February 14th, 2005
Back to Opinion page
The Indiana Legislature is proposing to restrict smoking in "public places" across the state. If House Bill 1202 passes, restaurants would be required to establish non-smoking sections and smoking would be banned in taxicabs, buses and bus stops. Given that some states have already passed bans on smoking statewide, is a total ban on the horizon?
First, let me state that I hate smoking. It is a nasty, filthy habit that not only hurts the smoker, but the people around him. Too many people die every year from lung cancer, caused by smoking. If I could do so, I would convince every person in America to voluntarily quit smoking.
That said, it is not the business of the Legislature to act as the parents for every person in Indiana. It was bad enough when the Bloomington City Council passed a ban on smoking in "public places" within city limits in 2003. A statewide ban would be intolerable.
Yes, Bloomington's ban on smoking has personally benefited me. It is nice to walk into a restaurant and not have to worry about the foul smell of cigarette smoke intruding on my dining experience. When I saw Junior Brown in concert this past September, the smell of smoke that filled the Bluebird was revolting. The next time Junior Brown comes to town it will be a more pleasant experience, because bars are now included in the ban. It is not, however, my prerogative to force my personal preferences on everyone else, in Bloomington or especially in the entire state.
Everyone has a choice of whether or not they patronize an establishment that allows smoking. If you do not want to be around (or cannot be around) cigarette smoke, then you have the choice of whether or not to go somewhere that allows smoking. Even people who work in the restaurant industry have a choice, because the labor market allows them to search for a job somewhere else.
If the Legislature bans smoking in "public places" in Indiana, what will they do next? It actually makes more sense to ban smoking in the homes of families with children than it does to ban smoking in "public places". After all, while people have a choice of whether or not to go into a "public place" that allows smoking, children do not have a choice as to whether or not they will be exposed to their parents' smoke. Can the Legislature, under the auspices of the state's interest in protecting children from harm inflicted on them by their parents, ban smoking in private homes? Is secondhand smoke not something that can be policed by Child Protective Services?
If you think that day will never come, I suggest you reconsider. Once you set the precedent that the state can restrict the consumption of a legal product for public health reasons, there is no reason why the state cannot take it a step farther into private homes.
The author of this bill is working on a faulty assumption. Restaurants, bars, and other establishments that actually sit on private property are not "public places". Taxis, especially, are examples of private property. It is a violation of the private property rights of business owners to tell them whether or not they can allow the consumption of a legal product on their property.
If the Legislature wants to restrict (or even ban) smoking in true public places, such as county courthouses, government schools, city halls and the buildings used by state government, that would be a welcome move. Government buildings should be accessible to all, and there are people who simply cannot be around cigarette smoke. But private property should remain just that: not another place for the nanny state to take care of Hoosiers.
I am 31 years old and I am independent from my parents. I do not need 150 people in Indianapolis trying to be a secondary set of parents to me.