For the past several decades, governments have been cracking down on tobacco consumption, including by banning smoking in many places such as bars or restaurants. But we’ve learned a lot about the effects of these kinds of policies over the last few years and now it’s time to reconsider them. Here’s why:
Most fundamentally, the debate about smoking bans should center on private property rights. Whether you should be allowed to smoke in a bar should be determined by the owner of that bar, not by busybody bureaucrats who think they know how to live everyone’s lives for them.
Second-hand smoke isn’t as bad as we thought
In 2013 already there were indications that the commonly accepted narrative on second-hand smoke wasn’t entirely accurate. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute (which the below-mentioned Slate article calls “hardly a pro-tobacco publication”) published a study which finds no significant relationship between passive smoke and cancer:
“A large prospective cohort study of more than 76,000 women confirmed a strong association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer but found no link between the disease and secondhand smoke.”
An immensely informative article by Jacob Grier in Slate finally sorted through the questionable “proof” behind the second-hand smoke myth. The bans had largely been implemented because early studies believed there to be a correlation between secondhand smoke and heart disease. Politicians, however, should have waited for more research to be done. In fact, Grier reveals that a 2006 study in the Piedmont region in Italy (published in the European Heart Journal) revealed an 11 percent drop in heart disease, a much smaller drop than the 60 percent that politicians had promised.
After a sweeping ban on smoking inside in England, a 2010 study found a heart attack reduction of only 2 percent. That number is so small that it might not be related to the bans at all. A 2008 study in New Zealand found no correlation whatsoever. The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management published a study in 2010 that also found no significant impact in any age group. Similar US-studies appeared in 2012 and 2014.
Moreover, smoking bans don’t actually reduce smoking. Data in France (which implemented its smoking ban in 2008) shows that consumption of tobacco products only correlates with prices.
Source: Institut national de prévention et d’éducation pour la santé (INPES) (National Institute for Health Prevention and Education in France
In fact, the quantity of tobacco sold immediately after the ban rose by 1,500 tons. The French government then promptly reacted by increasing the price increase level by 300 percent over the next three years (between 2010 and 2013, the price increased by €1 per pack on average; taxes make up 80 percent of the price of every pack).
The market will cater to non-smokers the most
Now that straight-out smoking bans have been generalised throughout many countries and the concept of a smoke-free bar is ingrained in most people’s minds, why would people be afraid of the market? The number of people who consume tobacco statically lies between 20 and 30 percent, with no trend showing it to grow above that or go below that line. Gay bars cater to the 15 percent of the population that is gay, and yet they haven’t gotten a stranglehold on the bartending market. The exact same goes for bars that would allow smoking inside: while there would be numerous bars that would allow it, the fact that many customers would be repulsed by the idea of being in an environment of cigarette smoke would have a majority of establishments keep their places smoke-free.
Whether you’re a non-smoker and you believe that all studies disproving a correlation between smoking and increased risk for cancer and heart disease are all conspiring in favor of Big Tobacco doesn’t even matter in that instance. Similarly, if you hold the belief that GMO-foods are bad for your health, there is a simple solution for you: don’t eat GMO foods.
Nobody forces you to go into a smoking bar, to work there or to even associate with people who like them. Consider this: you already don’t go to most bars and restaurants. That might be because they play music you don’t like, serve food you don’t eat or host events you detest. The beauty of a free society is that you don’t have ever have to change your mind on this, so don’t ask others to change theirs.