John Locke Update / Research Newsletter (Archive)

Outdoor Smoking Bans: Personal Preferences Over Freedom

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When the legislature passed the smoking ban bill in 2009, it gave the green light for local governments to restrict smoking in outdoor areas.

Following such cities as Asheville, Raleigh is now considering a ban on outdoor smoking in city parks and greenways.

While a public health argument can "reasonably" be made for restricting smoking in enclosed spaces, if property rights are ignored, no such argument could be made for outdoor areas.

It was bad enough that the smoking ban passed after ignoring property rights and the questionable science of secondhand smoke. An outdoor ban has nothing to do with public health and everything to do with trying to impose the personal preferences of one group of individuals over the freedom of other individuals.

There’s a whole big atmosphere outside that can protect people from breathing in the "horrible" secondhand smoke. If people don’t like being around a smoker in a park, then they have the ability to move.

Instead, anti-smoking activists and people who believe their preferences trump the needs of others want to impose their will on the smokers, without any justifiable reason. Too often, these individuals are labeled as "do-gooders" and part of a nanny state. This is a fallacy. Pushing policies solely for your own benefit has nothing to do with being a know-it-all who just wants to help others.

There will come a time when those who are pushing smoking bans will rue the day because the shoe will be on the other foot. The smoking ban proponents may find activities they like prohibited because of political pressure.

All of this leads to a fundamental crumbling of our freedoms. In a free society, there are many behaviors that others engage in that we don’t like but tolerate because we value living in a free nation.

An outdoor smoking ban in parks will certainly lead to smoking bans on public sidewalks and any other public location. There’s no reason to think the slippery slope won’t continue. The employee who seeks a quick smoking break won’t be allowed to smoke inside and won’t be allowed to go outside.

Further, it won’t be long until smoking will be prohibited in private outdoor areas. The entire smoking ban movement is a backdoor attempt to make illegal what is a legal product. If the public can’t legally use a product anywhere, then even if it is legal to possess that product, it has no value.

Outdoor smoking ban proponents basically admit that there’s no public health reason for such bans. This is why they point to the problem of litter being a major justification for the outdoor smoking ban. If litter is such a problem, then cities, including Raleigh, should focus on the litter problem through better enforcement.

If we apply this litter logic, then let’s ban candy bars or soft drinks because of their litter problems — of course, that probably is on the agenda. The litter argument is just a flimsy excuse to ban behavior that anti-smoking zealots despise.

The legislature never should have passed the smoking ban in the first place. They should take the time to revisit the law and specifically to remove the provisions allowing local governments to prohibit outdoor smoking. In the meantime, Raleigh should use common sense and respect all of its citizens, not just some of them, and reject an unjustified attack on freedom.


Tell Me What You’d Like to Ban

There’s all kinds of actions taken by others that if we acted selfishly and without regard for freedom and individual rights, we would ban others from doing — kind of like how smoking ban proponents operate.

E-mail me and tell me the list of things you’d ban and I’ll list some of the best/most interesting ideas in the next newsletter and possibly elsewhere. This way we can see where the slippery slope of prohibiting unpopular behavior may lead. Let’s hope it doesn’t give the state legislature any ideas.

Here are 10 possible ideas (I don’t think these should be banned–these are just some ideas):

  • Crying babies in airplanes or at the movies
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Tabloids at checkout counters
  • Wine coolers
  • Bryan Adams music (inside or outside)
  • Word processing programs that try to guess what you intend to write
  • Gas pumps that take about 15 minutes to fill your tank
  • Cable companies who want you to be at home all day waiting for them to arrive
  • Politicians who serve more than two terms (OK, maybe they should be banned from office)
  • People who want to tell you how to live your life and don’t care about freedom or individual rights (see, e.g., smoking ban proponents)


Quick Takes

A teacher punished over evolution?

Was a North Carolina middle school science teacher unjustly treated when she was reassigned to a different job after a complaint about her presentation of evolution in the classroom? That is the question at issue in a lawsuit originally filed in 2007.

You Asked: Can county impose term limits?

"Counties cannot impose term limits," [Robert] Joyce [a UNC professor] wrote. "Cities cannot impose term limits. School systems cannot impose term limits. Only through an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution could term limits be imposed on any state or local elective office in North Carolina."

Click here for the Rights & Regulation Update archive.


Daren Bakst is Senior Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy at the Heritage Foundation. In this position, Bakst studies and writes about agricultural and environmental policy and property rights, among other issues.  He has done extensive work on the farm bill… ...

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