Ban newspapers because they induce paper cuts

The Washington Post presented an editorial today supporting the looming smoking bans in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. The logic is flawed beyond the most basic “we’re ignoring private property rights because it’s inconvenient,” moving quickly to “Huh?” status. Consider this bit of logic concerning economic hardship exemptions:

Howard County, which also is considering a new smoking law, has a somewhat different hardship situation. To comply with a 1996 law, many restaurants and bars established — at considerable cost — separate, ventilated areas for smokers. Such areas have been found ineffective in fully protecting people from unhealthy air, but those restaurant and bar owners deserve consideration for installing the equipment as called for then. At last count, a majority of the County Council favored exempting these establishments from the proposed new ban. That’s too generous and unhealthy. County Executive James N. Robey (D) proposes giving them until 2008 to comply, which would be more than fair.

Before moving on, I’d like to commend the Post’s editorial staff for approving of restaurant and bar owners who installed the equipment. Since they did it out of general kindness and customer demand, it’s amazing … Wait, oh, yeah. They installed the equipment because it was required by a law. A law whose solution proved to be useless, but costly. Government is a force for good. Especially when unhealthy air on private property is involved. Continuing:

As more and more reports are showing, smoking bans generally have had no significant effect on revenue and employment. Also, as more and more contiguous areas enact bans, the less likely their establishments will be to lose customers. As reported by The Post’s Matthew Mosk and John Wagner, at least seven states, including California, New York and Delaware, as well as 180 localities, require smoke-free bars and restaurants. These areas have recognized that just as eateries are required to serve safe food, they should be required to provide safe air. In this region, it’s time to stop the stalling.

I’ll accept that smoking bans generally have had no significant effect on revenue and employment, but only because it’s generally convenient to moving my counter-analysis along. The larger point offered is that dwindling smoking-friendly areas in public means that businesses will still generate revenues because people have to go somewhere. Except, what if they don’t? The logic implies that people shouldn’t have the choice to smoke in public and they shouldn’t have the choice to stay home and smoke rather than go out to not smoke. What’s next, a law requiring people to frequent affected establishments? Of course not, because that would be crazy. Better to come up with a fix for the resulting economic hardship of a government-imposed cost of doing business. Before the bans, the owners didn’t mind. The customers didn’t mind. So who minds? I’ve already said I mind, but I choose not to patronize business that permit smoking, among other reasons. So what if, just maybe, personal choice matters?

Which leads to the safe food versus safe air comparison. Umm, I don’t have a way of knowing if a restaurant produces my dinner safely. I don’t know if they have E. coli swimming around on every surface in the kitchen. I can’t reasonably impose that standard before I eat the meal. After I eat, it might be too late. Somehow, some form of safe food standard seems workable. How is any of that the case with air quality? I can see cigarette smoke in the air. I can smell cigarette smoke from a surprising distance. I have a distinct, easily-measurable choice before I enter any transaction with a restaurant or bar included in the ban. I’m free to decide whether or not to continue my relationship with them. I’m also capable of doing so.

Stop treating me like a child.