A Hoosier Smoking Ban? What For?

Published February 12, 2009

While Indiana’s legislature and citizens debate the merits of a draconian statewide smoking ban, business owners are already taking steps to balance the wishes of the smoking and nonsmoking populations.

Government intervention is not the only way to protect citizens from the nuisance and claimed health hazards associated with smoking in public places.

Personal choice, market forces, and business logic already have made the proposed statewide smoking ban nothing more than another heavy-handed government regulation that will hurt the state’s economy.

Many businesses have already gone smoke-free or otherwise tailored their establishments to attract nonsmokers, and many more will undoubtedly follow suit as smoking rates continue to decline in the state. Most Hoosiers — nearly 76 percent — are not regular smokers, and businesses want to attract them as customers.

The increase in nonsmoking restaurant, bar, hotel, and gambling spaces in Indiana over the years clearly indicates the marketplace is adapting to Hoosiers’ decreasing willingness to be around tobacco smoke. Making the state government a de facto nanny is neither wise nor necessary. Just as homeowners have the right to decide whether to allow smoking in their private homes, businesses should have the same right.

Implementing a smoking ban will unquestionably drive down state and local tax revenues. Hoosiers need only look to their neighbors to the north for a glimpse of things to come. Since Illinois’ smoking ban took effect in January of last year, the cumulative adjusted gross receipts of the state’s casinos calculated up until November were down a whopping 20.28 percent from the same time frame prior to the ban. In addition to lower receipts — and therefore lower tax revenue for the state and local governments — Illinois casinos were forced to lay off 12 percent of their employees.

While some of this can be attributed to the sinking economy, casinos in Indiana and Iowa — two neighboring states without smoking bans — continue to perform well. The real culprit is clearly Illinois’ statewide smoking ban. In addition, research shows businesses in states with relatively colder climates, such as Indiana, are harder hit by smoking bans than warmer states.

At stake for the Hoosier state are not only tax revenues, tourism, and jobs in a sluggish economy, but also the state’s attitude toward basic property rights. A respect for property rights requires leaving business owners free to make decisions on their own, with the marketplace rewarding or punishing them for their choices. Respecting property rights is crucial to making Indiana attractive to businesses and high-productivity workers.

Indiana’s adult smoking rate is continuing to decline, reaching a low of 24.1 percent in 2007. That’s why businesses are steadily making their establishments more nonsmoker-friendly — without additional government intervention.

Further harassing the smoking minority — who are using a legal product, after all — and the businesses that cater to them is wrong and will hurt the state’s economy. The marketplace, not government, is the best and fairest mechanism for accommodating Hoosiers’ wants and concerns.

┬áJohn Nothdurft ([email protected]) is a legislative specialist for The Heartland Institute.

This Op-ed was originally published in The Time of Northwest Indiana.