State smoking based on a moral that neglects personal freedom

The Michigan Senate and House of Representatives approved a smoking ban on Thursday to take effect in May with the anticipated signature of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. While the measure’s intention to improve the public health is admirable, its result — the restriction of individual liberty — is the basis on which it should be judged.

Smokers may no longer be lighting up in restaurants, clubs, bars and other businesses. The ban, recently approved by the House, 75-30, and by the Senate, 24-13, would put into place “civil penalties of as much as $100 for a first violation and $500 for subsequent violations,” says Peter Luke on MLive’s Web site.

The measure is heralded as a compromise between those who supported a full workplace smoking ban and those who sought exemptions for certain lobbies. The ban exempts cigar bars, tobacco shops and home offices. According to William Skordelis’ article on, the gaming floors of Michigan’s 20 Indian casinos would also be exempt from the ban. Thirty-seven other states have similar legislation.

Critics such as Senator Mark Jansen oppose the ban because it does not go far enough. “If it is a healthcare issue, it has to be a health care issue everywhere,” he says. “Nobody should get special privileges in this.” Critics of proposed federal healthcare legislation suggest other spheres of public life could be restricted in a similarly invasive manner.

Proponents say the ban promotes the health of Michigan workers. It is unclear how the state intends to measure the ban’s effectiveness. While the effects of firsthand smoke are generally accepted to be grim, the effects of secondhand smoke are debatable. Despite Rep. Lee Gonzales’ claim that “[t]he dangers of second hand smoke are indisputable,” researchers, in fact, argue otherwise. Take James Enstrom of the UCLA School of Public Health for example. His 2003 study showed “no measurable effect from being exposed to secondhand smoke and an increased risk of heart disease or lung cancer in nonsmokers — not at any time or any level.”

While the health benefits are uncertain, the loss of liberty is most definite. Michigan residents have long had the freedom to choose whether to work for a smoking establishment. Likewise, customers have had the choice to give their business to a smoking establishment or a nonsmoking establishment. Once the measure is law, there is only one choice — the politically correct and government approved choice.

That there are pros and cons with every piece of legislation, and the state’s intentions seem to be for the good of the people. However, the ban suggests government can make the appropriate choice for all residents based on a moral that values health more than personal freedom. The best of intentions don’t absolve those in authority from the negative and very real consequences the ban could have on the livelihoods of Michigan employers and their workers.

Michigan business owners say the ban will cost them customers and, eventually, jobs. According to Shandra Martinez of The Grand Rapids Press, “Bar and restaurant lobbyists insisted the measure would cost thousands of jobs as smokers would choose to frequent Michigan establishments more often.” It follows that state revenues would also be negatively affected. Lawmakers were apparently unconvinced.

Granholm says, “I think [the smoking ban] is a great gift to Michigan.” In this case, I believe the best gift would be no gift at all. Merry Christmas from the State of Michigan — we’re leaving you alone.

If enough owners, workers and customers preferred strictly nonsmoking establishments, free market principles would dictate that businesses move in that direction, no bureaucracy, restrictions and tax expenditures necessary. What we see now is more like freedom: a mixture of smoking and nonsmoking establishments each serving the needs of their customers, securing Michigan jobs and contributing to state revenues.


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