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Where There's Smoke, You Don't Have to Be

Mises Daily: Friday, April 21, 2006 by

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This past January acting New Jersey Governor Richard J. Codey signed into law a statewide smoking ban in "public" places except for casinos. ABC News's Nightline recently aired a segment on this legislation which is set to go into effect on April 15.

Yet again, the anti-smoking activists want the government to intervene in the economy and the private property (or what should be considered truly private property) of entrepreneurs. One of the women interviewed, a casino supervisor at Trump Plaza, said that smoking caused her asthma and the illnesses of many of her co-workers.

While I sympathize with her and the other employees regarding their health problems, the flaw with her complaint is that she and the other casino employees were not forced to breathe in second-hand smoke. People voluntarily chose to work in those environments and they knew the benefits and the costs when they made the decision to work in the casinos (and if they did not, they could have quit their job soon after they started).

The only two parties that seem to get mentioned in many of these cases are the smokers and the non-smokers. The former argue that it is their right to smoke and the latter argue that it is their right to have clean air. Who seems to be forgotten are the business owners! This misuse of the word "public" is the main cause.

When I ask my friends or students if the government should have the right to tell me whether or not I can smoke a cigar in my own home, they unanimously tell me "No!" But isn't my home where other people come to eat, drink, talk, or watch television a "public" place? Yet, the same people who concede that my home is private property conveniently do not see the connection between my home and my restaurant (or other establishment). Why? Because they say my restaurant is a public place, established for the benefit of my patrons. I hate to disappoint them, but my business is for my benefit. Sure, I understand that I need many loyal customers who love to spend money at my establishment in order to have a thriving business. However, what people and legislators must realize is that my restaurant, bar, or casino is my private property just like my home is my private property. I made this argument in a previous article for Mises.org entitled "Smoking and Property Rights."

Critics of the law argue that it is unfair that the casino lobby was able to get an exemption from the smoking ban for their particular industry. One New Jersey restaurant owner said that his business would suffer because his smoking customers and tourists will spend their money at the casinos instead. While he could be correct, the right course of action is not to ban smoking everywhere. The only moral action for the New Jersey legislature is to respect freedom of association and the private property of entrepreneurs.

You do not have to breathe in any second-hand smoke while you are eating, drinking, socializing, or gambling. You do not have to serve, bartend, or deal cards in a smoke-filled environment to earn a paycheck. Now, if Donald Trump walked out on the streets of Atlantic City and kidnapped you and took you to his Taj Mahal casino and put a gun to your head and said, "Take a deep breath pal while I blow this smoke in your face or I will blow your head off" then fine, you would have a legitimate case against Mr. Trump and that would be an infringement of your rights. But I have never seen or heard that Donald Trump or any other private business owner wrestle customers or prospective employees onto their private property!

The bottom line is that if you are a smoker, you do not have a right to smoke in my house nor in my place of business. If you want to smoke at a restaurant, bar, strip club, or casino, open your own. If you can't, stay home.

And if you are a nonsmoker, you do not have a right to a smoke-free environment in my house or in my place of business. If you want a smoke-free restaurant, bar, strip club, or casino, then open up your own darn place. If you can't, then stay home.

When people drop their arrogant and self-righteous attitude and realize that it is not a right to work for somebody else or that it is not a right to enter into somebody else's establishment, and when people learn the difference between the words "public" and "private," then maybe the incredible waste of time and taxpayer dollars that go toward smoking legislation will stop. Maybe then the government will stop interfering with property rights and start protecting them.

Okay, I need to relax now — time for a cigar while I can still enjoy one.


Ninos P. Malek is a graduate student in the Economics department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Send him mail. Comment on the blog.