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New Smoking Bans Wrong Way to Protect Non-Smokers

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Sen. Rob Marionneaux has filed two bills that would expand the existing Louisiana smoking ban. Currently, smoking is prohibited in restaurants, schools, hospitals, public buildings, and doctors’ offices.

As posted on the website of the Louisiana Legislature, Senate Bill 334 would ban smoking in any bars where food is served during business hours. In addition, Senate Bill 348 would revoke the exclusion of bars and gambling halls from the current smoking prohibition.

Advocates of such smoking bans argue that the government must intervene due to the high expense smoking imposes on the public health sector. They maintain that such bans are necessary to protect citizens from being unwillingly harmed from second-hand smoke.

Smoking, however, is a matter of individual choice and the extent of smoking in public spaces should be left to market forces. As Thomas Firey from the Cato Institute writes:

“Government need only pass an ordinance requiring that all places of public accommodation establish either a no-smoking or smoking-allowed policy, that those businesses post the policy clearly at entrances, and that the government establishes an enforcement mechanism to ensure that businesses comply with their espoused policies.”

In a market economy businesses aim at making a profit while competing with similar providers. This provides customers with a variety of choices that satisfy their preferences and needs. This applies to restaurants and bars. The market will provide the desired number of smoke-free environments, allowing all individuals to choose and enjoy the preferred atmosphere.

If these bills become law, Louisiana will limit individual liberty by prohibiting citizens from exercising their freedom of choice. Further, this interferes with the rights of business owners to make their own decisions about what activities to allow in their establishments. Legislators should leave these decisions to individuals and businesses and focus instead on the effective enforcement of existing non-smoking rules.

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