The Smoking-Ban Vote
by Ari Armstrong, April 26, 2006
As I've argued, the smoking ban is a clear and obvious violation of property rights. In brief, business owners have the right to set smoking policies for their property, and owners, patrons, and employees have the right to contract and associate freely. The proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights, including property rights, yet the legislature and governor of Colorado have acted to violate, rather than protect, those rights.
Politicians who supported the smoking ban thereby demonstrated their fundamental lack of understanding of what property rights are and why they are important. Such politicians have proven themselves to be enemies of property rights, and those who claim otherwise merely prove their lack of principle and integrity. Absent a complete renunciation of their pro-ban position and a clear endorsement of property rights, those politicians can never be trusted to protect our rights.
Governor Bill Owens is quite proud of his accomplishment of violating property rights. A March 27 press release from his office proclaims his achievement. Notably, the release doesn't even bother to mention rights.
The release does prove that Owens is a hypocrite. The release offers two arguments in support of the smoking ban: first, secondhand smoke is unhealthy, and, second, smoking is unhealthy. Those arguments don't justify the violation of property rights and individual liberty, but if Owens thinks they do then he should support much more severe restrictions on smoking. While the bill prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, and most work areas, it is also riddled with exemptions. If the unhealthiness of secondhand smoke justifies the bill Owens signed, then it also justifies a complete ban of all secondhand smoke, including in private homes and casinos. And if the general unhealthiness of smoking justifies the ban, then it also justifies the complete prohibition of smoking.
Of course, Owens's release makes no attempt even to show that the ban would significantly reduce the alleged harms of secondhand smoke, which often is breathed in the areas exempted by the ban and is often breathed by smokers. Preventing smokers from breathing secondhand smoke is hardly an impressive accomplishment. And of course the amount of secondhand smoke varies dramatically with ventilation systems and so on.
But these are secondary concerns. The main point is that the proper role of government is to protect individual rights, not "save" people from their own potentially unhealthy decisions. Of course, on a free market, business owners are free to ban smoking within their establishments, patrons are free to do business only with smoke-free establishments, and employees are free to work where smoking is disallowed. But "Big Nanny" Bill Owens is not content to allow people the liberty to make their own choices and control their own property.
The smoking ban was sponsored by a Republican (Mike May from Parker), signed by a Republican governor, and supported by a number of Republican legislators. This is relevant only in that, once in a while, the Republican Party pretends to be the party that supports property rights.
Here's what Josh Penry, a Republican from the Grand Junction area, had to say about his support of the ban: "I was very conflicted on the issue, but ultimately voted for it after hearing from the restaurant owners and others who were most affected, as well as from the public. Some of the most ardent conservatives I know called in support of the bill. I did vote for a handful of the exemptions, including taverns, which tracked the City of Grand Junction's ordinance. Most of those didn't pass in the end, as you know. In addition to the overwhelming feedback I received from the stakeholders and from the broader public in support of the ban, I was also guided by my own experiences. I've had friends and family members who have died of smoking caused disease. Like I said, though, it was a tough call."
Notice that Penry does not once mention the ideas of property rights or liberty, concepts apparently foreign to the majority of the legislature. Instead, Penry argues that, because some other people supported the ban, he did, too. This is the "Peter Keating" approach to legislating. Some legislators invoked the problems with local ordinances. But injustice by local government is no reason to impose state-wide injustice. Instead, it is a reason for the legislature to block local smoking bans and thereby protect the individual rights of Colorado citizens. Penry then argues that, because he knows people "who have died of smoking," that justifies the ban. But, according to this "reasoning," Penry should advocate the complete prohibition of smoking. And if he knows anybody who has died from gun wounds, drowning in a swimming pool, or a car crash, he should act to prohibit guns, swimming pools, and cars. Penry's "reasoning" is exactly the same as that of the gun banners. Yet many "ardent conservatives" supported Penry in his position, which proves only that many "ardent conservatives" are unprincipled scoundrels without respect for individual rights.
Thankfully, some Colorado legislators are better than that. While not everyone who voted against the ban did so for the right reasons, some legislators actually understand the issues at stake.
The House Journal from February 13, and the Senate Journal from February 28, record the votes for the smoking ban, H06-1175, or the "Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act." (These are available from the legislative web page.) In the House, the ban passed 41-24 (with 63 percent). In the Senate, it passed 21-14 (with 60 percent).
We'll start with the good news. (Numbers represent districts.)
Republican representatives who voted in favor of property rights and against the ban:
Bill Cadman, 15, Colorado Springs
Democratic representatives who voted in favor of property rights and against the ban:
Dorothy Butcher, 46, Pueblo
Republican senators who voted in favor of property rights and against the ban:
Greg Brophy, 1, Wray
Democratic senators who voted in favor of property rights and against the ban:
Now for the bad news:
Republican representatives who voted against property rights and for the ban:
David Balmer, 39, Centennial
Democratic representatives who voted against property rights and for the ban:
Debbie Benefield, 29, Arvada
Republican senators who voted against property rights and for the ban:
John Evans, 30, Parker
Democratic senators who voted against property rights and for the ban:
Bob Bacon, 14, Fort Collins