Thursday, December 20, 2007

Michigan's smoking ban: Have any color you want--as long as it's black

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.


  1. Stefanie at the BeachDec 20, 2007, 3:05:00 PM

    I can't think of any public establishments in Guam where you can smoke. I personally loved it. Mackenzie never got so much as a sniffle. (Well except in Japan where they hold a baby in one hand and a cigarette in the other.)

    I don't have a problem with people choosing to smoke anymore then I have a problem with people choosing to drink. I do have a problem when their choices affect me or my family. Such as drinking and driving (illegal) or second hand smoke. I choose not to inhale other peoples smoke. Or I would if I could. But I don't get that option.

    I'm reminded of our 2 months in MI before our move to Guam. Everywhere we went there was someone smoking. Mackenzie wound up with a double ear infection and a burst ear drum right before our flight. Not to mention that I am one of those lucky people allergic to it. Hello migraine.

    I often joke with my mother (a heavy smoker) that if drinking & driving is illegal (because of it's potential to cause physical harm to others) then so should second hand smoke. It causes just as much physical harm.

    So who gets the choice? Should the people who want to inhale the toxins get the choice? Leaving those who choose not to smoke to be forced to inhale it anyway and deal with the health problems as best as they can. Or do we take the right to inhale the nicotine away from everyone?

    I have no suggestions, just my two cents... =o)

  2. Stefanie, you make a good point about second hand smoke, and that is the strongest argument against smoking in public (though not undebatable).

    I won't speak for all of Michigan, but in Ferndale there is a choice for non-smokers to choose between establishments that permit smoking and those that do not.

    Where there isn't a choice (one bowling alley, one 70s night-club) we might conclude there isn't a large-enough anti-smoking market to support their own bowling alley or disco.

    So is the government interference in the free market desirable? As with so many things it depends on whose side the government is on. When they're for us they're a great ally. When they're against us they're the evil empire.

    Rather than asking or wondering which side the government is on I think we should instead ask why the government should be on any side. Capitalism (which American supposedly promotes) can take care of both without one side forcing its will on the other. Witness the availability of non-smoking vars and restaurants (in Ferndale) before the government required it.

  3. Thomas - Thank you for steering the debate back to the real issue - a free market economy that allows the owners (and thus the risk taker) of a business to determine how they run their business.

  4. The smoking ban reminds me of another event from earlier this year:

    In January of this year, Oakland County Commissioner Marcia Gershenson wanted to ban trans-fats from all Oakland County restaurants, putting them at an economic disadvantage to neighboring counties without the ban.

    And in the category of politicians unclear on basic economic concepts we also have:

    In April of 2006, State Senator Gilda Jacobs supported raising Oakland County's sales tax to help fund mass transit.

  5. Whoops. The second link should be something else entirely.

  6. I have been counting the days for the inevitable smoking ban. You can count me as one of the people who will definately increase my patronage after the ban. I do not agree that everything can be guided by the free market. This is just another form of pollution regulation. I would agree with a nationwide ban, this would level the playing field (for those bars near Toledo Tom is so concerned about) but then I guess people would just be flocking to the bars in Mexico. You just can’t win.

  7. Do you frequent smoke-free bars and restaurants today?

    You mention a smoking ban is just a form of pollution control, can you think of any practices you might engage in that would be eliminated under a health policy, transportation policy, or energy policy?

  8. Why yes...

    health policy: Restaurant cook not washing hands after bathroom

    transportation policy: Reckless Driving

    energy policy: Home made Nuclear Reactor

    This is why we elect 'the people who show up', to decide which of our personal freedoms must be sacrificed for the greater common good.

  9. Can't go to Toledo, Ohio has a ban too.

  10. There's still Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Though some of their cities have banned smoking in public facilities their state legislatures haven't been persuaded.

  11. In spite of my adversion to what the tobacco industry tried without success to portray as an "adult custom," you can color me alarmed at how far we have allowed the nanny state to flourish.

    That having been said, the movement to force bars and restaurants to deny smokers their right to enjoy a cigarette in public is helped immeasurably by the second-hand smoke argument.

    The dangers of second-hand smoke provide a rationale for government intervention.

    (There have been a scant few studies that show some minimal benefits that come from smoking. I think some Parkinson's symptoms are alleviated by tobacco. But they are outweighed by evidence pointing in the other direction.)

  12. Bill,

    ".. the movement to force bars and restaurants to deny smokers their right to enjoy a cigarette in public is helped immeasurably by the second-hand smoke argument.

    I think it's helped immeasurably by an incurable lack of logic, or at least a lack of consistency.

    There are lots of things we do that are potentially dangerous to others that the government stays away from, or should stay away from.

    Remember how well prohibition worked? Abortion is dangerous every time and remains legal. Extramarital sex has health and social risks but remains practically unrestricted and advertised regularly on TV and movies.

    The government is so accepting of premarital sex that many schools distribute condoms to students. For free!

    People can choose not to expose themselves to second-hand smoke, but they can't choose to avoid being hit by a drunk driver or contracting a venereal disease from a promiscuous partner. Promiscuity is so accepted it's literally advertised in any movie with a PG-13 or-higher rating.

    And yet the government won't prohibit these and other behaviors.

