The Smoking Ban & The Free Market

Ever since I was old enough to somewhat comprehend the term, I’ve been taught that the “free market” is what drives and inspires our country. It’s what keeps us employed. It prevents robber barons from fleecing us when we’re shopping for everything from penny candy to giant mansions. It’s the very basis that allows all of us to attempt to fulfill our dreams of owning and operating a business.

Coupled with this concept is the belief that government interference hampers this pursuit. Whether it’s through taxes, laws, or even time-consuming paperwork, we’ve always been taught that the free market is supposed to work at its best when it’s left alone.

Of course, that portion of the concept is over-simplistic and unrealistic. Society does need rules and regulations, and taxes are a necessary evil to at the very least provide the infrastructure (roads, bridges, traffic lights, sewer systems, etc.) needed to fulfill our pursuits. The challenge that is up to debate every single day of our existence is to create a balance that protects the populace while at the same time allows the business community to thrive.

One route that the populace can utilize to cause businesses to change without government interference is so simplistic that it’s been a long-standing cliché – with your pocketbook. If you don’t like how a business operates, you simply don’t frequent their establishment. If enough people follow that very same logic, a good business operator will make the necessary changes.

A perfect example occurred just a few weeks ago. While dining with some friends, the conversation turned to a restaurant/bar that I quite often frequent. One couple that was with us said that while they enjoyed the food, they would never return because of the smoky environment.

Obviously, they can now return to this eatery, as earlier this month the people of our fine state voted to outlaw smoking in bars. I find it very strange that in an election where almost every Republican on the ballot received around 70% of the vote the margin of victory in this ballot issue was duplicated. This is a move that goes against the Republican/Libertarian mantra of intrusive government interference.

Yes, smoking is bad for a person…as is sitting at a bar drinking. They’re both legal products, however. They’re also both legal products that are heavily taxed.  You would think that a state such as South Dakota would prefer that people follow the lead of the example I noted earlier and use their clichéd pocketbook to force more and more bars to stop smoking on their own will. What better way to clean up the air than the promise of higher revenues?

This type of wind of change has been already happening anyway. Every year there are more and more smoke-free establishments. At this point in time, if you want to run a mainstream restaurant/bar you almost have to not allow smoking. But the vast majority of the public will never set foot in those hole in the wall dive bars, and nobody is forcing anybody to work at these dumps. Yet those that do feel most comfortable at such a place has had their decision primarily made by a populace that rarely, if ever, set foot into a house of booze.

Shenanigans’ owner Don Rose and his pals didn’t help their own cause in this debate, however. Instead of raising some of the issues I’ve just noted, they created an advertising campaign that made Kristi Noem’s appear sane. Doomsday predictions of a state income tax and unsafe children (yes, they did go there) did nothing but anger even their supporters, and their subsequent tough talk about not following the new law is laughable. At the very least, the Empire Mall cops will finally have something to do if Rose refuses to enforce it.

Will the do-gooders behind the smoking ban stop with this victory? Possibly not. I’ve noticed in recent days that some of those free market acolytes who voted to ban smoking are loudly laughing at San Francisco’s new law banning toys in kid’s meals. Beware. Taking away one freedom can start that slippery slope to banning anything that advocates believe are a harmful product. The smoking ban in New York City was the opening statement that led to a similar ban on MSG, which is now setting the stage for taxing fast food and soft drinks. Is that really the America you proud South Dakotans want to see?


Craig said…
I am 100% ok with the smoking ban because although it is a personal choice to smoke, the smoker can't control where the second-hand smoke goes, and as such this nasty habit is forced upon others.

Alcohol is quite a different issue. If you decide to drink until the point you are intoxicated, it doesn't impact me one bit. I won't develop liver failure if you are a chronic alcoholic, and I won't wake up the next morning with a Montana-sized headache.

Most habits and vices follow these same rules including fatty or unhealthy foods. If someone chooses to eat at McDonalds each and every meal and they gain 100lbs in 6 months it isn't going to raise my cholesterol so I could care less. This concept is why you never saw anyone try to lump in smokeless tobacco into this ban. If Billy Bob wants to sit in a bar with a lip full of Skoal all night, it isn't going to impact my health one bit nor is it going to impact the health of the workers who are serving him.

There is the rub... as the old saying goes your right to swing your arm ends directly in front of my face. I'm all for personal freedoms provided they don't have any negative impact upon others - but in this case the impact was spread around enough a ban made sense.

Will this concept spread? Perhaps - but a slippery slope fallacy is just that... a fallacy. One doesn't necessarily lead to two unless the people willfully allow it to, so having a smoking ban does not increase our chances of banning toys from Happy Meals or MSG any more than having parking meters downtown suggests we are going to have toll booths along I-29.
Anonymous said…
Your IQ dropped in this commentary. A "free market" choice for the people's right to contact cancer? Including with second hand smoke? And then a conspiracy theory domino effect for other societal ills? You watch way too much TV and listen to outrageous weird lyrics.

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