Following a disturbing trend among local governments, the St. Joseph County Council is considering a proposed ban on smoking in "public places" - namely private establishments such as restaurants and bars. Not only is this type of legislation misguided, we believe it exemplifies the worst of petty dictatorships that are currently slithering across the United States.
The argument that banning smoking saves lives is misleading. In 2004, over 42,000 people died from driving on American highways. Every two hours, a person is killed by fire. However, we have yet to hear of any local government initiatives to ban either driving or fire. This is true because such initiatives would be absurd, and the proposed smoking ban is no different.
The issue is not a health issue. It is an issue of the government vs. the property rights of business owners.
Smoking is a personal choice; it is true that second-hand smoke can have negative effects on people who are continually exposed for long periods of time. From that same reasoning, however, working in a bar or restaurant that allows smoking is also a personal choice. In fact, despite what the St. Joseph County Council would have us believe, there are over 130 local restaurants that have already opted to be "smoke-free." These restaurants, easily found online in the "Healthy Community Smoke-Free Dining Guide," have freely chosen to disallow tobacco smoke without the coercion of an overzealous County Council.
The authority to ban unhealthy behavior on private property is a dangerous power to grant any government, especially a local government. First, smoking is illegal in bars. Next, it is illegal in parks - outside. Soon, police may be knocking on our doors to make sure we do not smoke at all. Is that the future we want for America?
Contrary to popular belief, there are alternative methods of encouraging smoke-free establishments. Offering incentives, such as tax breaks or a streamlined licensing process, is a viable option that is more conducive to promoting smoke-free businesses while simultaneously preserving the liberties of business owners. Reducing restrictive bureaucracy and lowering tax barriers would encourage major economic development in the area, which in turn would lead to more jobs and opportunities - in short, a healthier community.
Therefore, we the undersigned believe that the people of St. Joseph County and members of the St. Joseph County Council should oppose this legislation. St. Joseph County needs more economic growth, not more laws.
College LibertariansUniversity of Notre DameSept. 6