In recent years, many laws have been passed banning smoking in public places such as restaurants, bars, parks and beaches. Supporters justify these bans on the grounds that both smoking and breathing second-hand smoke---that is, smoke from someone else's cigarette---are harmful to people's health. While such laws are well-intentioned, several persuasive arguments exist against increasing the proliferation of smoking bans and for allowing people to smoke with relatively few restrictions.
Americans are champions of personal freedom and feel strongly that they should be allowed to live as they choose without the government telling them what they can or cannot do, whether that means drinking alcohol, gambling or smoking cigarettes. One person who propounds this view is Robert A. Levy, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Although he is a nonsmoker who supports many regulations on smoking, Levy states, "Most smoking bans are pernicious. They represent prying, busybody government at its worst."
Other Harmful Behaviors Are Allowed
Proponents of smoking bans insist that regulations are needed to protect the public from the harms of smoking. However, smoking advocates are quick to point out that other harmful behaviours are permitted. Alcohol consumption is legal in all 50 states even though it is responsible for a great deal of harm, including drunk driving deaths, health problems and alcoholism. Opponents of smoking bans claim that it is hypocritical to forbid people from smoking while allowing them to drink alcohol---as well as to gorge on sweets and fatty foods that are known to cause diabetes and obesity.
Adults Should Be Allowed to Choose for Themselves
No sane person would suggest that children should be allowed to smoke. Most agree that reasonable laws are needed to prevent underage smoking. But once people reach adulthood, opponents of smoking bans insist, they have the right to make decisions for themselves---whether that means voting for their favourite candidate, joining the military or smoking.
The Risks Are Debatable
While the adverse health effects of smoking are proven, the harms of second-hand smoke are less clear-cut. Jacob Sullum, the senior editor of Reason, a magazine published by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian public policy organisation, explains, "There is no evidence that brief, transient exposure to second-hand smoke has any effect on your chance of developing heart disease or lung cancer. ... [T]he doses of toxins and carcinogens bystanders passively absorb are much smaller than the doses absorbed by smokers, probably amounting to a fraction of a cigarette a day."