Thursday, September 24, 2020

Proposal tramples fundamental rights

The proposed ban on smoking in “public” places, including bars and restaurants, that the Ingham County Board of Commissioners is currently considering is based on a misunderstanding of property rights. Bars and restaurants are not public places.

Government, at all levels, has moved to ban smoking in true public places like libraries and courthouses. They are government buildings funded by taxpayer dollars.

It is quite different, however, to apply that same logic to private establishments. I do not have the right to sit in a campus bar and force people to extinguish their cigarettes just as I don’t have the right to a free drink. It is a privately owned establishment and the owner can set the rules. Should I have the right to go in barefoot or shirtless if I choose? Hardly.

The same goes for the employees. A waitress or bartender does not have the right to a smoke-free workplace just as a construction worker does not have the right to a quiet work environment. Employment and conditions of employment are not fundamental rights protected by the Constitution.

The proposal, which is being lobbied for by the American Lung Association of Michigan, is a classic example of how advocacy organizations are blind to any concerns other than their own. The association is in the business of improving people’s lungs regardless of what liberties and freedoms it trounces.

The association should be able to accomplish its goal of ridding private bars and restaurants of smoke without the help of government. It could provide incentives for establishments to do away with their smoking sections and raise public awareness about the dangers of smoking to bring pressure on those bars and restaurants that resist.

This wouldn’t be easy and that is why they’ve chosen to go the other route, getting government to do the dirty work. No one can argue that smoking is good for you, and there are volumes of evidence that secondhand smoke is harmful as well. But the ends do not justify the means.

Organizations like the American Lung Association have the public’s health in mind when they advocate smoking bans, but they do not have the public’s rights in mind. Numerous societal ills and bad habits could be remedied with government intervention, but at what cost?

Proponents of smoking bans should advocate voluntary programs rather than those that rely on force to accomplish their goals.

Brandon Lynaugh
1996 alumnus

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