[The following column appeared in Liberty News, the monthly publication of the Libertarian Party of Boulder County, in the September 1995 issue.]
Lots of Smoke but No FireIt now appears that the referendum on the city's smoking ban will indeed be on this November's ballot. Many kudos to POGO and friends (including several Libertarians) who helped collect the necessary signatures. Thanks also go to LPBC members Bryan Griffin and Greg Woods, and libertarians Frank Crary, Gary Strand, Sam Weaver, and others who have taken the fight to local Internet discussion groups to combat this ludicrous new regulatory intrusion.
Anti-smoking zealots have made it clear that they want to control behavior of which they disapprove in the name of "public health." The argument that those who choose to patronize smoking establishments have chosen their own exposure to secondhand smoke doesn't phase these people, who are, at best, interested in protecting themselves from the consequences of their own choices, and at worst, are bent on imposing their own preferences on everybody else. There is a clear parallel here with advocates of "diversity" who simultaneously espouse political correctness.
Not only is it apparent that anti-smoking zealotry is more an exercise in social engineering for its own sake than any sincere attempt to improve anyone's health -- consider that there are bans on cigarettes for death row inmates in some states! -- but the underlying premise that secondhand smoke (or ETS) constitutes a Group A carcinogen is highly questionable. This determination appears to be based mainly on a 1993 EPA report claiming that ETS causes some 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually. But a closer look at this study's data reveals that the relative risk factor claimed for ETS is only 1.19. To illustrate the scale being used, a risk ratio of 1 indicates no statistical evidence of an illness-producing agent, while the risk ratio for first hand (smoker's) smoke causing lung cancer is about 10. A figure of only 1.19 is of questionable significance. Moreover, of the 30 studies the EPA used in its analysis, 15 showed no correlation between ETS and lung cancer, while only 6 reported such a correlation, and 9 actually reported that nonsmokers in smoking households experienced a lower than expected rate of lung cancer! This is hardly conclusive evidence of the deadliness of second hand smoke. That hasn't appeared to bother the would-be regulators, however, who are quick to assert that this dangerous menace imposes a clear "duty" by government to protect the innocent from peril.
Meanwhile, as usual, the free market has been solving this problem as a matter of preference and etiquette rather than law. Some 160 of Boulder's 300-odd restaurants and bars are already non-smoking, and the rest (for what it may be worth) possess non-smoking sections, made mandatory by a previous saber-rattling exercise. A smoking ban is a totalitarian solution to a non-problem that the marketplace is already addressing.