Blue Laws and Anti-Smoking Lawsby Brad Warbiany
Over at The Unrepentant Individual, I’ve long pilloried blue laws. As a Beer Advocate, the fact that I’ve moved to a state where it is illegal to purchase alcohol on Sundays irks me. Granted, I think far enough ahead that it doesn’t worry me, but the idea that the state determines what days alcohol should and should not be sold seems like an affront to freedom.
At the same time, I’ve long asked here about how much I disagree with anti-smoking laws. Granted, I’m not a smoker (although I used to be), but again, I feel like it is an affront to freedom to decree that smoking should not be allowed upon private property.
I’ve asked with both situations that we choose freedom over regulation. If you’re a liquor store owner and you choose to close on Sundays, in observance of your religion? You’re free to make that choice. If you’re a religious person who thinks it is wrong to purchase alcohol on Sundays, don’t do it. Likewise, if you’re a restaurant owner and you want to serve patrons who don’t want to be around smoke, choose to be a non-smoking restaurant. If you dislike smoke to the extent that you don’t want to be near it in a restaurant, go to non-smoking restaurants. It is freedom. It may not always end up with the “desired” results, but in my mind, it’s the best policy.
At the same time, I am faced with a difficult argument from the blue law and anti-smoking advocates. When I suggest that a business choose to go no-smoking, or that a business choose not to sell alcohol on Sunday (or on the other end, choose as a pharmacist whether or not to dispense birth control), the argument is that a business can’t survive if it makes that choice.
One popular establishment, though, is bucking that trend, and showing that choosing to restrict your own business doesn’t necessarily mean your demise. The policy of Chick-Fil-A is to be voluntarily closed on Sunday. If the anti-freedom forces were correct, Chick-Fil-A would be going out of business. Instead, it recently expanded into California, keeping it’s closed-on-Sunday policies, and has been growing all the same. Rather than failing, Christians who agree with that policy tend to give Chick-Fil-A more business because they feel like it’s a “moral” company. And Chick-Fil-A is no startup. They’ve been around and growing for sixty years.
How is it that a company who chooses to voluntarily restrict their operations in this manner succeed? Because the market allows a wide range of diversity. Some people prefer Chick-Fil-A (or a California operation, In&Out Burger) for their Christian roots. Others like these restaurants for the food, and care little about the religious aspect of the business. Either way, Chick-Fil-A is simple proof that businesses choosing to buck the trend can survive.
Georgia’s anti-smoking legislation went into effect in July 2005. Before the ever happened, I visited quite a few restaurants in the Atlanta area who were non-smoking. Some of them had enclosed bar areas where smoking was allowed, several were completely non-smoking. They were succeeding and following the “desired” results with no help from government decree to shackle their competitors.
I’ve said before that legislators only do what is safe. Smokers have become so ostracized that it is now politically safe for legislators to enforce discrimination against them. But what most people don’t understand is that there is an underlying trend against smoking in our entire culture, and the politicians are just catching onto the coattails of that trend. At the same time, the politicians are claiming credit for that trend. Smokers are losing their havens naturally, but when a politician can claim credit for enforcing that natural phenomenon, it makes voters feel like those politicians are needed. Anti-smoking sentiment is growing, and anti-blue-law sentiment is growing. When those trends grow large enough, politicians jump on. But we shouldn’t allow them to take credit for destroying freedom by pandering to the majority.
The experience of California years ago may be necessary, as it showed the world that restaurants and bars could survive smoke-free. But instead of learning the lesson, other states mimicked the legislative option. Likewise, the argument against ending blue laws is that liquor stores who voluntarily choose not to sell on Sunday will be put into difficult business positions. But the experience of Chick-Fil-A shows that a business in a competitive market can choose to close on Sunday and survive. My local liquor store has a good enough beer and wine selection that I’d rather shop there on any day but Sunday than shop for beer at the supermarket. If a liquor store chooses to close on Sunday, they might have to raise their game in other areas, but that’s not a bad thing.
Those who think we need to restrict smoking don’t trust the market to supply a product that they feel they’re entitled to. But anti-smoking laws wouldn’t be passed if there wasn’t a demand, and the freedom of a market will satisfy a demand. The blue law folks are a tougher nut, because they’re simply trying to legislate their own morality, not their own preferences. They think it’s immoral that someone should buy liquor or beer on Sundays, and think it’s their duty to stop us. But their power is waning in this country, it’s only a matter of time. Both groups are repugnant to me, but it’s the former that worry me the most.