I concluded yesterday’s blog by asking what Ballard is smoking. That reference to smoking rather naturally led some Facebook friends to raise the issue of the smoking ban–the one Ballard supported when he was a candidate, and refuses to support now that he’s Mayor, arguable pissing off people on all sides of the debate.
I’m pretty libertarian; I don’t think the government has the right to prohibit people from smoking either tobacco or marijuana. But I do support the smoking ban (and I’d support a ban on smoking marijuana in public places), for several reasons.
1) The health of workers (not customers). No worker should have to choose between health and a paycheck, and let’s not pretend that those working in bars can just walk away and get another job. Not in this economy. Mayor Ballard says those who work in restaurants and bars are “transients.” I know some people who’ve worked in the same establishments for 20+ years, but even if these workers do move around, is Ballard saying the life and health of “transients” aren’t a concern?
2) Believe it or not, there is a sound economic development argument for smoking bans. Indiana and Indianapolis are falling behind the rest of the nation, the rest of the world and major cities everywhere – convention cities, NFL cities, NBA cities, etc. Among our immediate neighbors, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio are all smokefree. We’re the ashtray of the Midwest, and if we don’t clean it up, we’re going to lose convention business–not to mention some long-term businesses that don’t want to pay higher “sick-Hoosier” health insurance costs. Which brings me to
3) A smoking ban will lower health-care costs. What my friend Bruce Hetrick calls “the three-legged stool”–smoke-free workplace laws, FDA regulation of tobacco companies, and higher cigarette taxes–is the most effective way to encourage people to quit smoking. Getting people to quit lowers health-care costs for individuals and those who fund their health care.
By itself, this last argument would not be sufficient–there are lots of things we might do to lower healthcare costs that the government cannot require. But given the overwhelming evidence of the harm done by passive smoke and the competitive disadvantage caused by our failure to act, it’s worth noting that doing the right thing has its benefits.