    Like restaurants that use trans-fats put a warning label on the door and let the public choose. That's more choice than crippled victims and grieving families of drunk drivers or many AIDS patients had.

    The opinions that confuse me are from people that accept pre/extra-martial sex and all its risks but want to prohibit smoking in public places. I'm also interested by people who drink at bars and restaurants and drive home with dulled reflexes (or worse) but want to prohibit smoking.

    Many people are genetically predisposed to lung diseases, including cancer, but I know of none that are genetically predisposed to being killed by drunk drivers or infected with HIV. Regardless, the behaviors that lead to drunk driving, HIV, or other sexually transmitted diseases (like pregnancy) are either not prohibited by law or are being taken off the books.

    And after all that, people are pushing to prohibit smoking in public?

    Absolutely fascinating.

  13. Tom,
    The inconsistency is only in your mind. If an idividual takes your ego-centric point of view (on all of those issues you mentioned) he will always find that the laws and his positions are not in perfect harmony. What lies between banning everything someone thinks is hamful and banning nothing is the world we live in. Society would not fluorish at either extreme so some laws are needed. Your views on womens rights, gay rights, contraception...are just your opinion. Now how do we divide this great sea of grey area? Where is the line drawn? Get ready for a little Govt 101...Society draws the line. They (you)elect representatives to trace this line out. One side legal, one side illegal.

    You seem amazed that the issues you feel are so important may not be on the right side of the line. I feel the same way only opposite. Welcome to democracy.

  14. I urge all you non-smokers and others who support the smoking ban to send an E-Mail to Senator Bishop and express your support for the smoking ban. Lets swamp his his E-Mail with tons of E-Mails. I sent him two E-Mails and he responded with flimsy reasons for snuffing the ban. Lets flood his E-Mail system. His E-Mail is:

    Also I would suggest not voting for him in the next election.

  15. People keep talking about this as a right. A right for people to impact the lives of others in a negative way, a right for businesses to do as they wish with their property. Both are pretty lame excuses.

    A person does not have a "right" to drive drunk, why not? I do not have a "right" to spray DDT to kill bugs. All the "rights" we have in the constitution are not ones that cause harm to others. Free Speech does not cover the "right" to foment violence or to screen fire in a theater since it may harm others physically.

    When you say the rights of business owners are you suggesting we give them back the "right" to hire child labor? Should we allow them the "right" to dump hazardous chemicals because they want to? It is pretty interesting that people become so worked up about keeping a business right to allow smoking but they never think about the fact that no business is in it to protect the environment, workers, or public unless it is forced on them since it will possibly cut into their profits.

    Defend the "rights" all you want but you are barking up the wrong tree. It has always taken government to force companies and people to stop dangerous activities or outright abuse of the workers and others.

  16. People keep talking about this as a right. A right for people to impact the lives of others in a negative way, a right for businesses to do as they wish with their property. Both are pretty lame excuses.

    Property rights are one of capitalism's and our constitutions greatest assets. Failure to understand the importance of property rights and the role it plays in our economy and our freedoms suggests a fairly shallow understanding of our nation.

    Before responding I thought it worthwhile to ask if you would reconsider describing property rights as a "lame excuse."

  17. The smoking ban is bad news and bad business.
    The antismokers will not come out if you have a ban, but will enjoy the fact that you can't be allowed to make decisions on your own private property.
    Rest assured of that. They won't be out no matter what they say.

    Ohio is in a hell of a mess because people were swayed by the antismoking organizations' lies on "no economic damage".

    I here the Michigan economy is even weaker than Ohio's at this time. Well, you will add to a weaker economy if you add in a smoking ban.

  18. This is a quote from CS Lewis I've been planning to use in a future article, but it seems appropriate here.

    Though I intend to quit smoking (again) I am already fairly confident I'll frequent some of my favorite haunts less if the smoking ban passes. I can watch sports at home on a bigger TV, with more comforts and less expensive food and drinks. The greatest advantage a bar had for me was I could smoke regardless the weather.

    It is also my experience that smoking slows drinking--which is a good thing.

    Regardless, my opposition to the law has nothing to do with health risks. It is strictly property rights, individual rights, and the right to choose the establishments I'll visit based on their accommodations--the food they serve, the service, the prices, and whether they do or do not permit smoking.

  19. see you missed the point once again...a car of any color does not cause any ill health effects. That is the issue at hand.

  20. Let's go with the health issue (I was avoiding both it and property rights) for the moment.

    If government is allowed to tinker with the economy and property rights under the shield of health benefits, I see few obstacles in the government poking their nose into my bedroom or kitchen for health purposes.

    Whether its' the health risks of sodomy, bacteria on kitchen work surfaces, adults not washing their hands before rinsing vegetables, under-cooking meat for guests, allowing children diets high in sugar, or indulging their vegan fantasies, aren't those similar targets for government interference to protect others' health?

  21. Google FORCES-the evidence and you will see just how beniful smoking can be. Government used the "bad" stuff to get big money

  22. Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) causes disease in non-smokers. Workplace bans on smoking are interventions to reduce exposure to ETS to try to prevent harmful health effects. The Irish Government on the 29th March 2004 introduced the first national comprehensive legislation banning smoking in all workplaces including bars and restaurants.