"The individual is not accountable to society for his actions, insofar as these concern the interests of no person but himself." ~ John Stuart Mill
New Jersey Smoking Ban a Strike Against Freedom
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The ringing of the school bell beckoned us to our desks. Our last period of the day, United States History, began in its typically stolid fashion. This was not to be an ordinary lesson, however; in the place of notes explaining the virtues of Abraham Lincoln, we discussed the recent smoking ban passed by assembly in our fair state of New Jersey. The ban, passed by The Assembly Health and Human Services Committee, is but one of the recent crusades attempting to restrict smoking in our state of residence.
Our teacher, in expected fashion, shrieked panegyrics for the bill and its aim. He explained how the just and insightful men who voted in favor of the bill had finally honored his right to clean air in bars, restaurants, clubs, and bowling alleys (note, casinos are exempt under this legislation due to "political necessity," see above links). A few other students in the class seemed to agree with him. They nodded in approval as they reasoned that because smoking is bad for your health, it should be outlawed, for interest of the "public health." Right?
I remained silent for most of my teacher's ranting, but I found I could only let so much penetrate the minds of my classmates' uncontested. After a sarcastic comment about the soon-to-follow suspension of habeas corpus, I found myself subject to the inquisition of my history teacher. He asserted his previous statements, attempting to prove that because it was violating his right to clean air, law needed passing. Let us assume that I do have a right to clean air. Does that imply that I have the right to dictate what other people do with their bodies and their time in a situation where I choose to surround myself with a physical risk? No, it does not. Never does my personal preference provide justification for the violation of another person's property rights. I contended, in the company of a largely apathetic class, that an individual has the right to their bodies, and all other property that they possess. Thus, even if it harms an individual, that individual has the right to engage in that activity, so long as it does not infringe on any other individuals' rights.
My teacher rebutted by claiming that he possessed the right to be healthy and free of second hand smoke.
Let us now assume that I own a room, dubbed Room A. Further assume that a certain friend of mine owns a room, named Room B. Both rooms are opened for the purpose of some sale of a good (to be consistent, assume it to be a bar). I elucidated that as the owner of Room A, I had the right to either allow or disallow smoking in it. No one has the right to come into my room and demand, by edict of law and by point of a gun, that I must forbid the use of tobacco on my property. To do so would be a violation of my property rights.
My teacher complained that if his friends were in a band that happened to be performing in Room A, he should be entitled to smoke-free entertainment. Not at the expense of another's property rights, I claimed. If Room B forbids smoking and Room A allows it, then it makes little sense for my teacher to financially support Room A. If the marginal benefits of Room A did not outweigh the marginal costs, it is up to him to choose a more satisfying venue. I told him that if he truly wanted to uphold the notion of individual rights, it would make sense to financially endorse Room B, and suggest to his friends that they perform exclusively at venues that forbid smoking.
The teacher then tried to relate the situation to drunk driving. He declared that my logic allowed drunk drivers to get behind the wheel and put other people in danger. I offered the retort that drunk driving differs from the smoking situation in quite a few ways. Firstly, the property a car accident takes place on is public property, not private property. Because there is a Federal monopoly on road construction, there are few other economic options through which to pressure the government into some sort of change in policy. Secondly, driving on a road in general is often a practical necessity. In order to transport myself from point A to point B, it is sometimes most efficient and convenient to drive. If driving, I have no other option but to drive on a road (owned by the State). In contrast, I can eat without going to a restaurant and I can drink without going to a bar. Again, in contrast, I can take my business to another company, in order to reward competent, quality service with monetary support. I cannot effectively do so with roads. Thirdly, the consumer can easily tell, through reputation or observation, which bars allow smokers, which don't, and furthermore which bars do an acceptable job of enforcing their rules. This enables the consumer to avoid the situation entirely where as being hit by a drunk driver is more of a crap-shoot.
My teacher's last quip consisted of a concern for the worker. He reasoned that an employee should not be forced to inhale second hand smoke in the work place, and thus, a smoking ban was in order. To counter, I pointed out that a job is a contractual agreement between an employer and an employee, made and bound by each party's volition. If one does not want to surround him or herself with smoke, then they should not go to work for a business that allows smoking. If the marginal cost of second hand smoke is dwarfed by an unskilled worker's marginal benefit of a salary and commission, then that worker will choose to sign the contract with full knowledge of the health risks, and thus has given people consent to smoke around their work.The teacher, with his justifications ousted, could only reply with an earnest, "I disagree." He asked me my personal feelings toward smoking. I told him quite truthfully that I'm very much opposed to smoking. In addition, my grandmother has smoked for some 50 years. I avoid visiting her house to this day because of the layers upon layers of smoke in her home. Though I may love her, I don't demand that she quit her habits.
With that explanation encompassed my entire stance: I can act within my rights to achieve what I want, and I needn't demand any sort of sacrifice from anyone else. History class isn't always the most exciting event of my day, so I assume it's the same for my classmates. However, leaving the class I hoped that I had in some way inspired an idea, a thought, or a question in someone's mind regarding why things take place the way they do, and why we demand other people have their rights taken away for our preference.