Sunnyvale, California lawmakers are proposing new rules that would ban smoking and e-cigarette use in public and private spaces, such as restaurants’ outdoor dining areas and even inside individuals’ apartments.
Currently, city law bans smoking and e-cigarette use in city government buildings and public parks, and it requires restaurants to reserve seating areas for nonsmokers.
Violating Property Rights
Independent Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell says the proposed ordinances violate the property rights of business owners and residents across the city.
“Owners, if they have full property rights, get to determine the rules of the game in which people will interact on that property,” Powell said. “One part of that right would be determining whether you want to allow smoking or not.”
Efficient Free-Market ‘Regulation’
Powell says if consumers prefer smoke-free businesses, market forces will sufficiently encourage businesses to restrict smoking.
“When we have private property rights, market forces provide a form of regulation to get to the efficient rules for smoking or anything else,” Powell said. “Just think: If you’ve stayed in a hotel in the last five years, and compare that to a hotel even 10 or 15 years ago, the vast majority of hotels you see now are all nonsmoking hotels. That’s because it’s private property in the hotels, and as more people have wanted nonsmoking throughout the hotel, hotels have complied by changing their rules.”
Powell says free-market regulation is more efficient than government restriction.
“Market forces, as people change their preferences over smoking, have changed the policies of private property owners of what rules are allowed,” Powell said. “The government regulation is either redundant and unnecessary or inefficient, in forcing smoking out of places.”
William Anderson, an economics professor at Frostburg State University, says governments are gradually eroding property rights in the name of saving people from themselves.
“These types of things don’t happen all at once,” Anderson said. “If the town supports one thing, they’ll move to something else, and it’s something that they couldn’t have gotten done had they put it first on the list. But now that you have one prohibition set in place, then you come back at it with another one.”
The Camel’s Nose
“You start out with a position with a lot of rhetoric behind it,” said Anderson. “The rhetoric here is, ‘We’ll save the children,’ and people think it’s reasonable [and that] it makes sense,” Anderson said. “Then you keep moving, and finally it’s the old story of the camel’s nose.”
“What you have now in Sunnyvale is the whole camel is now inside the tent,” Anderson said.
Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.
William J. Boyes and Michael L. Marlow, “The Public Demand for Smoking Bans,” Public Choice: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/public-demand-smoking-bans/