Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

You have the right to be stupid. You have the right to make poor decisions. You even have the right to kill yourself. It’s easy to know what your own personal liberties are; it’s quite another to understand where your “rights” begin and where other people’s personal liberties end.
So what about the smoking bans popping up all around the country? Public health involves trade-offs between public safety and personal liberty. Do smokers have the right to smoke at the hazard of others – or should personal liberties be taken away?
Court houses, museums, libraries and colleges are all public areas – and because they are public domain, the balance tips on the “public safety versus personal liberty” scale towards public safety. Since they are public buildings, public interest clearly should take top priority. Often, citizens do not have a choice but to go inside of a court house; it is not as if they are making a decision to put themselves in a dangerous environment. The government therefore has a duty to protect citizens from illnesses caused by exposure to second-hand smoke.
However, private buildings are an entirely different matter. In private businesses especially, it is the owner’s decision of what theme the business will be decorated in, who s/he will hire, what the hours of operation are – and it should also be in the range of the decision field as to whether to allow smoking or not.
The people who work in private businesses do so voluntarily. The people who eat and drink there also do so on a voluntary basis. The business owners put themselves at risk of losing customers based on a less clean atmosphere and increased working hazards. Rather than banning smoking in both public and private businesses, I think we should put the free market to work.
Those who argue for the ban often cite that a smoking ban actually benefits the business. Well yes, and if this is true, don’t you think that business owners will figure it out for themselves? If the demand was high enough, restaurants allowing smoking would probably switch to a non-smoking atmosphere. There are many benefits – a much larger patron base, a cleaner work atmosphere, improved work productivity and a decreased legal liability – it wouldn’t take long for restaurant owners to figure it out. If we allow competition and free enterprise to take over, there would be a decreased need for a law altogether.
A perfect example: stop by the bars and restaurants in West Chester. Many of the restaurants and bars have actually voluntarily banned smoking – one restaurant started the ban, and others followed suit. As a result, much of West Chester is actually smoke-free and new legislation was entirely unnecessary!
If you don’t fully trust the free market to regulate smoking, then how about setting up some incentives? Perhaps give restaurants tax credits for creating a healthier, more efficient work area, as done in Washington, D.C.
Ultimately, in one’s own personal, private restaurant or bar, one should have the choice to allow smoking or not. You have the decision to serve fatty versus healthy foods, don’t you? Should we start regulating portion sizes because obesity has become such a problem and is costing millions of taxpayer’s money? I don’t think so. Use education. Use free market. Use the ideals this country is based on – and only if this does not work, as a last resort we should use legislation.
Smoking is, indeed, a public health hazard – and so is driving a car. We no longer quarantine tubercular patients, even though tuberculosis is an extreme public health hazard. And a pandemic flu would be a much greater risk and much more costly to the taxpayers than second-hand smoke, though luckily we don’t see legislation about requiring a universal flu shot or making it illegal to appear in public while sick.
What about second-hand smoke being a carcinogen? Well yes, it is – but did you know that sugar-free substitutes are also suspected to cause cancer? The alums in anti-perspirant are also potential carcinogens, and suspected to be a cause of breast cancer. And one in every 120 cosmetic products on the market contain “known or probable carcinogens.” (FDA) There are hundreds of other health hazards and carcinogens that should be researched and regulated before banning smoking.
Some say that we need to look after the worker’s health, that oftentimes they do not have a choice of where to work. However, statistically, those who work in restaurants are more likely to be smokers themselves. Oftentimes, legislation is often supported and bans proposed not because of worker complaints but because of the potential clientele.
A lot of the new legislation, especially banning smoking in bars, is absolutely ridiculous. Hey, let’s ban smoking! Thank you, now I can eat greasy food and drink beer after beer destroying my liver in peace! Well, now that just sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
We rely far too much on legislation to solve our problems. We assume that if something is wrong, we need new laws, amendments, and governmental control. We need to trust ourselves more. We need to respect the personal liberties we have fought for, the liberties our country was founded on. To willingly give the government more and more power over our lives when we can control it ourselves is ignorant! Trust the free market, trust competition, trust greed; only if things could potentially get out of control should we rely on the government.
Nicole Paranich is a second-year undergraduate student majoring in pre-med. She may be contacted through the Op-ed section at

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