No Smoking

Listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on Newstalk 600 KTBB, Friday, Feb. 8, 2008

On Wednesday of this week, the City of Tyler did what a large number of cities have already done in passing an ordinance that severely restricts smoking in restaurants and other public places.

I have always been a little surprised that such an ordinance has been such a long time coming in Tyler. Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin and many other cities have all had similar ordinances on the books for several years.

I am a vigorous non-smoker. The employees here who still smoke will tell you that I am a complete pain in their necks about it. I encourage people who smoke to quit. All things being equal, I will hire a non-smoker over a smoker every time.

It has been illegal to smoke in commercial office buildings for some time now. But if it weren’t, I as the owner and principal of this business, would prohibit smoking within our office and studio spaces of my own volition.

Plain and simple. I don’t like smoking and I don’t like being around it.

But plain and simple, I don’t like this new ordinance.

It’s an assault on freedom. One of my favorite haunts in Dallas is a restaurant owned by the Campisi family. It’s an Italian food landmark that has been around since just after World War II. Joe Campisi’s widow, the matriarch of the family, is a smoker. I was in the restaurant a few days after Dallas’s smoking ordinance took effect and I watched as Ms. Campisi was prohibited from smoking on her own property.

That should scare you to death.

Because if the government is able to decide for our own good that the Campisis can’t allow smoking on property that they own, it won’t be long before the government decides that Fettucine Alfredo poses a health risk and that the Campisi family shouldn’t be allowed to serve it.

The same goes for the beef at Dakota’s or the prime rib at Kiepersol Estates. No doctor is going to tell you that eating heavy red meat is good for you just as no doctor will ever tell you that being around people who smoke is good for you.

If you think I’m overstating the implications of the Tyler council’s action, consider the following.

Two Republicans and one Democrat of the state legislature in Mississippi introduced a bill that would make it illegal for restaurants to serve food to people who are overweight.

In New York City, an ordinance passed in 2007 dictates the ingredients in food served in restaurants, making it illegal to serve any food that contains trans-fats.

In California, revisions to the building codes are in the works that would mandate what are called Radio Controlled Thermostats, or RCTs, in new construction and substantial remodels. With an RCT installed, power authorities would have the capacity and the authority to override your thermostat setting and set your home temperature for you, all in the name of energy conservation.

(Read about California’s RCTs here.)

We already have speed limits on roads and highways. But since speeding still kills thousands of people every year, how long will it be before the government mandates mechanisms on our cars that prevent the car from going over 65 miles per hour?

Where does this kind of nanny state thinking stop?

I believe that it won’t stop until it’s too late. Freedom is surrendered not all at once but in small increments.

The fact is, the marketplace is much more efficient than do-gooder politicians.

If my friends the Campisis want to turn their restaurant into one that specifically caters to smokers, it’s their property and they should have the right to do so. I would then have the right to decide if I still want to eat there. I probably wouldn’t.

I know that being significantly overweight will impact my ability to make a living, my attractiveness to my mate and my prospects for a long, healthy retirement. So I act accordingly out of my own free will.

I like my home to be cool. So in the winter, I don’t use much heat and in the summer, I use a lot of air conditioning. And I pay the resulting bills. If energy becomes scarce, the marketplace will send me a clear signal to reduce my consumption by raising my price.

I know that the Tyler City Council, like its counterparts in cities all across America, was well-intentioned in passing this highly restrictive smoking ordinance. But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

All of the behaviors that these do-gooders seek to control are self-limiting through the efficiency of free markets.

But intrusive and coercive legislation is not self-limiting. Once the camel’s nose is in the tent, it’s not long before the rest of the camel is in the tent as well.

Smokers and non-smokers should all be alarmed by the city council’s recent action.

That’s my word. What’s yours?

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