America's Cigarette Tyrants

Cigarette smoke is a nuisance to some people plus there are alleged health effects from "secondhand" smoke. None of this is relevant to today's smoking regulations. It's a matter of respect for liberty and private property rights. Let's look at it.

The most rabid anti-smoker probably wouldn't demand laws outlawing cigarette smoking within one's own home or car. He might buy the argument that since homes and cars are private property, a person has a right to decide how they'll be used. But that points up a logical inconsistency of cigarette prohibitionists who allege a concern for health. Cigarette smoke in a house produces secondhand smoke just as it does in an office, mall or airplane. House guests and family members of smokers breathe secondhand smoke. Therefore, if the health of others is the concern of anti-smokers, they ought to demand laws banning smoking even in private homes.

You say, "Williams, that's unnecessary. If I don't like being in the presence of secondhand smoke I don't have to visit your house!" You're right but the cigarette tyrants better not make the same response. If they do the logic of their health argument begins to crack or their totalitarian agenda to outlaw tobacco altogether is exposed.

Like a home, restaurants and airplanes are also private property. The owner has the right, at least in a free society, to decide whether smoking is allowed. He's only obliged to inform customers. Therefore, we might require him to post a sign outside his establishment saying "Smoking Not Allowed" or "Smoking Allowed." Then people can decide whether to enter on those terms.

You say, "Williams, I'm a non-smoker. If there weren't laws against smoking I'd have no choice." Nonsense! There are roughly 40 million smokers leaving well over 200 million American nonsmokers. I hope you're not going to tell me that businesses have no interest in producing a satisfactory arrangement for those 200 million people? Northwest Airlines, for example, banned smoking on their flights before it was the law. Some other airlines might have suit.

Business executives are cowards in many respects. That's why airline executives yielded to the smoking ban on domestic flights. They would have fought had Congress extended the ban to international flights. But they should have known that cigarette prohibitionists wouldn't be satisfied. Recently, eight of the world's largest airlines joined together seeking immunity from antitrust laws in order to form a collusive arrangement to ban smoking on international flights. On January 24th, Department of Transportation secretary Federico Pena granted them immunity.

Here's the story. Airline executives fear the power of the anti-smoking lobby but they also fear losing smoking customers to their competition if they individually banned smoking on their own airline. That's why they seek the collusive arrangement. But there can't be a "gentlemen's agreement" to ban smoking on international flights because gentlemen's agreements have a short life. They'll seek government regulations to make sure all airlines comply.

Liberty-minded people ought to find all of this not only offensive but another step toward serfdom. Many Americans think it's good to restrict smoking and applaud the intimidation tactics by the anti-smoking lobby. We should remember that it was decent, well-meaning Germans who help create an all powerful government to do good things but didn't figure they were building the Trojan Horse for Adolf Hitler. Similarly, Americans are making it easy for a future tyrant.

Walter E. Williams
February 16, 1995
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