Back in early 2005 I took a six-day trip back to Ohio and ended up in "C-Bus," our illustrious capital city, for a night of craziness with my cousins. Upon entering what looked to be a rather large club filled with half-naked girls (underachievers if you ask me), I pulled out a pack of weird Japanese cigarettes to show off and make myself comfortable with.
Big mistake. Columbus had just banned smoking in all "public" areas, and I was now the cancerous elephant in the room. "Whoa, buddy! You can't smoke that in here!" said the bartender as he tapped a little plastic "No Smoking" sign.
Now, I knew something was weird when I walked in the place, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Maybe it was the obnoxious "music" with lyrics describing various lewd and probably fun sexual acts that distracted me, but it just didn't feel like a real place, more like a movie set. More than anything, I just hate to be told what to do, so I vented to a friend and got this gut-buster in reply:
"I love it, man! I really hate it when girls smoke."
Ha! It may have been the dollar drafts talking, but now he won't even know if a girl is a smoker until they're arm-in-arm, drunkenly ambling back home for a night of lyric-writing on the couch. At that point I doubt he'll care too much about any of her nasty habits.
Now, nearly two years later, I check out the Dayton Daily News election results (on what might be the worst newspaper website ever) to find that Ohio has just banned smoking in all "public" (there's that word again) places. This, of course, includes my hometown of Dayton, which has, apparently, only banned new jobs from the city limits and has a mayor that likes to wear funny hats.
Geez, Ohio! I go away for a few years and you go and ban smoking on me? Just like that? No call? No memo? If I'd known before the election that you were getting so fed up with other people's business I may have taken the effort to register to vote, gripe a bit via email, and then not send in my absentee ballot out of principle.
It turns out that there were actually TWO initiatives on the ballot, both encouraging government force. Issue 4 was backed by "Big" tobacco companies through smokelessohio.com (now offline) who wanted to overturn all local Ohio bans, allow smoking in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, bingo halls, etc, and require an amendment to the Ohio constitution for any future smoking ban. Issue 5 (the winner!), broadcasting from smokefreeohio.com, was an all-out ban on smoking in "public" (Argh!) places. Both played themselves off of each other, yet were blood-brothers in Big Government all the way.
Being the kind of guy I am, I spent the next few hours perusing the various Pro/Con websites for the anti-smoking initiatives, and was brought down from shock to simple sadness. Not one of the opponents to the ban ever mentioned freedom or property rights. Instead, they came up with such lame defenses as:
- Banning smoking will drive business away from bars/restaurants.
- Smoking is dangerous, but so are other things like driving cars and rock-climbing.
- We already have smoking sections, so what's the problem?
First of all, banning smoking will most certainly not lower the business of any bar or restaurant that doesn't cater to a niche market of smokers, such as the Dublin Pub in Dayton that has (had?) a rather nice cigar selection. If anything, it might even bring in more people who usually avoid bars because they don't want to go home smelling like dad after poker night. There's definitely a huge market of smoke-haters out there who have money to spend.
Also, yes, smoking is dangerous, and so is mountain-climbing, but can you seriously expect voters to look at that analogy and take it to heart? When was the last time someone was having dinner and the guy climbing the mountain next to them fell onto their table? Smoking is annoying to non-smokers, particularly when they're eating.
As for smoking sections, it seems that smoke has a funny way of leaving the imaginary fence around that area and wafting over to the non-smoking section. Besides, smoking sections are a result of government regulation anyway, so how good could they really be?
After I stopped laughing, I checked out the pro-ban sites, and found such lame reasons for the ban such as:
All of them!
On election eve, I received a "bulletin" on my Myspace profile from a friend promoting Issue 5. It included this passage, which sums up Issue 5's arguments:
If you disdain government interference, vote no on Issue 4. It would change the Ohio Constitution so local communities couldn’t pass smoking restrictions. Do you want to give tobacco companies that kind of power? Do you want to give the state that kind of power?
It then went on to promote Issue 5, as if it were God's gift to small government. With contradictions like that out there in the open, how could the ban's opponents screw it up? Well, because of Issue 4, there weren't any ban opponents! In fact, Issue 4 was such a blatant farce from the beginning that it probably brought more people to vote for Issue 5 out of sheer hatred for tobacco companies.
Ohio now has an all-encompassing smoking ban for "public" places that happens to be limited to places that aren't actually public. In fact, there will be more smoking in actual public places like streets and sidewalks now that no one can smoke inside. Isn't this yet another contradiction ripe for the crushing?
After a night of pondering the issues over a can of happoshu and a pack of Seven Stars, I found the perfect defense against smoking bans: It's not your bar!
How difficult could that have been? Instead of arguing back and forth against the prohibitionists over stupid little talking points, they could have used an irrefutable argument. People like to nitpick on good/bad things that the government should/shouldn't do, but most of them understand basic property rights. Sure, you get the people who say that "hospitality workers" (read: bartenders and waitresses) are exposed to health-damaging smoke. Nonetheless, if you stick to your guns and simply repeat "It's not your bar!" there isn't anywhere for prohibitionists to go besides claiming that they do happen to have a financial stake in every bar, restaurant, bowling alley, and bingo hall in Ohio.
Elections are all about messages, and especially the clarity of the messages. There's nothing more clear than asserting rights to your own property and standing up for yourself. Even Cato's own Tom Firey (from whom I got the lame "mountain climbing" analogy) couldn't bring himself to mention property rights in this week's Cato Daily Podcast about smoking bans. Instead of talking about "freedom" in abstract terms related to blowing up other countries, let's try using it for real in (gasp!) everyday life!
Forget the tobacco companies! Forget the excuses! Repeat after me: It's not your bar!
November 17, 2006