Our fine colleagues at Bureaucrash have long sold a t-shirt reading “Smoking is Healthier than Fascism.” Now, Illinois has apparently become the first state to outlaw smoking in nearly all public places. Although the bill is almost certainly the most wide ranging in the country — it bans smoking in casinos and hotels — it’s hardly unprecedented. Many states — including California and New York — already have partial public indoor smoking bans.
I’m somewhere between conservative and libertarian in my own politics and, personally, I don’t share a lot of common objections to anti-smoking crusades. Sin taxes on cigarettes, for example, don’t bother me in the slightest: no less an anti-tax crusader than Arthur Laffer says that they’re the “only good taxes.” Likewise, I’m not troubled by the idea that the government should try to discourage smoking through education and even restrictions on doing it within public schools, government run-hospitals, and the like.
What bothers me about the Illinois smoking ban, however, is the limitation it places on private property owners’ use of their own premises. Clearly, smokers would face lots of restrictions even without a ban. All of the nation’s major restaurant chains banned smoking long before any state required them. Marriott, the nation’s biggest hotel chain, is smoke free by corporate policy. But, why shouldn’t business owners be able to decide for themselves if they’ll permit it — particularly in places where it’s long been customary? Does anyone enter a casino looking for a smoke-free environment? Imposing an unusually broad state-wide smoking ban places a rather arbitrary on private property owners’ use of their own property and, while I hardly believe it’s a step towards fascism, it certainly isn’t a good idea either.