Tobacco police

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Tobacco police

by Ari Armstrong

The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on August 17, 2006.

Here in Colorado, police are now supposed to spend their time harassing smokers on private property who are exercising their freedom of association, as opposed to, say, tracking down vandals, thieves and perpetrators of violence. Because if there's anything more important than passing laws violating people's inalienable rights, it's forcing them to fork over tax dollars to fund the tobacco police.

Those who claim a "right" not to be around smokers on somebody else's private property are implying that the owner of that property has no rights. There is no such thing as a "right" to violate the rights of others.

You do have a right to ban smoking in your own home and in your own business. In a free society, restaurants and bars are perfectly able to compete on the basis of smoking policy. You also have a right not to solicit establishments that allow smoking. You have a right not to work for employers who allow smoking. You have the right to leave; you have the right not to associate.

But you do not have the right, either as a patron or an employee, to dictate how somebody else may use his or her property. You do not have a right to prevent people from assembling peaceably on private property on terms they find agreeable. You do not have the right to socialize a business simply because it allows access to the public, on terms noted at the door.

Laws that violate property rights always trace the lines of political pull. The "health" groups, not content with using persuasion to convince people to improve their health, raise and spend funds and hire staff to influence legislators. The big-dollar casinos pay lobbyists to get an exemption to the law and put the screws to competing venues. The consequence is a law riddled with exceptions and ambiguities. That is the nature of state intervention in the economy. "Clean air" in this context, when imposed by force of the police state, means dirty politics.

The smoking ban, House Bill 06-1175, creates a whole section of the statutes, 25-14-205, for "exceptions to smoking restrictions," subsections (a) through (j). Exceptions include private homes, limousines, hotel rooms "if the total percentage" of smoking rooms "does not exceed twenty-five percent," retail tobacco shops and cigar bars, "an airport smoking concession," businesses with "three or fewer employees," and casinos.

As Ivan Moreno reported for the July 29 Rocky Mountain News, establishments such as PT's Showclub, the Diamond Cabaret and Shotgun Willie's claimed status as cigar bars.

What is a "cigar bar?" Thankfully, Colorado Revised Statute 25-14-203 (4) tells us. A "'cigar-tobacco bar' means any bar that, in the calendar year ending December 31, 2005, generated at least five percent or more of its total annual gross income or fifty thousand dollars in annual sales from the on-site sale of tobacco products and the rental of on-site humidors, not including any sales from vending machines."

As we shall see, it all depends on what the meaning of the word "and" is.

Moreno reports, "But a state representative who voted against the smoking ban said he'd 'be real surprised if any strip club did' sell enough tobacco products last year to qualify as a cigar bar. 'They're probably trying to create a loophole that doesn't exist,' said Rep. Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville. He encouraged law enforcement agencies to investigate."

Because what we really need is for law enforcement agencies to investigate whether strip clubs earned 5 percent of their revenues from tobacco. If the figure was 4.9 percent, then they're criminals.

But it gets better. Moreno reports in an Aug., 3 follow-up, "Rep. Mark Larson, R-Cortez, said a memorandum issued this week by the Office of Legislative Legal Services spelled out the requirements to qualify as a cigar bar... The 5 percent or $50,000 had to come strictly from tobacco sales... 'and the rental of on-site humidors,' the memo issued on Monday emphasized.

"The Legal Services office said the emphasis was added to make clear to businesses that part of their 5 percent or $50,000 also came from humidors, not just tobacco sales. Otherwise, businesses would 'create a loophole contrary to the clearly stated purposes of the Act.'"

So now we have legislators, bureaucrats, and the tobacco police debating whether a cigar bar must rent on-site humidors, rather than merely sell tobacco.

Moreno continues, "The exemption was meant strictly for about a half-dozen cigar bars across the state who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on humidors to keep cigars at high quality, Larson said... Shotgun Willie's, the Diamond Cabaret, and PT's Show Club at 1601 W. Evans Ave., have humidors, but that doesn't convince Larson that they're cigar bars."

Let us be clear here. These statutes are not "laws." They are arbitrary dictates that undermine the rule of law. The confusion over cigar bars is just a symptom: The entire measure is, at its root, a violation of individual rights.

Westword's Aug. 3 "Off Limits" reviews, "According to the handy brochure printed up by SmokeFreeColorado... to help restaurants and bars understand the requirements: 'If you observe a violation, you can call the non-emergency telephone number of your local law enforcement agency.'"

Because the only alternative to individual rights is political force.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com