Recently a reporter contacted me regarding smoking bans. She did not use my comments in her story, so I’m pleased to make them available here:
I am opposed to smoking bans on private property in general, at every level of government.
When government restricts smoking on private property, including in restaurants and the like (even if “open to the public”), government violates people’s rights to control their property and associate freely with others. Restaurants and other establishments have a moral right to allow smoking in their establishments or to ban it—and their potential customers have a moral right to decide whether to seek to do business at any given establishment. If you don’t want the smoke, don’t go. There’s no such thing as a “right” to use another’s property against that person’s consent. That said, given historical trends of reduced smoking, absent a ban many establishments would have voluntarily banned smoking long ago. (I personally hate smoking and would go out of my way to find smoke-free establishments.)
To give you an indication of how smoking bans violate civil liberties, consider that some bans prevent people from smoking on stage, in the course of presenting a work of art, and hence violate rights of free speech and expression. Moreover, the First Amendment recognizes “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”—but smokers are often denied this right.
Smoking bans regarding government property are more complex. Government may legitimately ban smoking in government buildings and tight public spaces, such as court houses. Government has no good reason to ban smoking in open outdoor spaces controlled by the government, such as sidewalks. As to what government property ought to be converted to private property, that is a broader subject for another day.
Regarding campuses, the fundamental problem is that many campuses are government controlled. Private colleges—like all private establishments—have a moral right to allow, restrict, or ban smoking, at their discretion. Regarding government-controlled campuses, often there is no clear way to protect everyone’s rights—quite simply because government controlling a college campus inherently violates people’s rights, primarily by forcibly seizing people’s wealth. When government does control a college campus, the best the government in control can do is seek to draw up rules that balance different people’s interests while not horribly trampling the Bill of Rights. To my mind, colleges can reasonably ban smoking inside, but not outside. If a college wants the ability to ban smoking everywhere, it should first stop violating people’s rights, stop collecting people’s money seized by force, and become a private institution.
Image: Van Gogh, Wikimedia Commons