Bans in Bars

Last week, two state legislatures voted on smoking bans. The bill in Kansas passed, but a similar bill in Indiana failed. With the new Kansas law, 38 states now restrict smoking in some public places, and 28 states forbid smoking in bars.

Proponents of anti-smoking legislation argue that second-hand smoke is dangerous and that state residents have a right to breathe clean indoor air. While medical evidence demonstrates that in fact second-hand smoke is a risk, these activists ignore that individuals are free not to patronize businesses that allow smoking, and businesses are free to ban smoking if they choose to do so.

A Michigan restaurant owner explains:

“Eleven years ago, there were 2,200 smoke-free restaurants in the state,” Deloney said. “Now there are more than 6,000. That’s a 174 percent increase.

“They know exactly what their customers want,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. To believe that because there is no state law there are no choices for smoke-free dining is ignorant.”

A study conducted by the National Restaurant Association suggests that smoking bans significantly hurt sales for many restaurants. This finding is unsurprising, since presumably restaurants design policies to maximize their profits. If they think that the majority of their profits come from people who prefer non-smoking areas, restaurants would voluntarily adopt such a ban. In Ohio, some taxpayers are disturbed that the state has spent over $2 million to enforce smoking bans in a time of massive state budget shortfalls.

Smoking bans limit options for smokers and profits for those who wish to serve them. A current debate is raging in Brooklyn about whether or not bars should allow parents to bring their babies in. At present, this decision is left up to bar owners and market forces. Hopefully it will not be the next issue taken into the hands of state lawmakers.