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The Saint Paul City Council has proposed a ban on smoking in public places, such as bars and restaurants, and it appears to have significant support. Three of seven Council members have committed to "aye" votes, while only one publicly opposes it so far, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports in today's paper:
The measure, unveiled Wednesday, appears to have substantial support in the early going, with three members in favor, one against and three undecided.
But it is uncertain at this point whether Mayor Randy Kelly will support the ban, which would affect about 845 licensed restaurants and 190 on-sale liquor establishments.
The Star-Tribune weighs in with negative reaction from restaurant patrons, who claim that smokers have rights too. The owner of Mickey's Diner, a landmark in Saint Paul, declared that a smoking ban would be an "infringement on my personal freedom," a sentiment shared by his patrons in the article. One of them claimed that "smokers have rights, too."
Of course they do. But smoking in public places simply isn't one of them.
I tend towards libertarianism in politics, allowing the market to work through most domestic problems, because in general the market -- be it the economic market or the political market -- tends to come up with proportionate and effective resolutions. A declaration of a "right", however, distorts the market and places issues beyond market-based resolution. It seems to me that Americans, for all our liberty, have poor education when it comes to the definition of a "right".
Natural rights -- the philosophy that underlies the Constitution -- is based on the notion of private property, leaving aside the religious implications. Each person has freedom to act within the boundaries of respect for others' personal property. What that means is that no one can claim a right to an action that intrudes on another's private property or acts to confiscate it. The right to free speech does not include a right to use my private property, be that my lawn or my printing press, to express your opinion.
Nowhere in the Constitution does it imply that people have a right to behave any way they want on their own property; you can't commit murder, for instance, as it violates the victim's private property (his person), even if he's on yours at the time. Similarly, you can't steal or defraud someone who happens to stand on your driveway or in your house and expect no consequences. Nor, in the common practice of American freedom, are you allowed to do certain things to yourself, such as prostitution or drug use, even if you're on your own property at the time, as those activities have been widely agreed to cause damage to the entire community and the greater majority of the people's private property (taxes, physical property, etc).
In public places, where businesses operate with public licenses to ensure safety, health, and fairness in commerce, the notion of a right to smoke holds even less weight. Smoking is not a passive exercise, nor is it neutral to people around it. The stench of the smoke quickly permeates the clothing of everyone in the vicinity, not to mention the annoyance of the stench itself to the senses. My clothes and my lungs are my personal property, and smoke invades them without my permission. That's why claiming smoking in bars and restaurants as a "right" makes little sense.
In other words, the community has the "right" to set rules and boundaries on behavior, within the constraints of the Constitution, in order to allow for the expressions of freedom as well as for the safety and protection of its citizens. The process of making these decisions is established by democratic processes within each community, giving everyone a right to participate in the process in order to come up with solutions that can receive the broadest possible support. That is, by definition, a marketplace -- the political marketplace of ideas -- which has just as much validity as the economic market.
The City Council is the most local form of government and is most responsive to the desires of its constituents. Why not make the case there? Because more people don't smoke than do, and even some smokers understand that their habit is best pursued in private. Proponents of public smoking face a losing proposition in the political arena, and so therefore try to claim smoking as sacred ground by declaring it a right in order to stifle debate.
Smoking bans have been enacted across the US on state and local levels, and the republic has not collapsed. People still smoke in their cars, at home, and on the street without fear of disappearing into a Gestapo-like black hole of government oppression. If you think a smoking ban is bad policy, organize opposition and convince the City Council to reject it. But don't claim that filling a restaurant with cigarette fumes is somehow a right on par with freedom of speech and religion.Sphere It View blog reactions
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» Up in smoke: the right to control your property from Right Side of the Rainbow
Ed at Captains Quarters writes in favor of a legislative ban on smoking at bars, restaurants and other public places. Smoking is not a passive exercise, nor is it neutral to people around it. The stench of the smoke quickly... [Read More]
Tracked on May 6, 2004 12:46 PM
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