Second-Hand Smoke and Mirrors
By John Taylor
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
L.F. writes, in toto, from somehere in Maryland:
Your right to swing your fist ENDS where my nose begins. I am so
glad that I can now eat out in Columbia and not have to put up with
other people's smoke.
I certainly welcome your input and opinion. I'm guessing you're
responding to an article I wrote in October of 1996 ("Who's Blowing
Smoke in Howard County?", The Libertarian Enterprise Issue #17).
I certainly have an appreciation for the libertarian sentiments
you express regarding aggression. In fact, I'm not a big fan of
eating in a smoke-filled room myself. My solution has traditionally
been to ask to be seated in the non-smoking section to begin with.
Then, if the ventilation was so poor that the atmosphere was
intolerable, I would no longer frequent that establishment, making
sure to let the management know why.
I would encourage you to let the property owner know, politely
but in no uncertain terms, what you find objectionable about his
product or service, regardless of what that might be. It is by such
means that businesses "learn" appropriate behaviors. It makes a
wonderful project for you and your friends. This is one case where
numbers really matter. A significant volume of input to a business
owner can work wonders. And, in the bargain, you get to feel the
pride of having accomplished something by civil means. Sort of a
"market solution", as it were.
I was once a smoker myself. (In fact, I would smoke, sniff, dip,
or chew any tobacco product known to man.) For a while right after I
quit, the physical craving forced me to avoid smokers (and, by
extension, Places where there were smokers).
Later, I became an anti-smoking zealot -- there is, after all,
nothing worse than a recently-reformed "sinner". During that period,
I developed a distinct aversion to the smell of tobacco -- an
aversion bordering on physical allergy. Once again, I avoided smokers
and smoky places like the plague, because I literally couldn't stand
to be around them.
Now, after many years, I have neither craving nor aversion to
smoke. On the other hand, My wife is, and has been all her life,
physically sickened by proximity to smoke. So, to a certain extent, I
may still avoid smoky places and smokers.
But through all that, I can honestly say that it never occurred
to me that it was anyone's problem other than my own. If I enter a
room, and something about it is distasteful to me -- be it a pall of
smoke, obnoxious music, or a crowd whose behavior is not to my liking
-- I just leave. My first thought is not to make everyone stop doing
things I don't like, or force them to leave.
If I demand of every business owner that his standards meet mine,
and that he force his clientele to adapt to those standards, then
I've certainly aggressed against him, and, in many cases, against his
clientele as well. What gives me the right to insist that every
business be run the way I want it to be, and that every patron
behave the way I want him to?
And while we're sounding libertarian themes, as for the
"fist/nose" aphorism, I couldn't agree more. Which is why I am
adamantly opposed to Big Government swinging its enforcement "fist"
against the "noses" of private property owners. In my article I
What on earth gives blue-noses and do-gooders the impression that
they can run roughshod over the property rights of business
owners in the name of some questionable "common good"? If Clyde's
chooses to allow smoking on their premises, it's their concern,
not that of some group of nicotine nannies. As long as Clyde's is
willing to risk losing the patronage of those who choose not to
subject themselves to the unproven dangers of second-hand smoke,
that would seem to be solely the prerogative of the owners.
Taken on balance, I consider government mandates to private
property owners and government proscriptions on individual behaviors
to be a substantially greater threat to my continuing respiration
than "second-hand smoke". And it is this issue, not smoking itself,
that was the subject of my rant.
Yours in liberty,
John Taylor is the Maryland Coordinator, Libertarian Second Amendment
Caucus. (I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank
Ernest Hancock for helping me understand what turned out to be a
not-so-difficult point after all.)