Motivated by a call to promote the physical health of its population, a certain state passes legislation that makes cigarette smoking illegal. What degree might the arguments of the opponents of this legislation be grounded in liberal claims about the priority of respecting autonomy over promoting the good. This question is related to social and political philosophy.
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Advocates of smoking bans contend that indoor smoking involves negative externalities and, therefore, should be banned. Also, they argue that banning smoking will reduce risks to public health and welfare. However, the libertarian view is that any "public place" smoking ban is a violation of private property rights. For, these so-called public places are actually private businesses that are open to the public, and are not public places such as parks, streets, sidewalks, federal or municipal buildings. Therefore, it is a violation of private property rights for any government--state or federal--to ban smoking in restaurants, bars, and such because while supposedly protecting the rights-of non-smokers, the rights of private businesses to regulate their own policies are violated.
The justification for regulating what is called the ambient environment (outdoor air and water) is that it is necessary to fight the costs that are not borne by the party in charge of the processes that produce them. In other words, the government must regulate the amount of smoke that a factory spews into the environment. But, this must be done because the owner of the factory does not bear the costs that are forced on the factory's neighbors. In the case of restaurants, taverns, and other such establishments, the owners do bear the costs of their smoke since people will choose whether they want to patronize these places or not. Therefore, there is no need for government intervention. In addition, there is little affect upon the ambient environment from such establishments.
While smoking is harmful to one's health, it is, nevertheless, a violation of the rights of smokers when laws are passed to protect the rights of smokers. The government does not have the right to force people outside unless the building people work in is a state or federal building. A recent editorial in The Daily Tar Heel, one University of North Carolina student writes of a recent ban on smoking in her county,
The Orange County Board of Health should take some time to seriously contemplate the consequences that passing this ban will have and consider if encroaching on this right will set a precedent for increased government involvement in our personal lives.
The ban on smoking opens the door for other bans and reduction of personal freedoms.
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