Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Freedom For Me But Not For Thee

Here’s the next book on my reading list. Thanks to Dr. Helen for the heads-up.

I haven't started reading yet, but the book's title was enough to inspire a short rant about smoking. Just in case you wonder about my bona-fides, I’ve never smoked and never will. As habits go, it's expensive, stupid and unhealthy. It bothers me immensely that one Tri-Daughter has taken up the habit as an adult. She’s too smart, gorgeous and independent-minded to do something so utterly teenager-ish. Defective parenting (at least on her father's part), I guess. But that’s not the rant I had in mind.

What’s rantworthy today is the many towns, big and small, deciding that smoking is a BAD IDEA. OK, I’ll buy that. It is. But elected officials spend way too much time listening to a small, vocal band of collectivist fanatics foretelling darkness, death, disease, dereliction of duty and, most importantly, electoral destruction if those officials don’t DO SOMETHING to save us from ourselves and the perils of second-hand smoke.

Of course, the only truly BAD IDEA is one that elected officials can’t somehow take credit for. So, setting aside much of their common sense, the Constitution, and all notions of free enterprise they pass legislation declaring numerous businesses, restaurants and bars all “smoke-free.” Presto! Problem solved! Not so fast...

In my not-so-humble opinion, business owners ought to be free to pursue the market segments of their choosing just as potential customers are always free to direct their purchases to businesses meeting their expectations and away from those that don’t.
It's a good bet that, were decisions left up to business owners, some would choose to serve smokers, others would cater to non-smokers. Thus a given non-smoker might have, say, only 500 restaurants to choose from instead of the full 1,000. I'm hardly a-quiver about the rank injustice involved. Yet we seem incapable of resisting legislative solutions to what is, at worst, a market segmentation problem.

If smokers are members of a shrinking minority (as they should be, since one of the leading risk factors for smoking is, oh, premature death or something) it may be a dumb business decision to appeal to them over hordes of non-smokers, but it’s not my capital at risk after all and, libertarian radical that I am, I don’t really give a flying fig about someone else’s dumb business decisions.

If elected officials wanted to “force” a solution, they could simply force restaurants and bars to post their smoking policy at the door - smoking or smoke-free? Informed patrons would then be free to choose an establishment meeting their expectations. Don’t like second-hand smoke? Read the sign before entering.

Employees would also be free to choose a workplace meeting their needs for an income AND clean air…or not. Last I checked they weren’t chained to the bar and, with the average employment tenure in the hospitality industry measured in something like micro-seconds, they’re hardly an immobile workforce.

As a customer, if your favorite restaurant’s new "smoking-permitted" policy offends you, act like a damn adult and go find another favorite restaurant more to your liking. You don’t have the right to walk into a sushi restaurant and demand to be served chimichangas do you? No, you choose based on menu, price, ambience, wine list, the waitress’s cleavage…whatever. Why not add smoking or smoke-free to your considerations?

The magic word in that last paragraph is “adult” by the way, and as long as so few of us act like rational, independent-minded adults we’ll need civic nannies to watch out for us. And so they do. And we're the worse for it. Yes, Virginia, there are some things more dangerous than second-hand smoke.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO ON A FIRST DATE THAT WAS TURNING SOUR? I'd run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns. -- Craig, age 9


Comm's said...

couldn't agree more. Arizona just went through the same said propositions. I've never been a smoker, occasional cigar years ago.

My bias as you put is the legislative push on private businesses. Its easy to pick on cigarette smokers and vote against them but sooner or later its going to be something the voter themselves like and by then it will be too late. It needs to be stopped now.

smarty said...

I have to disagree, as a music lover. It's easy enough to find a different restaurant or bar if all I want to do is eat or drink. If I want to see a specific musical group and they are booked at a bar that allows smoking...not so easy to take my business elsewhere.

You can talk about establishments choosing to market themselves to a non-smoking 'niche', but it just wasn't happening here in our town.

Mandating non-smoking has allowed me to start going out to see live music once again...without having to thorw out my clothes when I get home.