to Ferndale's business if Royal Oak prohibited smoking in bars and restaurants. Perhaps that would be a good test for our state lawmakers--ban smoking in Royal Oak and measure the economic impact on Royal Oak for a year before measuring whether there would be no impact on the state.
I don't think it's a slippery slope to extrapolate upwards and imagine the economic impact a smoking ban would have on Oakland County if Wayne and Macomb counties allowed smoking in bars and restaurants. Counties are pretty big chunks of real-estate and while it's possible folks near the middle may be unwilling (or unable) to drive to another county (read: have limited choice) those that live near-enough to other counties will have a choice and are as likely to exercise it as people were to buy cars in colors other than black--even though they were more expensive.
Make the whole state non-smoking and only cities that border other states (or countries) will suffer economically. For supporters of the smoking ban, the bigger the ban the better it is because the economic impact becomes statistically immaterial. But being statistically unimportant will be as much comfort to bars and restaurants near our borders as the 7% unemployment rate is to the 7% of unemployed.
Should people have the right to choose a hamburger over a salad? Should they have a right to choose French fries over rice cakes? Should they have a right to choose beer over flavored water? Should they have a right to patronize a business that allows smoking and serves hamburgers with a side of fries and Bud Lite over one that does not and serves salad, with a side of rice cakes and fruit punch?
Comparing Michigan to California and New York is a red herring. It sounds like a good argument until the smoke clears. The real issue is about choice, and people's willingness to let others engage in less healthy or even risky lifestyles than let the nanny state (or busybody do-gooders) dictate what they may do in the bar, the grocery store, or the bedroom.
On this issue at least, you can count me firmly in the pro-choice column.