Cynthia M. Allen

Growing trends argue against any real need for smoking bans

Smoking would be banned in all Arlington public and private areas that are accessible to the public or “a substantial group of the public” under restrictions tentatively approved by the City Council.
Smoking would be banned in all Arlington public and private areas that are accessible to the public or “a substantial group of the public” under restrictions tentatively approved by the City Council. Star-Telegram

The Arlington City Council has taken a major step toward further increasing regulations on smoking.

With the exception of bingo halls, which received a last-minute exemption, and a short list of specified areas like smoke shops, all public and private areas that are accessible to the public or “a substantial group of the public” would be designated smoke-free under a ban tentatively approved by the council Tuesday.

The added regulations, which still require a second vote (scheduled for later this month), would extend a no-smoking designation to include nightclubs, bowling centers, billiard halls, sexually oriented businesses and other workplaces that currently permit smoking under an exemption in the existing ordinance.

The new restrictions would allow Arlington to call itself a “100% Smoke Free City,” based on criteria set by the World Health Organization.

Admittedly, such a designation would be nice for marketing purposes, or as one speaker at Tuesday’s council meeting put it, might enhance “Arlington’s reputation as a safe, innovative and progressive community,” but the classification probably doesn’t carry much in the way of material benefits.

Practically speaking, if you’re a smoker, the regulatory change would further limit the places you could light up — or even turn on your electronic cigarette — when you’re out and about in Arlington.

It might mean you patronize your favorite pub with less frequency, perhaps resulting in reduced profit and employment, as some smoking ban opponents argue.

Or it might mean you smoke fewer cigarettes each day, as some ban proponents contend.

But if you’re a non-smoker, the new regulations probably won’t change your life much.

That’s because smoking restrictions are already quite extensive, and if you’re anything like me, you already avoid the few private establishments that allow smoking in the first place.

To wit, shortly after moving to Fort Worth, my husband and I went out one evening. After about five minutes sitting next to a table of people chain-smoking in the first bar we entered, we left and found a restaurant where smoking was not permitted.

The bar suited the smokers; the restaurant suited us.

People tend to self-select the environments that fit their needs.

The free market tends to sort these things out.

That’s also true with the labor market.

Many smoking ban proponents argue that employees of establishments where smoking is permitted are subject to “negative externalities,” i.e. second-hand smoke.

I’m sensitive to this assertion.

But as Thomas Lambert, an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law argues, “a vast body of empirical evidence” shows that employees are compensated by their employers with “risk/unpleasantry premiums” that mitigate any “inefficiencies and injustices” of smoke exposure.

In other words, a waitress in a bar that allows smoking will get paid more than a waitress in a non-smoking one.

If she desires a smoke-free environment, she can seek work elsewhere.

And since current trends suggest fewer Americans are smoking, it’s likely that even without smoking bans, fewer establishments will allow smoking at all.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, smoking has been in decline for the last several decades.

In the 1960s more than 40 percent of adults smoked. In 2014, only 17 percent did.

It stands to reason that as smoking becomes less fashionable, businesses will be less likely to accommodate them, a phenomenon that will rely on market forces and not government intervention.

When the vast majority of patrons are non-smokers, making establishments smoke-free will improve bottom lines.

I enjoy smoke-free environments, and I’m glad that as a society we are moving in that direction, but I’m skeptical of policies designed to force what appears to be a natural trend.

Other North Texas cities, no doubt, will debate more comprehensive smoking bans.

I would remind them that more government is not always the best policy.

Cynthia M. Allen: 817-390-7166, @cjmallen12

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