Like a Phoenix rising from beyond the grave, a proposal to ban smoking in all buildings available to the public appears headed for a revival.
Two years ago, Rep. Hugh Holliman (D-Davidson) introduced HB 259 to the Legislature, which would have banned smoking in all workplaces, bars, restaurants, private clubs or any other establishment open to the public. After several hours of hotly debating the bill on the House floor, and re-calendaring it multiple times to achieve a most favorable outcome, HB 259 was defeated by a 55 to 61 vote.
According to an article published Sunday, Jan. 11 in the Charlotte Observer, Rep. Holliman said he plans to re-file the once-defeated bill when the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 28. Presumably, he is hoping that a new General Assembly session, included with new prospects, might make for ripe timing to endorse the bill’s reemergence. The flaws, however, that led to the bill’s original demise still remain.
If anything has changed between now and then, it’s the further lessening of a need for the law. Since the first version of the bill failed almost two years ago, hundreds of new restaurants in North Carolina have opened as smoke-free environments. In addition to that, hundreds of existing restaurants have also decided to establish a non-smoking policy. Every day that passes, more and more bars, restaurants and workplaces become smoke free – all without government enforcement.
The market is working. Let’s not have government step in and force its will among people, but rather, let’s have it get out of the way and let the market work. For example, just a few weeks ago, a hip new sports bar opened in Raleigh a couple of blocks away from the General Assembly. The owners of the restaurant decided to survey its own potential clientele to find out what they thought about a smoking policy. Based on feedback, the owners chose to make the restaurant completely smoke free. So any legislator who is thinking about voting in favor of this bill should take a walk down the street from the office to see how Tobacco Road Sports Café is doing, without any legislative assistance.
I’m sure there are plenty of examples of other restaurants, bars and workplaces across the state where the owners are adopting no-smoking policies every day. The bottom line is this: yes, we should protect the rights and health of those who do not choose to be exposed to cigarette smoke, but we also must protect the rights of business owners who wish to allow smoking on their premises.
One possible solution is to adopt an “opt-in” system where smoking is banned in all buildings open to the public, unless a sign is clearly posted at each entrance that reads this establishment allows smoking. This way, those who do not wish to frequently visit a business that permits smoking are free to choose to take their patronage elsewhere. Meanwhile, the rights of the business owners who wish to allow smoking are not infringed. It seems everyone wins this way. Private property rights are protected and consumers wishing to not breathe second-hand smoke are protected too.