Radley Balko’s D.C. City Council Testimony


Thanks to Madam Chair and to the D.C. City Council for lettingme testify today. I only regret that all nine council members whoplan to vote to make the District smoke free had more importantthings to do than listen to the concerns of the businesses andcitizens of this city. And I’d like to thank council memberSchwartz for her leadership on this issue.

Here is what is not not at issue today: This is notabout the rights of smokers to smoke in public. They are in anestablishment someone else owns. Any bar or restaurant in this citymay voluntarily go smoke free, and smokers would have no claimagainst them, except to take their business elsewhere. Indeed, morethan 200 businesses in Washington, D.C. have done exactly that.

But this is not about non‐​smokers rights, either. You don’t havethe right to walk onto someone else’s property, demand to be servedfood or drink someone else has bought, and demand that they serveyou on your terms. Free societies don’t work that way.

This isn’t about worker’s rights. The idea that the Washington,D.C. city council is banning public smoking to benefit the city’swaiters, waitresses and bartenders is a canard. There are countlessjobs and professions that are far more dangerous than serving foodor drink in the presence of secondhand smoke. The people who choosethose jobs — cab drivers, fishermen, and police, for example –take those jobs full‐​well knowing the risks. The health risksassociated with secondhand smoke are debatable. But this simplefact isn’t: A waiter or bartender who chooses to work for anestablishment that allows smoking knows what kind of environmenthe’ll be working in.

So what is this debate about? It’s about freedom. It’s aboutstanding up to the healthists, those people who believe the statehas not only the right, but the responsibility to policeour personal lives for bad habits.

In this case, they want to trample on a business owner’sproperty rights, on his right to reap the fruits of his investmentand his labor as he sees fit, and on his right and the right of hispatrons to freely associate with whom they please. Why do they wantto do this? They say it’s to protect the “public” from secondhandsmoke. But exactly whom are they protecting?

Not the bar or restaurant owner. He could make the whole placesmoke‐​free if he wanted.

Not the employees. They can work elsewhere. Or find a new lineof work.

And certainly not the patrons. They’re giving the bar orrestaurant their business voluntarily.

The healthists aren’t protecting anyone. What they’re protectingis a “right” for themselves that they’ve fashioned out of wholecloth. They’re fighting to get invited to the party, then make therules once they get there. They want the so‐​called “right” to beself‐​appointed nanny, mother, rule maker, and rule enforcer foreveryone else.

It isn’t enough for the smoke‐​free crowd to merely embrace goodhabits themselves. They want everyone else to share those habitstoo — by force if necessary. It isn’t enough for them to simplyavoid businesses that allow smoking. They want a king’s fiat tomake them smoke free, or shut them down.

Healthists value longevity over a life well‐​lived. Abstentionover indulgence. They believe adding years to the end of your lifeis the primary reason for living.

I’d have no problem with that if they only applied those valuesto themselves. But they want to use the law to make the rest of uslive by them, too.

This is Nanny Statist government. Its roots go back to alcoholprohibition. It is government that wipes your nose when it’s dirty,tells you to eat your vegetables, and makes sure you’re in bed byten.

The arguments for a smoking ban could just as easily be appliedto public drinking. Indeed, the threat to “public health” bydrunken drivers is more immediate and colorable than the threatposed by secondhand smoke. Patrons of smoking bars are therevoluntarily. No one knowingly puts himself in the way of a drunkdriver. I’d argue that we’d be better off banning public drinkingthan banning public smoking, but I’d hate to give some people inthis room any ideas. And in fact, the group funding the nationwidesmoke‐​free campaigns is also funding anti‐​alcohol campaigns nudgingin that direction.

Let’s put today’s events in perspective. At this moment, we’remeeting in Washington, D.C., the capital of America, the countrythat’s done more for the freedom of man than any other nation,kingdom, or state in the history of the world. And what are wediscussing? A law that would ban a man from opening a business onhis own property where people can come smoke a cigarette and drinka beer.

If that sounds petty or silly, that’s because it is. Smokersknow what risks they’re undertaking when they light up. Nonsmokersknow that the moment they step foot in an establishment that allowssmoking, there’s a good chance they’re going to be inhalingsecondhand fumes. Legislating the freedom to take those risks awayfrom either of those people simply isn’t the job of government.

The legitimate functions of government are to protect oursafety, our liberty, and our rights. It was never intended to beour nurse, our nanny, or our guardian angel. In a free society,government exists to protect our liberty, and that most certainlyincludes both the liberty to hold bad habits, and the liberty toassociate with and cater to other people who hold those samehabits.

I’d urge the D.C. city council to resist this tide of tyrannicalhealthism. Trust the residents and business owners of the nation’scapital to make their own decisions about personal habits. You wereelected to govern us, not to baby‐​sit us.