Smoking bans can't replace personal responsibility

What is the proper role of government? For the Left, that's easy: Everything. For the Right, things are sometimes more complicated.

For example, a conservative I spoke with recently voiced support for Nevada's government-imposed and enforced smoking ban in privately owned bars and restaurants. He maintained that this was a perfectly appropriate use of government power because people who smoke are driving his health insurance rates up. But there are at least two glaring flaws in this argument:

1. Banning people from smoking in bars and restaurants doesn't stop them from smoking. They just step outside and light up. If you're going to use government to ban smoking for health insurance reasons, then you need to ban it completely, not just in bars and restaurants.

2. There is no constitutional right to patronize another person's business. Smoking bans are, or should be, a property rights issue, not a health care issue. Government shouldn't be setting the smoking policy of privately owned establishments. People who don't like being in barrooms full of smoke can avoid them simply by avoiding them. This isn't exactly rocket science.

Government-enforced smoking bans are easy to support because smoking, to the majority of the population, is an unpopular and distasteful habit. And in a democracy the majority can vote to do anything it wants. Which is why our Founders didn't establish a democracy, but rather a constitutional republic. For if the majority has the power to ban smoking under the argument that it's a risky behavior that costs society money via higher insurance rates, then we're just a slippery slope away from banning sky-diving, mountain-climbing or even taking a hike through the woods to Grandma's house lest a big, bad wolf attack you and the rest of us have to pay your hospital bill.

If the objective is to bring health care costs down, the best way - and here's a REAL inconvenient truth - is for Americans to start living healthier lives. That means getting up off your lard-butt and exercising vigorously every day. That means putting down the potato chips and picking up the celery sticks. That means peas, not pizza; broccoli, not brownies. If everybody did that, there's no question whatsoever that Americans' health would improve dramatically and health care costs would drop precipitously.

But is it the proper role of government to MANDATE that each and every one of us live a healthier life? Is it appropriate for the government to REQUIRE that you to do 15 minutes of calisthenics every morning? If you answer "yes," - you're part of the problem and are helping sow the seeds of our national demise. If you answer "no," - you're part of a dwindling minority of Americans who are still worthy heirs to Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and Adams.

Taking a principled stand in defense of private business owners setting their own smoking policy in the face of such widespread public opposition to smoking itself is what separates the men from the boys and true freedom-lovers from democrat socialists. Choose wisely, folks. The fate of a nation could depend on your position.

Now about those mandatory seatbelt laws ...

• Chuck Muth, of Carson City, is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a political blogger. Read his views Fridays on the Appeal Opinion page or visit


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