Let businesses decide

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

We realize that we are standing against the prevailing tide of public sentiment regarding smoking in privately owned businesses.

Sooner or later, more likely sooner, all such smoking will be prohibited in Iowa. We believe that the decision on whether smoking should be allowed in a business should be left up to business owners rather than the state legislature.

The Iowa House of Representatives Commerce Committee voted 16-6 on Tuesday to approve a ban on indoor smoking in businesses.

The bill, which would not affect casinos and certain other locations, such as private veterans' clubs, will now go to the full House for debate. The major justification for the proposed ban is to protect workers from the effects of second-hand smoke.

It is true that workers, particularly those without college or vocational training, don't have unlimited career selections but government policy still needs to be based on the assumption that employment is a voluntary activity of an employee. To treat employment as an involuntary arrangement would have a greater legal impact than can be imagined.

If we acknowledge an adult's right to decide whether or not to smoke, we must acknowledge an adult's right to work in a location that allows smoking.

Another assertion that has been used to support anti-smoking legislation is the contention that smoking related illnesses cost all taxpayers money as the result of increased Medicaid payments.

The methodology of arriving at smoking's cost to society has never been well explained. It seems to be based on the assumption that people who live longer as the result of healthy lifestyles die in perfect health, never costing society anything for medical treatment or social security payments as a result of an extended old age.

And why are there exemptions for casinos and veteran's clubs in the proposed ban? The exemption for casinos is obviously there because the state doesn't want to interfere with a major revenue source for the state. The exemption for veteran's clubs is there because the state does not want to offend a highly influential segment of the electorate.

If banning indoor smoking involves some principle of public safety that overrides individual rights, then legislators should have the guts to pass the ban without the politically expedient exemptions.

Perhaps those who oppose smoking should have the guts to simply advocate outlawing it altogether. Aside from the fact that prohibition of tobacco could have unintended negative consequences in the way that the attempted prohibition of alcohol did, the government is addicted to the revenue smoking brings.

We are aware that smoking is unhealthy and that the public would be better off if nobody smoked. However, business owners should retain the right of choice regarding smoking in their establishments.