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Let property rights rule Wichita smoking decisions

A system of absolute respect for private property rights is the best way to handle smoking, as it is with all issues. The owners of bars and restaurants have, and should continue to have, the absolute right to permit or deny smoking on their property.

Not everyone agrees with this simple truth. Charlie Claycomb, co-chair of the Tobacco Free Wichita coalition, asks in The Wichita Eagle why clean air is not a right when smoking is a right. The answer is that both clean air and smoking are rights that people may enjoy, as they wish, on their own property. When on the property of others, you may enjoy the rights that the property owner has decided on.

It’s not like the supposed right to breathe clean air while dining or drinking on someone else’s property is being violated surreptitiously. Most people can quickly sense upon entering a bar or restaurant whether people are smoking. If you do not want to be around cigarette smoke, all you have to do is leave. That’s what I do. It is that simple. No government regulation is needed: just leave. If you wish, tell the manager or owner why you are leaving. That may persuade the owner of the property to make a decision in your favor.

Employees may make the same decision. There are plenty of smoke-free places for people to work if they don’t want to be around smoke.

Some think that if they leave a restaurant or bar because it is smoky, then they have lost their “right” to be in that establishment. But no one has an absolute right to be on someone else’s private property, much less to be on that property under conditions that they — not the property owner — dictate.

Property rights, then, are the way to solve disputes over smoking vs. clean air in a way that respects individual freedom and liberty. Under property rights, owners will decide to allow or prohibit smoking as they best see fit, to meet the needs of their current customers, or the customers they want to attract.

A property rights-based system is greatly preferable to government mandate. Without property rights, decisions are made for spurious reasons. For example, debate often includes statements such as “I’m a non-smoker and I think that …” or “I’m a smoker and …” These statements presuppose that the personal habits or preferences of the speaker make their argument persuasive.

Decision-making based on personal characteristics, preferences, or group-membership happens often in politics. Wichita City Council member Jim Skelton, evidently once a smoker and opposed to smoking bans, is now receptive to bans since he quit smoking. Mr. Skelton, I ask you for this courtesy: would you please publish a list of the things you now take pleasure in, so that if you decide to quit them in the future, I shall have time to prepare myself for their banning?

Lack of respect for property rights allows decisions to be made by people other than the owners of the property. In the case of a smoking ban, the decision can severely harm the value of property like bars or restaurants that caters to smokers. This matters little to smoking ban supporters like Wichita Vice Mayor Sharon Fearey. But we should not be surprised, as her record indicates she has little respect for private property.

By respecting property rights, we can have smoking and non-smoking establishments. Property owners will decide what is in their own and their customers’ interests. Both groups, smokers and nonsmokers, can have what they want. With a government mandate, one group wins at the expense of the rights of many others.

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