On The Smoking Ban

I’m for it on selfish grounds – I’ll get to go to more shows. I used to go to live music fairly frequently, but heavy smoke would occasionally chase me out. My wife’s more sensitive than I am, and we essentially stopped going (even before the baby changed our ratio of disposable to non-disposable income). People that tell you that there are a lot of non-smoking live music venues are being disingenuous – yes, there’s plenty of places like Central Market mostly booking third-class stuff, but if you want GOOD music, the only real non-smoking alternative for YEARS was the Cactus Cafe, and that only because UT prohibited smoking.

But there’s a very simple argument to cut through all the smoke:

We used to allow smoking in restaurants. Back in that day, even though most people didn’t smoke, essentially zero restaurants were non-smoking. Even those that had non-smoking sections weren’t separately ventilated, making them the kind of joke that you hear about the Peeing Section in the pool. A few fast-food chains banned smoking, but that was about it.
Why didn’t the restaurant business drift towards non-smoking on its own? (This is not a simple answer).

All over the country, it took governmental action to make non-smoking happen in restaurants. (It took governmental action to ban smoking on airplanes too, if you remember).

Those who reduce this issue to the simple libertarian “if you don’t want to go into a smoking bar, don’t; the market will provide you with a non-smoking bar” need to explain why that didn’t work for restaurants or airlines.

Short answer: it doesn’t work because of the “race to the bottom”. Any one bar which bans smoking is at a significant disadvantage to all the other bars on the street, since it’s playing by different rules. Unless the ratio of non-smokers to smokers is incredibly high (think like 20-1), the lost business from {smokers, parties with smokers, people want to see a particular band, […]} is going to kill them.

Short retort: But won’t that kill all bars then?

Short reretort: Of course not. Did it kill all restaurants? Did it kill all airlines? Setting common rules for businesses serving the public can, in fact, result in the market providing a better apparent outcome than it will on its own in cases like this. Remember, think “race to the bottom”. EVENTUALLY, the market will sort this out and provide a few more non-smoking venues, but EVENTUALLY we’ll all be dead of lung cancer.
“race to the bottom” comment stolen from various blogs includng this entry at Burnt Orange Report – search comments, this one (again in comments), and Hit And Run (in comments).



One thought on “On The Smoking Ban

  1. (reposted by m1ek due to template problem which is now fixed)
    I agree with all of the above. But I’m a wimp and the fact that the election was close worries me. This issue scared a lot of hard-core libertarians out of the closet, or perhaps more accurately, pushed a lot of mildly libertarian folks into a harder position. I hope that it doesn’t poison relations within the tenuous hipster-progressive coalition in this town. If a significant number of people say “I’m not going to bother to vote for those greenie liberals, they’re the same people who killed smoking” then we’re in trouble.
    Meanwhile, yeah, let’s all vow to double our consumption of live music come September.

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