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Up in smoke: Revisited

By Sean Turner
web posted February 4, 2008

"Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place." -- Frédéric Bastiat

A few years ago, I wrote a similarly titled article regarding the increasing trend of anti-smoking initiatives. Moving from Georgia to Texas proved futile in attempting to escape the inane policies of out of control legislators. This wasn't the impetus behind moving -- but it would have been a surprising change of pace to avoid those who intend to regulate every facet of our lives.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently reversed his position on a federal ban directed at workplace smoking -- indicating he now believes it to be a state and local issue. Though as governor of Arkansas, he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor "public" places. In late 2003, then Governor Mitt Romney announced his support for legislation to ban smoking in workplaces across Massachusetts, including bars and restaurants.

What I failed to discuss in the previous article was the real or important issue behind these anti-smoking initiatives. The attempt by federal, state, and local governments, as well as various anti-smoking organizations, to modify one's behavior is bad enough. However, I believe the greater issue with which we must concern ourselves as it relates to smoking bans, is that of property rights.

A property right is the exclusive authority to determine how a resource is used -- whether it's a car, house, business, or any other resource of which one is the owner. Additionally, private property rights confer exclusive right to the services of the resource -- as well as the right to delegate, sell, or rent any portion of the rights by exchange or gift based on mutually agreeable terms.

Conversely, public property is property controlled by the state (government), or a community. While most would agree with these definitions, many seem to suffer a severe logical disconnect when leaving their homes (i.e., private property) and enter into a restaurant, retail store, or other places of business that they do not own (i.e., someone else's private property).

Though a business exists to provide a product or service to potential consumers -- it does so under the terms of its owner(s), and not those of the state, or some third party using the state as a tool of coercion. These terms include the environment in which those products or services are offered. If the terms are agreeable to both the business owner and potential consumer, a transaction occurs, and both parties walk away having benefited. Just as one lacks the right to enter into another's home (much less restrict smoking in it), one also lacks the right to enter into another's business. One is given access to the business by the owner, in the hopes of conducting a transaction -- not the rights to the business.

Contrary to popular belief, one does not have the right to dictate the usage another's property -- whether it be a house or place of business -- particularly when one has the ability and choice to avoid that place, and its real or perceived ill-effects. Few will argue the ill-effects of smoking tobacco, as the CDC other organizations continuously point out. However, as someone who believes in the principles of liberty, I find it inarguable that anti-smoking policies applied to private property not only violate the U.S. Constitution, and a fundamental principal of property rights -- but they are also anathema to the concept of a free society.

Soon, these smoking (and other) bans will be coming to your home. And if you live in certain parts of California, where they love to be on the bleeding edge of nanny state legislation, you already know what I'm talking about. ESR

Sean Turner's commentary has appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington Times, and numerous other local, regional, and international newspapers. Readers can email him at seanreplies@yahoo.com.


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