Smoking Bills Of All Kinds

This is an op-ed from the News-Record of Greensboro, NC, written by Bruce Caldwell.

I do not smoke cigarettes and dislike being in enclosed places where others do. Nonetheless, I oppose the proposed law in the General Assembly that would ban smoking in most workplaces in North Carolina because of the threat that the law poses to personal liberty, now and in the future.

Like most people, there are many things I don’t like: loudmouths, the smell of many perfumes and colognes, people who use the word “like” in every sentence.

In civil society we must constantly interact with people who are different from us, people who do things that we think are stupid, venal, unsightly, rude or otherwise offensive.

Making such behaviors illegal is not the answer. Proponents of the ban argue that smoking raises health care costs for smokers, and therefore to society.

The evidence of that is murky.

Everyone dies, so medical costs incurred at the end of life cancel out for smokers and nonsmokers. Smokers incur greater health care costs while they are living. But they also die earlier.

Do studies that allege higher costs of smoking take into account the added costs to society (especially for retirement programs including Medicare) for nonsmokers who, instead of dying at 70, live to 90?

The other main argument concerns the dangers of secondhand smoke. Those at greatest risk are those who work in places where others smoke, such as bars, and those who live with smokers. People who choose to be firemen, policemen, coal miners and construction workers choose high-risk jobs, and so do those who choose to work in bars.

No one is forced to do such work. People who live with family members who smoke have fewer choices.

If we really want to reduce the incidence of secondhand smoke because of its deleterious effects on those who cannot avoid it, the clear implication is to ban people from smoking in their own homes whenever children are present or when there are others in the household who object.

This is the logical endpoint of the secondhand smoke argument, the slippery slope onto which we step with the current proposed legislation.

Such a law would represent, of course, a massive infringement on personal liberty by the government, and is why I as a nonsmoker feel compelled to defend the few remaining rights of smokers to smoke. Many states have overturned laws that allowed government to legislate what went on in the bedroom.

Let’s keep the rest of the house free, too.

Professor Bruce Caldwell is director of the Center for the History of Political Economy in the Department of Economics at Duke University. He is a former faculty member at UNCG and lives in Greensboro.

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