Up in Smoke


Suppose you are a restaurant owner. And in your restaurant, the majority of the food on your menu is high in fat, salt, sugar, calories, and a host of other things that are typically associated with a bad eating habits, obesity, and poor health related to a poor diet. Such a restaurant is not unlike many 'soul food' or 'fast food' restaurants here in the United States . Then one day, the state or local government has the 'brilliant' idea that in order to reduce the costs and incidents associated with treating obesity and diet-related illnesses, it will ban all 'bad' foods from all restaurants. After all, no one should have to endure the constant barrage of tasty desserts and fried foods all around you when eating out ' right?

To many, the silliness of this question seems readily apparent, and the likelihood of such government prohibitions on 'bad' foods seems far-fetched ' until you consider the increase in smoking restrictions being imposed on private businesses, like your hypothetical restaurant.

Earlier this year, a Republican State Senator in Georgia ' who just happens to be a physician ' sponsored state legislation that sought a statewide ban on indoor smoking, including restaurants and bars. Some amendments to the bill arbitrarily excluded small businesses that are not restaurants or bars from the ban, or private businesses with seven or fewer employees. The legislation passed overwhelmingly in the Georgia Senate 45-7 -- and given that the sponsors of the legislation were split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, one would consider this to be a truly 'bi-partisan' effort. Fortunately, the bill died in a State House committee. However, with a special legislative session on the way, there will be plenty of time for state lawmakers to make another attempt at strangling private business owners.

Prior to this, a number of Georgia counties enacted similar smoking bans on restaurants and other businesses ' which predictably led to the outrage of small business owners who felt the immediate effects of the bans in declining sales. Nevertheless, Georgia is not alone in its effort to repel smokers ' who have increasingly become targets of overzealous lawmakers, and perennial complainers. A number of large cities across the United States have also successfully isolated tobacco consumers. According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) -- a 'non-profit tax-exempt legal action antismoking organization' ' these cities include Aspen ( Colorado ), Austin and Dallas ( Texas ), Santa Fe ( New Mexico ), and Toledo ( Ohio ), among others.

Such cities and states would likely receive high ratings from the American Lung Association, who produces an annual 'State of Tobacco Control Report Card .' In it, each state receives a letter grade in four different categories: 'Smokefree Air,' 'Youth Access,' 'Tobacco Prevention and Control Spending,' and 'Cigarette Taxes.' Based on their rating system, a state will receive the highest rating/grade if it meets the 'target' level of government restrictions on smoking. So, the greater the government coercion, the better the grade ' or, the less freedom, the better the grade.

Proponents of this trend of 'government morality legislation' put forth sob stories of the 'dangers or secondhand smoke,' and 'the right to breathe smoke free air,' ad nauseam ' and legislators, apparently recognizing that non-smoking voters outnumber small business owners, seem more than willing lend a sympathetic ear (and legislation). However, there are a significant number of non-business owners who have mounted collective efforts to fight smoking bans. One such organization is Ban the Ban -- a 'bi-partisan, grassroots group of [ Washington ] DC residents opposed to the proposed smoking ban.'

These groups, and others like it, recognize the economically debilitating effects of misguided government restrictions imposed on small businesses, which can ill-afford to experience significant declines in sales. However, it seems that far too many others are willing to accept yet another loss of freedom, for convenience. For them, it is apparently too difficult to either stop being lazy and find restaurants that voluntarily prohibit or restrict smoking; or, to simply stay at home and cook! Now there's a novel idea . . . .

The market, or consumers have repeatedly shown that they are more than capable of rewarding and penalizing businesses through simple choices of where to spend their money ' without the need for insidious government intervention, and its unintended consequences.

Your rating: None
Sean Turner's picture
Columns on STR: 4

Sean Turner is a member of the Project 21 Advisory Council of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a regular columnist for RenewAmerica.us, GOPUSA.com, MensNewsDaily.com, and a contributor to a number of news and political websites.  His commentary has also appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Washington Times.