Let Market Decide on Smoking

Published August 26, 2004

Dear Editor:

Your editorial (“Litigation will not resolve smoking ban controversy,” August 24, 2004) suggests the City Tavern League, the City of Oshkosh, and Breathe Free Oshkosh should negotiate a compromise position on the regulation of smoking in Oshkosh’s restaurants, which the City Council should then adopt.

Here’s a possibility: Let the free market decide.

All sides could agree the smoking ordinance now on the books is null and void. Restaurants would then be free to decide whether to ban smoking entirely, ban it only in their dining rooms but not in their bar areas, or not ban it at all. Patrons could then decide where to eat according to their preferences for or against smoking. Given the close referendum vote (6,300 votes for the ban; 6,200 votes against it), it seems city residents are equally divided, so no restaurant should suffer any financial hardship no matter what policy it adopts.

This approach would rescue everyone from still another nanny-state regulation and recognize that, as the U.S. Supreme Court held 34 years ago, a privately owned business establishment does not become a public place merely by inviting the public in to do business.

Maureen Martin
Green Lake, Wisconsin

Maureen Martin is an attorney and senior fellow for legal affairs with the Chicago-based Heartland Institute.