Monday, December 04, 2006

Me vs. the Smoking Ban

While banning cigarette smoking in most indoor places has become de rigeur around U.S. cities recently, the decision to do so constitutes an unnecessary restriction on personal liberty. The leaders of Nashville and Davidson County should reject calls to do so.

Let's get one fact out of the way - heavy, prolonged cigarette smoking has major personal health implications that cannot be disputed. The long-term health effects of light, or "social", smoking are, however, unclear. In fact, some studies have correlated light smoking with positive mental health benefits like sociability, happiness, and temperament. That is mainly to say that not all - or even most - smokers are addicted to cigarettes, but simply enjoy smoking in moderation from time to time. By and large, this smoking occurs in a social environment, like a bar or restaurant.

The current law favors personal liberty. An individual may choose to smoke in a restaurant that allows it. A non-smoker may choose to avoid a smoky bar. A restaurant may choose to be non-smoking to attract both kinds of customers. A ban does little to change the behavior of addict smokers - their venues remain the same. Increasing cigarette taxes has been proven a much better way to curb frequent smoking, or youth smoking for that matter, since it increases the incentive to quit.

Therefore, Nashville should pursue alternative solutions to an outright ban. There are other means besides an increased excise tax. For instance, if a bar or restaurant is to allow smoking and win/keep its liquor license, Metro could mandate that it have proper ventilation to minimize second-hand smoke. Incentives always work better than bans - and the establishments could choose for themselves whether to comply or just go non-smoking. Reducing smoking may very well be the right thing to do, but a ban is the wrong way to do it.


Sound like a letter to the editor? It is - I sent in it today. Perhaps blogging the letter before a potential publication disqualifies it - I hope not. Mr. Fact Checker, I'm the same guy.


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