The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

Smoking is cool, or at least that’s what “Mad Men” has taught me. Science, though, has taught me that it’s bad. The recent uproar over a proposed expansion of the county’s smoking ban got me thinking — what would Don Draper think? Wouldn’t he be sad? At what point would he justify government intervention?

There is, undoubtedly, a cost associated with inhaling secondhand smoke. I hate smoke. It makes breathing difficult, it leaves a bad smell on my clothes and it can irritate my eyes. I’m sensitive, OK?

Because of these costs, I am less likely to go to a restaurant or pub that permits smoking inside.

In reality, I might be more willing to visit a place that allows smoking if it offers cheaper drinks, better food or a hip clientele (Don Draper). Or I might require higher pay to work in a smoky environment. Others might actually prefer a place where they can smoke among friends. The market would be able to sort this out.

And sometimes I even lay in bed imagining a world where smokers whip out their wallets to compensate those around them for secondhand smoke. Though this is just a pipe-dream, it is the ultimate solution.

Ultimately, it’s best to let businesses decide for themselves what policy will best suit their patrons. It might be good for some businesses, like a coffee house, to ban smoking, but bad for others, like a bowling alley or a pub.

The new push into public spaces does not bother me as much as the preexisting ordinance that bans smoking on some private property.

After all, the protection of private property is one of the hallmarks of a free society. How free are you, really, if society can tell you how to behave on your land, in your restaurant, or in your home?

I am concerned, like many, with the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. But banning smoking on public property, while at least a little more justified than in private, is unlikely to solve the problem.

Long-term damage comes from sustained exposure to secondhand smoke. Pushing smokers into cramped quarters like cars, houses and work spaces is actually more likely to cause damage than a short stroll down the street would.

Maybe the solution is to make tobacco illegal altogether — that’s sure to work!

A distinction needs to be made between a public road or sidewalk and a private pub or restaurant. Private businesses are enclosed areas where an owner can respond more directly to his or her customers and accommodate their wishes without affecting the public in the same way that behavior on public land does.

Requirements for clearly posted smoking policies outside establishments around town would be preferable to sweeping bans. Maybe something like a cigarette with a red circle and a line through it.

As we consider smoking policy, we should remember that public and private property should be treated differently.

Thanks, Obama.

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