Brad’s Smoking and Bare-Knuckle Boxing Emporium!
If you’ve been keeping up with things, you’ll have noticed that smoking bans have become the new (old) debate. Columnist Bill Fergusen explains why a libertarian can support such bans:
That’s why this libertarian supports efforts to restrict smoking in public places not clearly designated as smoking zones. Smokers should have the right to smoke, and I should have the right to breathe clean air. That means no smoking in generally accessible areas like workplaces, restaurants, and stores, except in clearly designated, and separately ventilated, areas.
Well, this has garnered some attention for Fergusen, which was probably his intent. Of course, more type is being spent asking whether he’s really a libertarian than anything else. Stephen van Dyke takes issue with this, Sean Lynch of Catallarchy responded that fighting smoking bans should be about #258 on a libertarian to-do list, and Atlas Blogged suggested that the smoking bans should be a libertarian litmus test.
Now, I’ve posted on smoking bans before, and there’s rarely more to be said. But this comment to the post at Atlas Blogged really got to me:
My perspective then, since I believe that secondhand smoke is harmful, is that a smoker should be allowed to harm themselves but should not be allowed to harm others.
No one is allowed to randomly throw knives in a restaurant, because that’s harmful. No one should be allowed to fill the room with smoke that others have no choice but to breathe, because that’s harmful.
You might say, “You do have a choice. Leave if you don’t like it.” Then I should also just leave if I don’t like someone throwing knives. But I don’t have to worry about knives, because it’s illegal for people to throw knives in restaurants. I shouldn’t have to worry about breathing secondhand smoke in restaurants either.
The only reason the analogy may sound absurd is because you don’t believe that secondhand smoke is harmful. Get hit by a knife, you see the immediate and obvious damage. Inhale a lungful of secondhand smoke and you don’t see immediate damage, but it’s happening nonetheless (albeit much more slowly than a direct hit from a flying knife).
Should a restaurant be free to allow smokers to smoke throughout their building? On the surface, it seems the answer should be “yes.” But should they also be free to allow knife-throwing inside as long as they post a sign on the front door that reads “Knife-throwing Allowed”? No.
I think there’s another problem with that analogy. To go on with the “your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose”, what if I wanted to start my own little “Fight Club”. I buy a little store, set up a boxing ring, and everyone who wants can come in and get into a fistfight.
Assault is illegal. But if I have consenting adults fighting in my ring, are anyones rights being violated? And if so, how is the sport of boxing (or football, or any other contact sport) any different? It’s true, it might not be knife-throwing, but I think there’s undoubtedly be the occasional injury in my “Fight Club”. And the normal rules, if I remember the movie correctly, is that you come to “Fight Club”, you fight; there are no spectators.
Now, would it be fair for me to wait until someone randomly walks into my store to ask for directions, and haul off and jack them in the face? Of course not. They haven’t consented to such behavior. And the knife-throwing (or smoking) analogy fits, if someone must be exposed to that before they have the ability to withhold their consent, but that’s a pretty minor issue in the long run, at least with the smoking part.
I agree with Atlas Blogged, this makes a great litmus test for libertarians. A libertarian can support smoking bans in places like hospitals, perhaps government buildings, places where you have no choice but to consent or not consent. But I don’t see any way to logically allow smoking bans in places like restaurants, bars, workplaces, etc that people can choose whether or not to attend.