Smoking ban snuffs out choice

At first glance, Oregon’s new smoking ban may appear pleasing to some, but at a closer view, it offers much more than a comfortable environment–it offers a threatening precedence.

Intellectual comedian Eddie Izzard recently addressed a Californian audience, where he gave a warning as he snickered: “You certainly haven’t been smoking in a bar in California. Because you can’t! No smoking in bars now and soon, no drinking and no talking. Be careful… in the future you’ll say, ‘Come down to the library, we’ll have a wild time.'”

At first glance, Oregon’s new smoking ban may appear pleasing to some, but at a closer view, it offers much more than a comfortable environment–it offers a threatening precedence. Beyond our good intentions, we may find that our liberties and our common sense have been placed in jeopardy.

The first thought that may spring to mind when one learns that the Oregon House of Representatives recently voted yes on Senate Bill 571, which outlaws smoking in bars, is something along the lines of, “But it’s a bar.” A person goes to a bar knowing full well the environment they enter, along with the risks. Would you go to a church expecting someone to sip a beer in the pews? Would you choose to work at a nuclear plant feeling deeply concerned about radiation? It is the nature of these establishments that suggest what we shall expect when we choose to visit them. Though there is significant opposition to strip clubs, we don’t shut them all down. It’s not hard to understand that if one does not desire to surround his or her self with that environment, they do not therefore attend them.

Smoking is not the only unhealthy activity one finds while frequenting a bar. What then of drinking at bars? Alcohol consumption is indeed unhealthy and is the third most preventable cause of death in the United States according to the Center for Disease Control. Drinking doesn’t only harm those who partake in it. Drunk drivers annually cause horrible effects upon others. Do we now outlaw drinking? Or the unhealthy foods found at bars–do we wear down that part of our society as well? As the history of this nation tells us, prohibition does not work, be it against drinking or any other cause.

When it comes to smoking bans, it’s not only opponents that argue for common sense. Rather, the argument also lays in the rights of business: How far do we, as a society, allow government to intervene in our businesses? In our capitalistic economy, smoke-free environments are a very marketable product. When businesses are allowed to decide their own policy, it creates the natural competition that our economy relies upon.

For proof of this we need look no farther than our very own city of Portland, where bar patrons have the freedom to choose from 131 smoke-free bars, according to Bar Fly magazine. And these are actual bars mind you, from the City Sports Bar to the Pirates Tavern, from the Nob Hill Bar and Grill to the Barcode or Oba. In the same respect that people can select freely where they settle for an evening of smoke-free socializing, this principle can also act to isolate smoking to remote environments allowing people to avoid them.

There is a Jeffersonian motto, “the government is best which governs least.” It was philosophies such as this that the founding fathers of this country used to create our government, one that restrains itself from interfering with the rights of its people. If we start allowing legislation to intrude as it has in this case, it offers the government a precedence that it should not have over its citizens. It allows government to skirt closely to our civil liberties. If we allow legislation to get its foot in the door regarding any civil liberty, it is then a threat to all civil liberties. In the view of many in our modern political climate, our civil liberties may be too frequently threatened as it is.

I admit that, along with many others, I enjoy my bars with clean air. It is relieving and a pleasure to wake up in the morning, free of the stench of a tavern and free from the threat to my health. Still, some may find it hard to muster up support for laws like the Oregon smoking ban, knowing that other options exists and what we have to trade for it. What the ban’s proponents need to understand is the big difference between supporting tobacco and being opposed to this law.

There is a fragile line between our civil liberties and a government that denies us our access to them. This smoking ban borders such a line. Ban supporters seem to rally around talking points that attack places like bars, where smoking is but one of many arguably unhealthy behaviors, ignoring a person’s individual accountability. Bans like this usually blanket the issues across a great population, with little room for people to express their right to combat them, while additionally threatening the liberties of the people and business. What many may not realize is that if the option–smoking or smoke-free–is left to the people, preserving their rights, everyone still receives smoke-free.